A modern artistic interpretation of the Epic of Gilgamesh at the French Cultural Institute in London

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When it comes to epics, the story of Gilgamesh, the mythological king of Uruk in ancient Mesopotamia, and his quest for eternal life is one of the most enduring heroic sagas in world literature.

In his search for the secret of immortality, the eponymous hero struggles to find the meaning of life, before finally realizing that death is an inevitable part of the human experience.

I look around and see how we’re all so preoccupied with short term gratification and instant gratification and it made me think we’re all really the same as that old character Gilgamesh

Asmaa Alanbari, artist

Four thousand five hundred years after the original was written in Sumer, present-day Iraq, a modern artistic adaptation of the ancient poem explores this eternal concern through an environmental lens.

Contemporary Gilgamesh is a multimedia art installation and performance that figuratively tells a variation of the literary epic using music, performance art and projections of several masterpieces from the Louvre and the British Museum, the alongside contemporary art and photography.

Ahead of her debut at the Institute of French Culture in London, artist Asmaa Alanbari said The National that its creative adaptation is a reflection on the “common concern for eternal youth” despite climate change and material destruction, which means “there will not be much left worth living forever”.

“I look around and see how we’re all so preoccupied with short-term gratification and instant gratification and it made me think that we’re all very much the same as that old character, Gilgamesh. The theme that the Sumerians tackled thousands of years ago is still the same today – we are obsessed with staying alive forever,” says Alanbari, of the inspiration for his latest work.

“In a deep way, we are trying to leave a legacy of ourselves, everyone is unconsciously preparing for their departure,” she says.

The Iraqi-born curator and visual artist said she wanted to create a multi-sensory experience that audiences could immerse themselves in, without focusing too much on the central environmental message.

“We are bombarded with these harsh messages about the environment, about climate change and it can be tiring,” says Alanbari.

“But we also can’t surrender…so I’m trying to indirectly remind those watching that if we don’t care what happens to the planet, then there’s no point in trying to live forever. “

Social media images are juxtaposed with images of international artefacts, including scenes of artefacts vandalized by ISIS in 2015 in Iraq, in a film accompanied by a live oud from musician Ehsan Al-Emam and d an interpretive dance by performer Yen-Ching Lin, to complete the immersive montage.

Raised between France and the UK, Alanbari has exhibited and produced exhibitions at several internationally renowned cultural institutions, including the Saatchi Gallery, Christie’s Auction House and the Royal College of Art in London.

His take on Gilgamesh sees him coercing an old scholar into telling him where the Plant of Eternal Youth is, but after the classic hero goes to the bottom of the sea to find it, he gets up with his “prize”. , not realizing the plant has turned into plastic.

It invites a critique of whether eternal youth is worth having at the expense of other lost things.

In addition to saving our future, Contemporary Gilgamesh is also concerned about the preservation of heritage, which the artist, also a qualified architect, says she has always been “obsessed with”, especially when she creates her own work of contemporary art.

Despite the ominous caveats that underlie his work, it is also a celebration of the fertility and legacy of his native Iraq.

“As people in the Middle East, we are very attached to our identity… and in Contemporary Gilgameshthe public interacts with elements of the tangible and intangible heritage of Mesopotamia,” says Alanbari.

“It is a reminder that ancient artifacts are worth preserving and deserve everyone’s attention: ancient Mesopotamian culture is also a world heritage and we would all benefit from interacting with it in some way. “

Gilgamesh Contemporary is on view at the French Culture Institute of the UK from May 12 to 15, 2022

Updated: May 12, 2022, 3:39 p.m.

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