Mesopotamia upon Thames
Mesopotamia upon Thames is the UK segment of a programme to bring traditional Iraqi boats to rivers of the world. These watercraft – Guffa coracle, Tarrada canoe, reed bundle craft and Kelek raft – reach back into antiquity with the same optimum design. They have survived through the changes of history until now threatened with disappearance. These boats are components of the Ark Re-imagined, but under the banner of “Mesopotamia upon…” we envisage selected boats touring the world as a small flotilla participating in local festivals independently of the Ark itself.
The Mesopotamia upon Thames project includes a series of photomontage visualisations of traditional Iraqi watercraft at famous locations along the Thames in London (e.g. Tower Bridge, left). Available as prints and postcards.
Another element of the Mesopotamia upon Thames project is the London Guffa, shown (right) under construction during residencies at Trinity Buoy Wharf (above) and Edge of Arabia (below). This is a coracle based on the form of the traditional Iraqi Guffa, but constructed using various types of plastic as substitutes for natural fibres. The coil basketry shell is made from perforated plastic baguette bags twisted into yarn, then coiled into a basket sewn together with nylon cord. Next steps are to add an internal armature of plastic tubing (replacing the traditional pomegranate wands); and to waterproof the Guffa (traditionally done with "Chiddem" bitumen) by impregnating the coils with waterproof glue, caulking between them with silicon, and adding layers of waterproof tape around the exterior.
The use of these synthetic materials to make an ancient type of boat plays with the intimate and conflicted relationship between the ancient and the modern, and between the West and the Middle East. The raw materials for these plastics may well originate from the oil fields of Iraq, while the coracle form pre-dates the civilisation of Ur, the predecessor of our own civilisation that has generated these modern materials and displaced the craft tradition.