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 Thesiger's Tarada 

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Image by Wilfred Thesiger, published under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license from the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Accession number: 2004.130.38295.1

In autumn 2018, Safina Projects aims to recreate the tarada canoe made for British explorer Wilfred Thesiger in 1952, recognised as the finest recorded example of its type: a strikingly beautiful boat, distinguished by the crescent curve of its tall prow.


“Thesiger's Tarada” is firstly an art project: the tarada itself being a sculptural form, generating photographic artworks, and engaging with audiences through water-based "art actions" in both Iraq and the UK. It is also a significant opportunity for research, using art to reconnect archival, local, and archaeological strata of memory of Iraq's vernacular watercraft heritage.

In collaboration with ethnoarchaeologist Dr Abdulameer Al-Hamdani, and with the support of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (home of Thesiger's photographic archive), the project will examine the relationship between recent boats like Thesiger's tarada and ancient boats of comparable form, known from the archaeological record. Current and recent information about Iraq's marsh canoes - gathered through oral history work with today's marsh communities, as well as exploring Thesiger's archive - will be analysed together with available archaeological data on similar boats, aiming to shed new light on the development of a boat form and craft tradition that endured for millennia but is now endangered.

The making of Taradas - the canoes of Marsh Arab sheikhs - is extinct as a craft practice, having ceased during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. However, during Rashad's recent visits to Iraq he found a handful of boat builders who make Meshoufs (wooden canoes) for work purposes. These craftspeople identified some of the older generation who previously built Taradas, including members of the family who built Thesiger's boat. There is now an opportunity to preserve their knowledge while some of that generation are still living. Importantly, we also seek ways to sustain these craft practices into the future, through developing new uses for traditional boats in the tourism, leisure, and sports sectors in Iraq.

Thesiger's Tarada is funded by a Research Grant Award from Nahrein Network, which aims to foster the sustainable development of antiquity, heritage and the humanities in post-conflict Iraq and its neighbours. Nahrein Network is based at University College London and supported by an AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund grant.

Listen to Nahrein Network's interview with Rashad Salim here.

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Images by Wilfred Thesiger, published under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license from the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Top: Accession number 2004.130.16636.1. Bottom: Accession number 2004.130.16630.1

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