Video: Ark Re-imagined & Euphrates 1 Expedition
We’re planning an amazing journey through the Euphrates delta to explore and document the region’s endangered cultural heritage and gather its traditional watercraft together.
Now we're preparing to launch these boats on a journey down the Euphrates from Babylon to Basra, gathering a flotilla of traditional watercraft around them: some built by our teams of craftspeople, others joining us along the way. We are connecting with communities through-out the region, finding opportunities to identify and document the region’s small boats, crafts and vernacular architecture techniques, through oral history interviews, observation in the field, and experimental boat reconstruction.
Our destination is Basra, where we are establishing a working base for the construction of a full scale Ark Re-imagined, and working with others to advocate for the protection and study of Iraq's maritime, craft, and ecological heritage.
The 1:2 scale Ark Hub and other boats from the flotilla will travel on as ambassadors of the project: first to Britain for Mesopotamia Upon Thames events, and from there to the rivers of the world, along with a travelling bazaar showcasing the best of Iraqi crafts products and inviting the participation of Iraqi diaspora communities worldwide.
Production of many ancient types of Iraqi watercraft has ceased in recent decades, while traditional crafts such as rug-making and embroidery have been isolated from global markets by conflict and instability. Craftspeople who remember the traditional techniques are still alive, but in many cases no longer working. This is a last chance to explore and protect this ancient knowledge before it is lost from living memory.
One important endangered boat is the Tarada canoe (above), whose iconic curved form echoes the palm fronds of Iraq's orchards: the same curve has inspired modern artists like Jewad Selim and Shakir Hassan, and explorers like Wilfred Thesiger. The Tarada has recently disappeared from production and use, but a few makers of traditional boats still exist. Through this expedition, we aim to find these craftspeople and study their methods in detail, building both traditional wooden Taradas and a basketry variant using palm fronds (jerid) to create the familiar curve, which we believe may provide clues to the design of Sumerian trading vessels.
Together with our partners and networks, we will work to ensure the traditional skills are passed on to the next generation through commissions and training opportunities as part of the Ark for Iraq capacity-building programme.
We believe this work matters because craft traditions are a focus of community engagement and cultural pride that can play an important role in repairing the fabric of post-conflict society. They can also support the rural economy, providing business opportunities, jobs and training to local communities. The rediscovery of crafts using locally harvested materials helps communities maintain a connection with their environment and sustain themselves in the face of climate change. Meanwhile, on the world stage, Mesopotamian craft heritage is an essential part of the story of Iraq’s role in the evolution of culture from its earliest beginnings, and so in the contemporary global cultural conversation.