It Is What It Is

Conversations about the history, present circumstances, and future of Iraq with Jeremy Deller and others


Fields of Knowledge
  • Curatorial practice
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

Creative Time, New Museum, City of Philadelphia, Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy


Nato Thompson, Aaron Levy


Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Opens to public



4017 Walnut
Philadelphia, PA 19104

National Constitution Center
525 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Slought is pleased to announce It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq in Philadelphia, a new project that it will organize and host in Philadelphia by Turner Prize-winning British artist Jeremy Deller, commissioned and produced by Creative Time and the New Museum. The project will encourage public discussion of the history, present circumstances, and future of Iraq through unscripted, nonpartisan conversations in cities across the country. Guest experts Jonathan Harvey and Esam Pasha, who were selected by Deller, will join the artist in these conversations. Jonathan Harvey is an Iraq war veteran and recently demobilized Psychological Operations platoon sergeant, and Esam Pasha is an Iraqi refugee, artist, and former translator for the Chief Advisor in the British Embassy of Baghdad.

Jeremy Deller conceived It Is What It Is to stimulate unmediated dialogue about Iraq, and our relationship to it as people and as a nation. Over 30 people with a variety of first-hand experiences of the country were available for conversations with thousands of visitors during the project's installation at the New Museum in New York, from February 10 to March 22, 2009.

Also traveling with the experts is a car destroyed in a bombing on Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad in March 2007. This tragedy killed over thirty people, and has taken on added significance because the street, named after a well-known Iraqi poet, was the site of numerous book markets and cafés, and was considered the nexus of Baghdadi cultural and intellectual life. The car is meant to ground conversations in the facts, figures, and eyewitness descriptions that have been lacking in most information about the Iraq war, and is intended to serve as a visual aid to prompt open dialogue and civil conversation. It was also one of a sparse selection of objects in the presentation at the New Museum. When the road trip portion of It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq arrives in Los Angeles, the project will go on view at the Hammer Museum and will then travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago as part of the Three M Project.

On March 28, 2009, the project will arrive in Philadelphia as part of a three-week road trip by RV from New York to Los Angeles.

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Jeremy Deller is an artist who has archived, examined, and often staged demonstrations, exhibitions, historical reconstructions, parades, and concerts as a way to both celebrate and critically examine them as forms of social action. His work focuses on cultural history—how it is made, recorded, manipulated, and remembered. One of his most well-known works, a re-creation of a battle between pickets and police during the miner's strike in the north of England in 1984, was subsequently made into a documentary by Mike Figgis called The Battle of Orgreave and was broadcast internationally. A more recent work, a film about Texas entitled Memory Bucket, won Deller the prestigious Turner Prize in 2004.

Jonathan Harvey has been a Platoon Sergeant in the United States Army since 1997 and is currently serving in the U.S. Army Reserve. A specialist in psychological operations, Harvey has lived in more than twenty-five countries, assisting in projects that include progressive teaching and leadership and management roles in academic and military environments. He has received many honors during his military career, including the Bronze Star Medal, seven Army Achievement medals, and an Army Commendation Medal. He is also an experienced teacher, including work at Veteran's Upward Bound where he taught low-income military veterans basic skills to prepare them for college classes. Harvey received his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, politics, and economics from the University of Pennsylvania, where he is currently pursuing his Master of Liberal Arts.

Esam Pasha is an Iraqi-born translator, artist, and journalist who has worked as an interpreter for the British Embassy in Baghdad and the Coalition in Iraq, including military groups such as the 101st Airborne and the Florida National Guard. Pasha has also been an interpreter at publications such as The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor. He was a freelance journalist for the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network and has written articles on art for international journals such as The Art Newspaper. Pasha, who is a well-known artist in Iraq, has also exhibited in the United States and Europe. In 2003, he executed the first post-war mural in Iraq, which is located in Baghdad.


In collaboration with Creative Time and the City of Philadelphia, Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, Slought has organized two public events which will broaden and deepen the dialogue begun in New York, extending the conversation to diverse audiences across Philadelphia. The public is encouraged to visit the project in its two parts, and to bring objects related to Iraq to converse about:

10 am - 4 pm
at 5th and Arch Street, in front of the National Constitution Center, on Independence Mall in historic Philadelphia

6:30 - 8 pm
at Slought, where the artist will engage in a public conversation with the guest experts

In conjunction with It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq, an international panel on curating and activism has also been organized at Moore College of Art & Design from 9:30-5pm, featuring Martha Wilson, Karin Cuoni, Steve Kurtz, Sharon Hayes, Katherine Carl, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, and others in conversation.