Latif Al Ani | Vetera Novis Augere

Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, in collaboration with the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut, is delighted to announce Latif Al Ani’s first exhibition at the gallery.


With the title Vetera Novis Augere - ‘augment the old with the new’ - Latif Al Ani’s exhibition interrogates the complex relationship between past and present (and into the future), but also inaugurates a transmission process from older to younger generations revealing, within his historic photographic work, a past mostly unknown to Iraqi people themselves.


Through the four exhibited series bringing to attention the thematic foci of Architecture, Landscape, as well as illustrating Modernity along with Daily Life and Portrait photography, Latif Al Ani captured, mostly in black and white, the transformations in urban and rural Iraqi society, offering a unique gaze and testimony of the late 50s and early 70s in Iraq. The tragic modern history of Iraq has bared witness to revolutions, coups, wars, and sanctions, interwoven with some brief periods of peace and prosperity. Latif Al Ani captured the optimistic aspects of these periods, showing women at work, girls in gym classes, mechanical engineering students, high-speed urbanization, modern architecture, tall office towers, and even Western tourists strolling through archaeological vestiges. During these two decades, the photographer produced an extensive and invaluable archive of a radically shifting socio-political, economic and cultural landscape in Iraq.


Whilst on assignment for the Iraq Petroleum Company to document the modernisation and industrializing of Iraq during a window of socio-economic boom, Al Ani criss-crossed the country by foot, by car, and by plane. He was the first photographer to have the opportunity to shoot aerial views of Iraq’s archaeological sites, it’s capital city of Baghdad, or the luxuriant palm groves. On the side, he developed a singular aesthetic language that challenged the social and documentary photographic canons of that time. Instead, the plurality of subjects Al Ani looked for, encompass beauty and strangeness, from portraits of ‘his own people’, historical monuments, street scenes, to imposing landscapes, as well as his unconventional frames broken by architectural sharp lines, or the visual emphasis of his compositions with hard light casting shadows, all demonstrate the experimental approach of the photographer.


Premiered in the exhibition, in the form of a carousel slide show, a collection of 80 images hand-picked by Al Ani constitute the core of his oeuvre; his wish to represent ‘all aspects of life in Iraq’. In Vetera Novis Augere, this historical technical apparatus contributes to speak of a language embodying many things such as art photography, social documentary photography, information, and education. The versatility of genres and subject-matters inherent within Latif Al Ani’s photographs, translated into a slide show performance, convey a past that is not phantasmagorical but was concurrent with reality in an attempt to recover oblivion from a vanished world.


Latif Al Ani (b. 1932, Karbala) is a photographer who lives and works in Baghdad, Iraq. With a career spanning the late 1950s to the late 1970s, Latif Al Ani is today considered the founding father of Iraqi Photography.


Latif Al Ani’s work has been presented in many group exhibitions including the National Pavilion of Iraq, organized by the Ruya Foundation and curated by Philippe Van Cauteren, at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015) that toured to S.M.A.K. (Museum for Contemporary Art), Ghent (2016) and the Erbil Citadel, Iraq (2017), and Baghdad Mon Amour at Institut des Cultures d’Islam, Paris (2018) curated by Morad Montazami. An important survey exhibition curated by Hoor Al Qasimi entitled Latif Al Ani: Through the Lens 1953 – 1979, was presented at Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE (2018), while he also participated in Crude, the inaugural exhibition of Jameel Arts Centre, UAE (2019), curated by Murtaza Vali. Al Ani’s first eponymous monograph, published in 2017 by Hannibal Publishing, won the prestigious 2017 Historical Books Award at Rencontres d’Arles. The book is now available through Hatje Cantz. Al Ani is also the subject of a documentary dedicated to his unique visual archive of Iraq during the 1950s through the 1970s, produced by Iraqi film director Sahim Omar Khalifa and Belgian filmmaker Jurgen Buedts entitled Iraq Invisible Beauty.


Latif Al Ani is a 2015 Prince Claus Laureate.


The Arab Image Foundation

The Arab Image Foundation (AIF) is an independent association forging new pathways for photography and image practices. Uniquely positioned at the intersection of artistic creation, research, and archiving, AIF explores, questions and confronts the complex social and political realities of our times. Established in 1997 and based in Beirut, their collection of over 500,000 photographic objects and documents from and related to the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora has been gradually assembled over the last 20 years by artists and researchers and through donations. With a critical and innovative approach, AIF collects, rethinks, preserves, activates and understands these photographs through their multiple strata, and enrich the collection in the process.


Majlis Talk by FOLIO


Monday, 18 November at 4.30 pm

Warehouse 58, Alserkal Avenue

Latif Al Ani’s solo exhibition Vetera Novis Augere - ‘augment the old with the new’ – not only celebrates the organic continuity between past and present (and into the future), but also the transmission process from older to younger generations. In this context, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, in collaboration with Alserkal Avenue, is pleased to announce a coinciding public talk between Al Ani and young Beirut-based Iraqi photographer Tamara Abdul Hadi, connecting two generations and artistic voices whilst providing further scope and insight into Al Ani’s widely celebrated documentary archive. The conversation will be conducted in Arabic and translated by Iraqi writer and researcher Maryam Wissam Al Dabbagh.