Artist's Statement

Meridel Rubenstein

Eden in Iraq ( 2011-) is an ongoing body of work seeking completion, national and international exposure, and book form.

The marshes in southern Iraq, formed by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, are home to one of humanity’s oldest cultures. These rivers cross on the eastern edge of the marshes, so this intersection is thought to be a possible site of the historic Garden of Eden. The Marsh Arabs developed their way of life around the resources of the marsh, once the third largest wetlands in the world- before being malevolently drained by Saddam Hussein in the 1990’s. Upon the dictator’s demise in 2003, the Marsh Arabs returned to restore their land.

My photographs have been created in tandem with a water remediation project in these wetlands, that I initiated and direct, also called Eden in Iraq. Environmental engineering, design, and wastewater are creating a wastewater garden for health, cultural heritage, and environmental education ( This project allows me to give back to the community and land that I photograph.

The design for the wastewater garden, inspired by Mesopotamian Embroidered Wedding Blankets, has influenced the digital assembling of the imagery and materials used in my photoworks. Several of the pieces have borders that reference Iraqi rug patterns. The three column photowork, Eden Again, is made from woven threads as a jacquard tapestry. In Iraq, Shi’a Muslims pray 5 times a day on a plenitude of rugs. In addition, the first descriptions of making linen were described on cunieform tablets as early as 2500 B.C. . Thus, some of the images are printed on linen, that can hang and float on exhibition walls. Next October I plan to return to the Iraq marshes to make photographs for final work that remains to be completed. These would include images of water, drought, wildlife, climate change, as well as additional portraits of women and girls. This award would enable me to complete photoworks for exhibition and a new book.