What It Is 

Traveling art project promotes discussion about the Iraq war.

Americans love automobiles. Which is perhaps why artist Jeremy Deller used a bombed-out taxi to bring the war in Iraq home.

"This is about America," he said, "and what's happening in America, even though the car is not from America."

Deller's It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq, a traveling art project, was in Memphis last week as part of a cross-country tour from New York to Los Angeles. When asked how he chose that particular car, destroyed in a Baghdad bombing, Deller said, "It chose us."

Along for the ride were Iraqi artist and journalist Esam Pasha and Jonathan Harvey, a U.S. soldier now serving in the Army Reserves. The trio hopes the project will inspire public discussion about Iraq.

"It's not an anti-war project, and it's not a pro-war project — I have to stress that," Deller said. "You can bring your own opinions to this place and express them, but we're not going to reflect them back on you."

A handful of people of all ages wandered into the parking lot of the First Congregational Church in Midtown last week to look at the rusted shell of the taxi, strapped to the bed of a trailer.

"It's a piece of history being transferred from [Baghdad] to [America]," Pasha said. "I had one of the soldiers tell me that when they look at it, you can imagine what's happening. It's just one piece of the whole scene: the burning buildings and the whole war. When I look at it, I can remember what was behind that car."

The area in Baghdad where the bombing occurred was a historic marketplace that sold and exchanged new and used books.

"The street where the car was bombed has a special place in Iraqi culture and history, because the street itself is very, very old, over 1,200 years," Pasha said. "It was a street that I went to in high school to buy books."

The project was commissioned and produced by Creative Time and the New Museum for the Three M project, a collaborative effort between the New Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

The project's creators purposely didn't identify who perpetrated the bombing or how many people died as a result of it.

Said Harvey: "It's as neutral as we can make it. It is what it is."

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