How Ruya Maps Will Promote Artists From Areas Of Conflict

Artist Pepe Lopez
Photography by Julio Osorio © Pepe López
Detail from Pepe López Crisálida. 2017. Courtesy of RUYA MAPS
Launching this October, the NGO gives voice to the void with plans of empowering artists from politically unstable countries and refugee camps, kicking off its programme with a solo show by Venezuelan artist Pepe Lopez in London, reports Ayesha Shaikh

In the largely profit-driven contemporary art market, movement is afoot to establish non-profits to fill the blank space created by the commercial sector in favour of a more altruistic approach to art. One such non-profit organisations named RUYA MAPS launches come October.

A sister organisation of Iraq-based Ruya Foundation, RUYA MAPS has an ambitious set of goals. With art historian and curator Paolo Colombo at the helm, the organisation will work with visual artists and shine the spotlight on projects taking place in countries, territories, even refugee camps, which are faced with or are the product of socio-political instability or military conflict. “The idea is to be able to create workshops around refugee camps where refugees have been living for some years now and have no clear way of returning home,” Tamara Chalabi, director of RUYA MAPS, tells Bazaar Art. “We’re considering several areas, but it is also a question of feasibility and funding.”

Tamara Chalabi

Portrait of Tamara Chalabi, Director of RUYA MAPS. Courtesy of Ahmed Moussa and RUYA MAPS

The organisation aims at presenting the diverse cultures co-existing in these areas of conflict to new global audiences, enabling artists based there to participate in international cultural exchange, and fostering a wider understanding of these issues through the canvases of those who are living through them. Chalabi laments that there’s a gaping divide between these artists and the art world at present. “It’s part of the way in which the world functions at large, and the art world in specific as well,” she shares. “It’s related to the inequality of different people and societies, the question of interest and how that plugs into the art market.”

Among its roster of projects are artist commissions, workshops, talks and collaborations with local initiatives, in addition to production of original print and digital content to further its reach. RUPA MAPS has also been designed to address specific needs identified by the Ruya Foundation during its work in Iraq, which can be related to on a global level. Chalabi says the organisation will allow engagement on “a wider, lateral basis that’s not only geographic but also thematic, on a more visible international platform.”

Artist Pepe Lopez

Detail from Pepe López Crisálida. 2017. Photography by Julio Osorio © Pepe López. Courtesy of RUYA MAPS

Its diverse programme will offer a series of international exhibitions and it launches with a show by Venezuelan artist Pepe Lopez at the Fitzrovia Chapel, London. Titled Crisálida, this will be the artist’s first solo show in the UK and will feature a large-scale installation of the same name, originally featured at Espacio Monitor, Caracas last year.

The 18-metre-long installation comprises 200 objects, including a car, motorbike, piano and an urn, along with books, toys and maps, wrapped in polyethylene film and collected from Lopez’s family home in Caracas. Their meticulous arrangement references an anticipated move or the need for storage, reflecting on the notion of collective memory and the emotions that arise due to being exiled from the place you’ve long called home.

Artist Pepe Lopez

Detail from Pepe López Crisálida. 2017. Photography by Julio Osorio © Pepe López. Courtesy of RUYA MAPS

All this alludes to the ongoing socio-political cauldron that Venezuela has been experiencing near consistently since the 1980s. “Lopez’s participation will suggest the wider area that the initiative wants to work within but also, this specific work will address in a beautiful and visceral way exactly the issues RUYA MAPS is concerned with: homelessness, loss, travel and dislocation,” notes Chalabi.

The exhibition will include a new performance where individuals will wrap themselves in the same polyethylene firm as they move through the installation. In addition to Lopez’s own works, the show will feature art from his personal collection that includes noted Latin American artists such as Rafael Barrios and Jesús Soto. A highlight will be the objects that originally belonged to his grandparents who brought them to Venezuela when they fled Spain during the Civil War over 70 years ago.

Artist Pepe Lopez

Detail from Pepe López Crisálida. 2017. Photography by Julio Osorio © Pepe López. Courtesy of RUYA MAPS

The show will be accompanied by a publication designed by Beirut-based graphic designer Farah Fayyad, with images by Caracas-based photographer Julio Osorio and essays by Chalabi and Elizabeth Marín Hernández, a Venezuelan professor of Latin American and contemporary art. RUPA MAPS’ full programme for 2019 will be announced this autumn. Best known for commissioning the Iraq Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2017, Ruya Foundation is one of the few organisations working with contemporary Iraqi artists and developing the cultural landscape of a country flecked with political unrest.


Pepe López: Crisálida runs from 14-26 October at The Fitzrovia Chapel in London, United Kingdom. Ruyamaps.org

Artist Pepe Lopez
Photography by Julio Osorio © Pepe López
Detail from Pepe López Crisálida. 2017. Courtesy of RUYA MAPS