The 15 spatial interpretations of traumatic events that people shared as part of the Rupturing Domesticity project (Credit Sana Murrani, University of Plymouth)
This month marks two decades since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In the 20 years since, the nation’s people have tried to come to terms with the devastation it brought to their cities and towns, their communities and lives.
That initial fight for survival, and subsequent struggle, is now being revealed in never-before-seen detail thanks to an ongoing project at the University of Plymouth.
Rupturing Architecture was conceived by Dr Sana Murrani, Associate Professor in Spatial Practice and Architecture, as a way of charting the experiences of those living in Iraq at the time of the invasion and since.
Supported by funding from the British Institute for Study in Iraq, she interviewed 15 Iraqi citizens from across the country, using their memories to create a visual archive of how they survived the invasion and the impact it has had on their lives in the two decades since.
Some of the resulting material is now available through a digital archive, with the stories to be featured in an exhibition at the LSE Middle East Centre this April and May, and a book due to be published by Bloomsbury in early 2024.
The project is particularly poignant for Dr Murrani, as in March 2003 she was living with her family in the Al-Amiriyeh district west of Baghdad.
She clearly recalls the fear she felt hiding in a room at the family home, with its windows protected by furniture and mattresses and blankets laid on the ground, but also of the mental techniques she used to both cope and foster hope.
Dr Murrani said:
“Our house was located between the main road to Baghdad Airport on one side, the road to Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace, and the road that took you to the notorious Abu Ghreb prison. We knew it would be a hotspot for missiles and for the first three days, bombs and missiles rained over the area each shaking the ground underneath us. During those three days of no sleep, all I was thinking is ‘how are we going to survive this one?’. I made a mental map, which gave me a way to navigate the violence and trauma, and which has ultimately inspired much of the research I am doing today.”
Dr Sana Murrani
Dr Sana Murrani
Dr Murrani left Iraq in June 2003, but it was not until 2016 that she felt able to start documenting what had happened to her and her family, and others living across the country.
Her research covers the period between the 2003 US-led invasion through the sectarian violence between 2006 and 2007, ISIS’s atrocities against the Yazidi community in the northwest of Iraq and Mosul in 2014, and protests and revolution in 2019.
The majority of people she has since interviewed for the project are still living inside Iraq. They are from different backgrounds, different ages, and are located in different parts of Iraq as she was interested in exploring how the invasion was experienced differently across the country.
Her research also focused more on women’s stories as she felt they were notoriously less vocalized than others, and each had a different series of traumas to tell.
The resulting archive captures the ingenious ways people kept themselves and their families alive through all the years of war and violence, and the myriad ways they found refuge, created refuge or sought refuge by moving around.
Dr Murrani, who founded the University’s Displacement Studies Research Network, added: 

This project is a homage to Iraq, to all Iraqis still with us, and to those who have lost their lives over the past 20 years. Iraq’s entire political, environment, spatial and social landscape has changed since the invasion, and it has divided Iraqis in ways never seen before. Iraq suffered, and continues to suffer, from vast social and demographic change, with infrastructure and the health system in ruins and poverty and unemployment rife. I hope this ongoing work will amplify Iraqi voices but also their stories, memories and traumas.

Ruptured Domesticity: mapping spaces of refuge in Iraq

Dr Murrani’s work will be displayed in an exhibition that opens in the Atrium Gallery at the London School of Economics on Monday 03 April. Her forthcoming book – Rupturing architecture: spatial practices of refuge in response to war and violence in Iraq – will be published by Bloomsbury in 2024.
Ruptured Domesticity: mapping spaces of refuge in Iraq

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