The ‘By the Waters’ performance in Chapter Gallery, Cardiff was conceived by Cardiff-based British-Iraqi artist Rabab Ghazoul to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the second Gulf War. Unsure how to mark the day, Ghazoul decided to create an event that would offer a contemplative space that addressed mourning and remembrance while allowing people to consider and experience in a different way.
Written specifically for the event, the text of Ghazoul’s six-part score was adapted from the Old Testament psalm. Modified to remove references to ‘Zion’, the piece that emerged used the lines, ‘By the waters of Babylon…We lay down and wept…We remember…’, producing a contemporary lament for modern-day Iraq.
On the morning of 19 March, singers gathered in the gallery space and commenced the simple activity of learning the song, led by conductor and choirleader Helen Chadwick.
Over a period of five hours, the gallery was open to the public who were free to enter, sit, listen and reflect, as the sung piece gradually gained definition as the day unfolded. Rather than something polished or complete, what visitors witnessed was the collective co-operation, communication, listening and sharing required to produce a complex set of harmonies.
These gentle strategies stood in stark contrast to the strategies employed to go to war.