Kurdistan is located along the Zagros mountain range and spans four countries: southeast Turkey (northern Kurdistan), northern Syria (western Kurdistan), northern Iraq (southern Kurdistan) and western Iran (eastern Kurdistan). The Kurdish people are comprised largely of Sunni Muslims and have their own language and culture, dating back hundreds of years.
Although they are scattered across several different countries and straddle international borders, the Kurds have long wished to have an independent Kurdistan. In 1920, the Kurds were to be granted an independent state through the Treaty of Sèvres but this agreement was later overturned. Iraqi-Kurdistan reached autonomous status in 1970 which was “reconfirmed” again with the Federal Iraqi Republic in 2005. In Iran, there is a province called Kurdistan – although it is not self-ruled. Most recently, Kurdish forces have been able to assume control over significant portions of northeastern Syria after Bashar al-Assad’s troops withdrew during the country’s civil war ideas in Dublin.
Despite these gains, the Kurdish people have often been at the mercy of those who control the countries and territories where they reside. In recent years, they have been targeted by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and are currently struggling with the Turkish government, while activity by the Islamic State (IS) near the places where they live makes for dangerous conditions.
Conflict and Hope: Art in Troubled Times is a show bringing together a group of visual artists, wishing to discuss the “ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq.” In the face of the chaos and the danger, a flicker of hope and courage can be found – as artist Tareq Razzouk states in this Introduction to the exhibition
Out of hopelessness, suffering and destruction there is a moment of hope which allows us to walk through tragedy, and dream of a beautifying change. We are, as human beings, entitled to be sad, lonely, or anxious, yet we are also entitled to happiness, achievement, and contentment.
Six artists are participating in Conflict and Hope:
Mariwan Jalal (Iraqi-Kurdistan) is a mixed media artist whose work reflects on social, political and cultural issues through his heavily patterned prints and ceramics. The artist currently lives in London.
Jamal Penjweny (b. 1981,Iraqi-Kurdistan) is a visual artist who was previously a sculptor and painter, before choosing to become a photographer and filmmaker to document the Iraqi conflict.
Penjweny’s series “I am Saddam,” where ordinary Iraqis hold up a portrait of Saddam Hussein obscuring their faces, received international recognition and was shown in the Iraqi Pavilion at the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale.
Tareq Razzouk (Syria) is an artist and architect based in London. His paintings acutely illustrate the sorrows, chaos and hope found in present-day Syria.
Ali Raza (b. 1980, Iraqi-Kurdistan) is a visual artist who has worn many different hats. In 2005, Raza founded the Palace Gallery in Erbil City (the capital of Iraqi-Kurdistan). He has also written for a variety of publications and was previously editor of Hunari New, a contemporary art magazine.
His mediums of choice are painting and installations. but Raza also works with printmaking and video on occasion. According to Raza’s biography, he is currently exploring “genocide, war, violence and man’s inhumanity” in his artwork. Raza currently resides in Dublin.
Rebwar Saed (b. 1962, Sulamaniyah, Iraq-Kurdistan) is a visual artist whose figurative work, according to his website, is “inspired by pre-Islamic figurative works of ancient artefacts.” The narrative of his work has been further influenced by his culture’s political struggles and life outside the country as a diasporic artist. As Saed remarked in the programme to the exhibition, he seeks to bring light to these “dark” times:
My art aims to make sense of people’s feelings during troubled times. To fight the darkness I use bright colours, as that is what is needed in times of darkness.
Saed’s “Colouring the Dream,” is a project that allows children in the Barike Refugee Camp to better understand their traumatic experiences through art.
Photographer Richard Wilding is Creative Director of Gulan, a charity organisation based in the UK that promotes the culture of Kurdistan. Wilding’s photographs “document” the people and culture of Iraqi Kurdistan, including those who reside in refugee camps. According to the artist’s website, Wilding created a badge for the “remembrance of the victims of the Kurdish Genocide” for the Kurdish National Government, in collaboration with Gulan’s Artistic Director Della Murad.
Conflict and Hope: Art in Troubled Times runs from 31 October 2015 at the Ismaili Centre. The exhibition, curated by Gulan and Amin Pardhan-Abdulla, closes on 7 November 2015. Curator talks are offered daily at 2pm, from 2 November onwards. Wilding will give a special talk on his work with the Kurdish people in Iraq, on 4 November (8:15-9:45pm).
This profile was written by Lisa Pollman, a freelance writer who connects Asian and Middle Eastern artists to the world.