Artists in Sulaymaniyah Pt. II

18 Jan

Khanzad Culture and Social Centre, Sulaymaniyah

After breakfast Rebeen picked us up and we drove to meet a number of artists at the Khanzad Culture and Social Centre, a government-funded centre that focuses on empowering women with computer and professional skills to provide them with the option to enter the workforce. The centre provides meeting rooms, computers and also commissions studies and publishes reports on issues relating to women in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Ceramic Vessels from a recent workshop at the centre

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Nehro Schauki and Zana Rasool at breakfast


Exchanging ideas during the presentation

As we entered the courtyard there were a number of hand-made clay pots drying in the sun made during a recent workshop. Finishing breakfast were a number of artists including Nehro Schauki who has spent time in Germany. His work ranges from performance to installations and collaborates with many of the younger artists working in the north of Iraq. After a light snack and some wonderfully delicate soup we all moved indoors and as a means of exchange of information and activity we offered a brief introduction of ourselves and some of our past projects. The first to reciprocate was the artists and curator Azar Othman, who was one of the founders of the artist collective, Sulyon group, which is comprised of over a dozen collaborators who have worked together on a series of projects mainly relating to art and public space. One recent event entitled Border was a collectively organized workshop in which a series of performances and artworks unfolded at the border between Iraq and Iran. Focusing on the area surrounding a specific town which is split by the territorial divide the actions engaged with the imaginary division that has separated the landscape and families. Shene Jabar invited children residing on either side of the border to play together along an irrigation ditch that acts as the barrier dividing the villages land. Here from one point of view we see the unleashing of the play instinct as described by Friedrich Schiller as the deep human desire for aesthetic freedom, more than mere recreation, to play is to enact the aspiration of liberty. A suspension of time which allows different realities to be tested. It is in these simple gesture of singing and twirling hand in hand back and forth the line of seperation begins to dissipate.

Azar Othman speaking with Sulyon group during the Border project


Shene Jabar’s work along the Iraq/Iran border

Azar Othman, Bricks (2005)

Along with his activity as a curator Azar Othman’s focuses on sculpted environments and installation in his own artistic practice. Bricks (2005) engages with the materia prima of the reconstruction and building boom that is occurring in many areas of Iraq. Small cubic structures formed of tan bricks each emanating a warm light from their core are arranged into a grid pattern that is reminiscent of many of the new developments. Their abstracted form retain an utopian sensibility, one that accompanies the nature of planning. It can be in that process of projecting the future that entails the suspension of the present state in order to imagine an ideal structure and an ideal community. A process that Suylon group and Ottman are actively engaged in.

Zana Rasool, Memories and War (2009)

The artist Zana Rasool shared with us some of his work which primarily focuses on sculpture and installation. One of his pieces Memories and War (2009) presents the artists collection of books arranged in old ammunition crates, which were common as a household furnishing during the long period of the Kurdish struggle under the Ba’athist regime. While the crates themselves recall a history of conflict the transformative gesture of reproposing the containers as storehouses of knowledge, while keeping the past in plain sight can also be seen as an educational strategy moving forward. In a positive signal for the future Rasool mentioned that is was surprisingly difficult to find the ammunition boxes for the installation. The crates were at one point ubiquitous, however recently many households have traded in the relics of war for the more comfortable accoutrements of domesticity.

Bhrhm Taib H. Ameen, Kurdish Man (2009)

Bhrhm Taib H. Ameen, artist and photographer, also works with new configurations of the past. Enthralled with old photographic portraits from the region at the end of the nineteenth century many of which are badly damaged or fading, Ameen restages the images constructing lavish sets with resplendent décor, adorning the sitters with antique weapons and intricate costumes. This re-presentation of frames from the past demonstrate a deep desire for the emergence of a history that goes beyond a narrative dedicated by nations, but rather one that lives on in communities and understands the continuity of culture instead of political borders. Ameen also takes photographs of the many enigmatic landscapes and architectural relics in the north of Iraq.

The fascinating morning left us wanting to stay and chat with all that were present, however as it was our last day in Sulaymaniyah we had to leave our gracious hosts.

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