Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 12th October 2019

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Road Through Kurdistan’ stops in London

The festival’s focal point, “Road Through Kurdistan,” is a major exhibition of contemporary Kurdish art that brings together an eclectic group of international artists, both Kurdish and non-Kurdish.


Untold story. “Memory and Loss” by Ali Raza Garmiany.(Gulan)

Untold story. “Memory and Loss” by Ali Raza Garmiany.(Gulan)

LONDON - Kurdish history, heritage and culture are celebrated at a festival in London’s P21 Gallery marking the 10th anniversary of Gulan, a British charity promoting Kurdish culture and identity.

The festival’s focal point, “Road Through Kurdistan,” is a major exhibition of contemporary Kurdish art that brings together an eclectic group of international artists, both Kurdish and non-Kurdish.

Curated by Gulan’s Creative Director Richard Wilding and Kurdish artist Mariwan Jalal, the exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of post-WWI peace treaties that created the modern borders between Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, denying the Kurds an independent state.

It reflects the region’s religious and ethnic diversity, genocide under Saddam Hussein’s regime, religious persecution and destruction of heritage by the Islamic State (ISIS) and future hopes for the Kurdish people.

The exhibition takes its name from a book written by New Zealand engineer A.M. Hamilton, who was commissioned by the British administration to build a road from Erbil through the mountains and gorges of Kurdistan to the Persian frontier in 1928. In his book, “Road through Kurdistan,” published in 1937, Hamilton describes the numerous challenges in constructing a route through some of the world’s most beautiful but difficult and dangerous terrain.

The curators said the show looks forward to a more positive future, in which Kurdish culture and identity may flourish and more bridges can be built between religious and ethnic neighbours. “There are now new ‘roads through Kurdistan’ to be explored, with opportunities for peaceful coexistence, trade and tourism,” they said in a news release.

Gulan’s founder and trustee Sarah Panizzo said she set up Gulan in 2009 after meeting Della Murad, a Kurdish fashion designer.

“Her clothes, inspired by traditional Kurdish costumes, were wonderfully colourful and beautiful,” Panizzo said. “Della is passionate about her Kurdish identity and taught me to love her people and her country. This led to the forming of Gulan to celebrate Kurdish culture.”

The exhibition, which features unique and varied works from 17 artists, provides a penetrating flash of insight into the plight and suffering of the Kurdish people.

Wilding insisted that, although many of the works are issue-based, it is not a political exhibition. However, “if you are doing work in Iraqi Kurdistan you can’t avoid politics. The works reflect history and the persecution of Kurds under Saddam and the terrible events that happened since 2014 because of ISIS.”

“One of the great challenges of doing an exhibition like this is that people living in Kurdistan are very cut off from the West. It is very difficult for them to travel here (to London) and to bring their works but some, like Baldin Ahmed [who lives in the Netherlands], were able to travel and set up their works in the gallery,” Wilding said.

Ahmed, a Kurdish artist, showcased a sculpture of “The Lady of Warka” (3200BC). Leaning on the ground, the stone square is meant to evoke the ideal order as a symbol of the juxtaposition of earth and sky and celebrate the universe.

Drawings by Osman Ahmed depict, in storyboard format, testimonies from survivors of the Anfal genocide in which 50,000-182,000 Kurds were killed.

“Most of my drawings come from memory and my experience as a witness to the years of political and cultural repression, culminating in the horrendous event in 1988 (the Anfal) that left a profound effect on my life,” Ahmed states.

Anfal also features in drawings taken from the notebook of Rebwar Saed, once a peshmerga fighter who is now in charge of the Department of Fine Art at Sulaymaniyah University. The notebook is from 1988 and entries describe a chemical weapons attack on Halabja in which he was injured.

“Memory and Loss,” by Ali Raza Garmiany, is one of a series of portraits made of poured sand and fabric. It pictures Taimoor Abdullah, a survivor of Anfal, whose family was killed and buried in the desert.

London artist Piers Secunda exhibited three casts of an Assyrian relief in solid paint. The work disintegrates as casts of bullet holes that were made by ISIS are superimposed on the paintings. Secunda also exhibits a charcoal drawing of a church in Karakosh burned by ISIS. He visited the church and collected charred pieces of wood that he used as charcoal to make a very poignant drawing.

The work of Hemn Hamed focuses on children in Mosul making imitation weapons from scraps of wood and bicycle tyres.

Films, including “The Deminer,” a portrait of a Kurdish colonel who disarmed thousands of roadside bombs and mines armed only with a pair of wire cutters, are also on the programme.

“Road Through Kurdistan” will be at the P21 Gallery, London, through October 26.

From memory. Rebwar Saed’s notebook about the chemical attack on Halabja. (Gulan)

From memory. Rebwar Saed’s notebook about the chemical attack on Halabja. (Gulan)

Art with a message. “Beyond Time” by Baldin Ahmed. (Gulan)

Art with a message. “Beyond Time” by Baldin Ahmed. (Gulan)

War scars. Toys depicting weapons made by the children of Mosul. (Gulan)

War scars. Toys depicting weapons made by the children of Mosul. (Gulan)