Dubai’s Jameel Arts Center is showcasing a retrospective exhibition of artworks by Kurdish-Iraqi artist Hiwa K. whose inspiration comes from the troubled history of Iraq.
This is the first time that 46-year-old Hiwa K. (his artist name, Hiwa means “hope” in Kurdish) shows his artworks in the Middle East. The artist has previously held exhibitions in Berlin, where he now lives, as well as in Vienna, Milan, New York and London.
The exhibition, which runs until July 24, is entitled “Do you remember what you are burning.” It is a reference to the April 2011 burning of a stage used by protesters during demonstrations against the semi-autonomous Kurdish government in the artist’s hometown of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq. Hiwa K. was there in town where he organized two weeks later a filmed performance by local activists who read burnt sentences from books, as if they were censored, while wearing a welding helmet and a magnifying glass in front of bewildered people.
Lana Shamma, programs manager at the Jameel Art Center, explained in an email that the exhibition revolves around “much of the subject matter is his own lived experience being from Iraqi Kurdistan and his relationship with this place—even after he lived abroad.”
According to Shamma, one of the highlights of the exhibition is “The Bell Project.” The artist has melted Iraqi weapons left over from the various armed conflicts in the country (Iraq-Iran war between 1980-1988, and both Gulf wars in 1990 and 2003) to build a church bell in Italy. “It weaves together many threads of history,” said Shamma. It recalls that bells were once melted during wars in Europe to build cannons.
Another one of his projects, “My Father’s Color Periods”, consists of 16 vintage television sets of the late 1970s with colored cellophane on them. In 1979, the artist wrote on his personal website, “a rumor spread that the state-owned television station would show a film in color.” But in the Kurdistan area most of the inhabitants still had black and white television sets, unlike many Arabs living in the cities, he said. “So my father decided to cut a sheet of colored cellophane and stick it on the screen of our TV at home. After a while, I realized that my father was not the only one making his own color TV. Many other people in the Kurdish area had devised their own unique filters.”
Hiwa K is a socially engaged artist that, certainly, should exhibit more in the Middle East and, who knows, will one day showcase his artworks in Iraq…