My journey as a creative has led me from being a painter, to a photographer to an artist who uses intervention and social responsibility as a central medium and theme. My practice is fundamentally focused on two concepts: art as intervention, and how creativity can have a positive impact on the world. My primary reason for engaging with the place and subject of Iraq is related to but not solely due to its recent dramatic history. It is creeping off the media’s agenda and we have a responsibility not to forget these people. There are still numerous stories that still need telling. The mainstream media gives us one impression of a place, I have attempted to get behind this and reveal the real people and their stories.
Entries in changing the world (12)
It is important that the final stage of this project be showcased to the people of Luton. The centerpiece of this is a large painted mountain in the Iraqi desert, near a significant cultural border. I painted the slogan Peace for Luton on the side of it. To understand the project and why I facilitated this dramatic and seemingly random event, you need to understand the context.
The recent re-enactment refers to the Peace for Kurdistan project in 2000 by Ismail Khayat. I have connected this initial exciting event to a more generic and worldwide context as a peace symbol. As an artist from Luton, it seemed right that I use this dramatic and beautiful symbol as a rallying point to wage peace.
A video showing the dramatic painting of a mountain in Iraq as a performance by Ben Hodson and to reenact an original work by Ismail Khayat in 2000. Ben paints Peace for Luton on the side of the mountain to make a beautiful symbol for peace and hope for his home town of Luton, UK. Luton has suffered heightened tensions since the troops returned from Iraq in 2009.
When I went to Amna Suraka in 2009 it was barely more then an empty shell of the prison and torture chamber it had been. When I returned in 2012, it had become the location of and a symbol for Kurdish art and culture. As Amna Suraka had primarily been used to oppress the Kurds in one of their cultural capitals: Sulaymaniyah. This subversion is a wonderful example of art being used to bring hope and make a positive change.
As I look back over how my journey on the MA has developed I cannot forget one of the first and main reasons I got connected to Iraq as a subject matter in the first place. Let me quickly introduce you to The Preemptive Love Coalition(PLC): this group of humanity loving pioneers are the main reason I got to come to this part of the world. I heard their story: of how they were looking to help thousands of Iraqi children find ways of having life saving heart surgery while at the same time helping to to promote tolerance and understanding as well as find ways to resolve conflict. They inspired me to come and tell part of their story and discover untold stories that the world has forgotten or never heard. When I first came in 2009 I found amazing stories to tell...... and I became deeply connected to these incredible people. The people at PLC are fearless in their quest to pioneer the best ways to save lives and promote peace - they bring help bring healing and peacemaking to the often broken word in which we live. Go and be inspired and challenged at :
As a large amount of my research is concentrating on Iraq, war and artist intervention I was recomended to look at the artist Jeremy Deller.
In particular I have been looking at a project of his called: It is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq. The project attempted to create a dialogue around Iraq a s a subject. Jeremy toured with a number of objects including a bombed out car (Video below).
More information can be found here: http://www.conversationsaboutiraq.org/index.php
All content belongs to :http://www.jeremydeller.org/
It is clear to see the importance of art in society. Bloch, Rosler, Ballard and Miles all seem to agree with the way in which it can have a redemptive affect on society. Although it could be argued that on its own art has been seen to affect social change, it is normally in collaboration with other factors whether that be a social or political movement, cultural or technological change. It has become increasingly difficult to separate art from the surrounding contexts. I don’t see this as a particular problem as I believe art should not be viewed as a detached entity. Art comes from and belongs to the culture and context it is birthed in. It seems that it is the context which surrounds the work that defines the scale of impact.
In interviewing artists who demonstrated an intention to bring about positive change, I have grown in my understanding and the thought process behind this discussion. These have ranged from short conversations or questions from talks to full audio and video recorded interviews. On a recent trip to northern Iraq I connected with a group of artists and photographers. These (primarily Kurdish) people faced the brunt of the horrendous crimes perpetrated by Saddam Hussain. Their work gives a balance to the Iraqi voices we are shown via our media; they do not directly engage themselves in the debate over the war. They simply strive for peace and remind us of the 250,000+ innocent people that have been killed and the fact that the Kurds are the world's largest ethnic group without a country. At the centre of this collective is an artist: Ismail Khayat. The former minister of Art & Culture for Kurdistan, often dubbed as the “Grandfather of Kurdish art” is responsible for most of the art projects in the north of Iraq. He was born in Khanaken, Kurdistan in 1944, and has been a member of the Iraqi Artist Association since 1965 and the Iraqi Artist Syndicate since 1970. He currently lives in Sulaymaniyah, which has again become the cultural centre for Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and even Iran & Armenia. The city was founded by Prince Ibrahim Pasha Baban in 1784 as “a place where Kurdish culture could flourish,” (Current Kurdish Cultural Minister Falakaddin Kakeyi 07). Interviewing Ismail (Fig. 6) about his work revealed a number of incredible stories. One of these stories has become a centre piece for my research and is a case study for this essay.
Starting in 1994, the Kurdish Democratic Party (PDK) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) started fighting one another after disputes erupted over the control of Southern Kurdistan in Iraq. After 3-4 years of fighting, this civil war had caused a lot of damage and numerous lives had been lost. Ismail had slowly been gaining support for his work which directly addresses the need for peace in the region. This culminated in a painted mountainside (Fig. 7 & 8) in the centre of one of the worst areas for the bloodshed. Using his figurative and colourful style he painted rocks, trees, bullets, shells and other found objects. He inscribed the words “Peace for Kurdistan” in Kurdish, Arabic and English amongst other peace symbols and words. This included the statement that “this place is not for fighting, it is for picnics!” (Ismail Khayat 09). The artist claimed that this act was one of the main contributing facts to the peace process between these two political parties. As a former political minister for the region, this statement was unlikely to be just be hype or an over optimistic self-appraisal. However, I made efforts to find evidence to back up his claims. In speaking to a number of other Kurdish people, including artists and other community leaders; they all relayed the incredible impact that this dramatic installation caused. The act of painting the mountain could almost be seen as a performance piece, we joked about the fact no-one made a documentary about it.
The mountainside soon became a safer area. Ismail invited the leaders and members of these two parties to the site. He got the leaders of both the PUK and the PDK to take part in visual acts of peace. He got them to bury stones marked with the Kurdish words for fighting, pain, death and anger. This event appears to be widely regarded as one of the main turning points in the dialogue between these two opposing parties. The peace talks had already started before this event; however, it is clear that no deals or decisions had been made. Conversations with other Kurdish individuals, showed how well Ismail is known in the region. The stories of his painted mountain appeared to be well known and most were of the opinion that he had caused a significant change in the nation's history. On asking another Kurdish artist if the peace process would have happened without this creative act he replied, “Without Khayat's help I wonder if we would have ever seen an end to the bloodshed, this event is very important to Kurdish history.” (Soran Hamad 09)
This incredible story had gained Ismail invitations to the Middle East institute in Washington DC, to do talks on “How Art Can be used to Bring Peace” and a special seminar on “Civil Life in Iraqi Kurdistan” in 2001. On asking Ismail if art can change policy and public opinion, he responded in a surprised way. He appeared to be surprised that the question was even worth asking. “Of course art can change things... artists have a responsibility to try and make the world a better place.” (Ismail Khayat 09)
As I have been progressing with my ideas, work and research I have begun to refine my intentions. Namely the fact that I am passionate about wanting to bring about positive change. I am interested in space, place, location, narrative and all these other things, however, it is in direct positive change that my imagination flurishes.
TED prize winner and artist JR presents his project "Inside Out". I have come accross his work previously, but this new project, alongisde his recent face2face and women are heroes project are particularly inspiring. I am interested in the way art can change the world, JR appears to be having some kind of positive affect.
It has got me thinking about creating some kind of project which maybe feeds into his project, but has a life and legacy of its own?
The simple posters that the Atelier Populaire created had widespread circulation and appeal due to the social climate. Eddie Adam's street execution image confirmed the western public's suspicions that they didn't really believe in the war in Vietnam. Susan Sontag when writing about the photograph argues “.....[It] can't coerce, It won't do the moral work for us. But it can start us on the way.” (Susan Sontag, 2003). This research has partly supported this statement; however, I do not feel that I completely agree. I would suggest that photography, in particular, has the ability to suggest a moral response, due to the controlled nature of the process. However, Art as a whole has a responsibility to not just point out injustice; it needs to be bound up in the social, political and environmental context it finds itself. Through this research I realize it will never really be possible to fully measure or quantify the effects of art, however the very fact that the images discussed adorn many walls, whether of homes, universities or public buildings around the globe show they undoubtedly have effected the consciousness of society at all levels and thereby produced change. Looking at the wars, disease, the move away from family values, social issues, the percentage of the worlds population below the poverty line you can see that the world is surely in need of redemptive influence. Art can never be the whole answer but it can be part of the answer. Artists have an important and unique role to play in raising questions and awareness, as well as helping bring about positive change in society. We should creatively look to bring a redemptive purpose to this broken world.
As part of my on going investigation into these ideas, I have been working on some practice led research. One of the projects was called, High town art for all, which was a series of community arts “pop-up” galleries and events. The purpose of the project was three fold; Firstly, to help promote artists that were mainly local and included some people from further a field. Secondly, to help bring more cultural benefit to the town (Luton) and help develop the growing arts scene. Finally, to directly help in the social regeneration of a run down area (High Town Road). The project appears to have succeeded at all of these levels. It has received direct positive feedback from the council, landlords, letting agents, the public and the artists themselves. Over 40 artists were involved, with around 20 events, workshops and private views being held. Two out of the three shops that were used have now been let out as a direct result of the project. The third shop is currently in discussion with buyers. The project shows a direct and tangible positive change in the lives the local residents and shop keepers who felt that the area was being ‘improved’ and highlighted. The artists involved gained exposure for their work, found others to collaborate with and some even sold some of their work. Whereas the landlords and local council saw a direct commercial benefit as a result of their involvement in the project. It may not be as dramatic as a change in human history such as bringing peace to a region, but it certainly started to have a redemptive affect on that part of town.