Artists can be like politicians, says Shiraz Aziz, an Iraqi Kurdish artist who heads a school for graphic art in Dohuk, in the semi-autonomous, northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan. They can play a role in mobilizing popular opinion and this exhibition was an opportunity for Iraqi artists to join the fight against the Sunni Muslim extremists from the group known as the Islamic State, he explained. “It is all about local artists supporting local troops who are fighting against the extremists,” Aziz explains.
“The role of the artist is to highlight the terrible acts that the extremists have undertaken and their impact on society,” Aziz noted. “And that’s what the artists in this exhibition have tried to do.”
ONE OF THE participants, Hassan Abdul Ghafoor, contributed an obelisk shaped sculpture. “I wanted to show the long history of the Kurdish people through this,” the artist explains. “I also wanted to emphasise the negative role played by the extremists in the way they demolish ancient sites, shrines and mosques and churches – all of which represent humanity’s legacy here.”
“The role of the artist is to highlight the terrible acts that the extremists have undertaken"
Ghafoor says he is participating in the exhibition because he wanted to show visitors that, “that our presence here (in Iraqi Kurdistan) depends on our troops, who’ve been fighting the extremists for months and sacrificing their lives. That is why they deserve our appreciation and respect. They are our protectors.”
Painter Fatah Mohammed contributed an artwork that got a lot of attention from onlookers because it represented co-existence between the different sectors of Iraqi society.
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“This country was – and it will continue to be – a land of peaceful coexistence, regardless of one’s sectarian, ethnic or religious origin,” the artist noted. “Iraq’s diverse society was behind the country’s prosperity. Many lived peacefully together until the Islamic state militants arrived, with the darkness of their clothing reflecting the darkness of their thoughts. My painting is also a call for society to react positively to the different minorities who have made their way to safety in Iraqi Kurdistan.”
“Everyone should be able to live a peaceful life, to breathe air and drink water,” says graphic artist Faman Ismael, whose works focused on the basic ingredients of human life. But Ismael also had more political thoughts behind his work. “You cannot choose your country, or your colour,” he explains. “No matter how powerful you are, you may one day find yourself in a different land, with people who speak differently and who believe in different things. And that is why we shouldn’t crush any sector of society just because it is different. The Islamic State group wants to do this, it comes to impose black on everyone. In my artwork I wanted to say that life is only beautiful if we appreciate all the colours we can see.”
A LOCAL ART reviewer attending the exhibition, Dlovan Mohammed Amin, was impressed, saying that the realistic style some of the artists had used really helped to bring home their point.
"EXHIBITIONS LIKE THIS are particularly important at times like this,” Amin said. “It was able to reflect some of the tragedies that had befallen the people in this area and it has been able to feature some of these issues and this is the real role of art in life. The artists are fighting the Islamic State group with their wonderful work,” he concluded enthusiastically.