Kurdish artists have earned their place in the international spotlight by producing powerful and rebellious artworks that preserve the spirit of an occupied people, academic Shilan Fuad Hussain said in a profile published in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on August 4.
In the piece titled, “Armed with Paintbrushes: Kurdish Women Artists Fighting for Equality,” Hussain said that Kurdish women use art as a “powerful tool to represent what it means to be a Kurd, a woman, and a human being.” She also said that art has become a medium for the women of Kurdistan to tell their stories and “preserve the collective spirit of an occupied stateless people.”
“Cultural creation becomes a form of resistance,” Hussain said.
“As a consequence, even non-political art is itself a rebellious act of self-affirmation,” she also said, noting that the artworks of female Kurdish artists, who challenge conservative conventions, push for gender equality, and fight for human rights mainly take aim at the patriarchy and nation states that occupy Kurdistan.
Noting that examples of contemporary Kurdish art can be found in the 2017 Imago Mundi volume “In-Between Worlds: Kurdish Contemporary Artists”, which features 115 contemporary artists, Hussain focuses on the works of Zehra Doğan, Tara Abdullah, Raz Xaidan and Medya Armani.
Doğan, who spent almost three years behind bars over “terrorism” charges for painting a picture depicting the Turkish army’s destruction of a neighbourhood in the Kurdish-majority southeastern province of Mardin (Merdin), gained international attention with artworks she created in prison. The 31-year-old artist left Turkey after her release and created an exhibition of her works. Doğan says that her artwork focuses on remembrance, preservation of culture, and champions Kurdish feminism.
“By suppressing our “Women Artists” historical archive, they are trying to plunge us into amnesia, oblivion, non-existence. A people deprived of its memory is brought to its knees… In most of my works, documentation is very important. By painting, drawing on or from documents, I try to make them permanent,” Doğan said.
Abdullah, whose works were featured in the exhibition “Basement” in Sulaymaniyah last year, launched her visual project “Mêyîne” which focuses on women subjected to violence. For the project, Abdullah combined pieces of clothing from 99,678 women victims of violence and turned the final piece into a 4,800-metre-long artwork of fabric running from Sulaymaniyah’s Nali Park to the city courthouse.
A Kurdish Londoner born in Sweden and raised in the UK before returning to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014, Xaidan, a mixed media artist and photographer, challenges societal expectations in her works, in which she purposefully leaves the women faceless, representing women’s repression and the timelessness of their struggle across generations to the present day.
“Struggling against oppression can mean more than taking up a gun and going into battle. I am fighting against the absence of female-led creative work in Kurdish society. A woman’s revolution cannot be run by men in suits!” Xaidan said.
Armani, a painter from Serê Kaniyê in Rojava, who was forced to flee her city to Qamishli in 2019 following the Turkish invasion, says the Rojava revolution has paved the way for women artists.
“There has been a great transformation in perspectives towards women in society. The hidden talents of women have been revealed,” she said.