Why paint a mountain?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As the result of a bitter and violent war between rival Kurdish factions (the PDK and PUK) a well-known Kurdish artist (he is often referred as the Grandfather of Kurdish art by colleagues!) and a former minister of Arts and Culture Ismail Khayat decided that something needed to be done to help bring the sides closer. He had slowly been gaining support for his work which directly addresses the need for peace in the region. This quest found expression when he painted the side of a mountain in the place where a lot of the killing took place. Using his very distinctive, figurative and colourful style he painted rocks, trees, bullets and other objects found on the site with bright colours and symbols. He also painted peace slogans and symbols such as “peace for Kurdistan” and “this place is not for fighting but for picnics” on the side of this mountain.

“…….I wonder if we would have ever have seen an end to this bloodshed,….”

He then invited leaders and members of the two warring parties to the site and had them bury stones marked with ‘anger’, ‘hate’, ‘pain’ ‘death’ etc.  as well as bullets and shells he had collected during the painting of the mountain as a symbol of them wanting to bury their differences. Although the two parties had already begun a dialogue this event is seen as a major turning point in resolving the issues between them. One artist put it like this “…..without Khayat’s help I wonder if we would have ever have seen an end to this bloodshed, this event is very important in Kurdish history”.  As we talked to numbers of people from different walks of life we have found he is not alone in his opinion.

…….that in his late sixties he is still as passionate as ever about bringing peace,

The amazing thing is that in his late sixties he is still as passionate (and energetic!) as ever about bringing peace, not just this region, but anywhere where there is division and conflict. Which is why we have been privileged to be involved in the painting of the mountain again. He, like us, is convinced that art and creativity have a powerful place to play in the world we live. When we first met him 2009 we asked him whether art can change policy or public opinion, his answer had a tone of incredulity as he replied “of course art can change things……artists have the responsibility to try and make the world a better place”. The mountain faces a busy back route between Sulaymaniyah and Erbil and judging from the positive responses we had as traffic went by…..he is still managing to make a difference.