As part of my challenge by Hannah Birkett in a tutorial was to look at creating some promotional material. As the exhibition in Iraq has primarily been organised by people there, I had not considered creating something for people here. As the work being shown is varied and the content is less important then the act of actually exhibiting there, it is a challenge to design a poster with no examples of work in it. I do not consider myself a strond designer, so this is a brave attempt for me.
The more I look at artists who engage with a strong notion of social responsibility, the more I get drawn to contemporary street artists. Ben Slow is known for large murals in public spaces. This image here depicts a English Defence League (EDL) member and a member of an extreme Muslim sect. This image is interesting to me and my work, in scale, content and subject. A lot of my work is Luton based and having the leader of the EDL come from Luton and a number of the extreme Muslim groups are local as well.
This is the video from the portas pilot bid which I created as part of the town team.
One area that is worth considering is into whether an artist needs to actually go to a place, event, country etc. and/or be directly affected by the event, situation. While looking at artists intervening a contemporary and relevant issue became apparent. International Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been detained in China without charge. Ai Weiwei has recently had a number of shows in London including his world famous ‘Sunflower Seeds’ installation in the turbine hall of the Tate Modern. As an artist he is quite out spoken against the communist government in China. World renowned British sculptor Anish Kapoor has come out to condemn this apparent abuse of his human rights. The authorities appear to be cracking down on all out spoken activists with in its borders. The unrest and gradual move towards democracy in the Middle East seems to be causing some people to suggest that Chinese people should start similar protests. The Chinese government appears to be trying to stop this from happening. Kapoor has organised worldwide closures of major art institutions and galleries. He has also dedicated his recent Leviathan installation to Ai Weiwei’s cause. On the surface you may question what this would do to the Chinese government, however, this single act has caused Weiwei’s situation to become a worldwide news story. It shows how artists can intervene without actually knowing or directly experiencing a situation or problem.
Anish Kappor dedicates art to Ai Weiwei:
Anish Kapoor appeals:
Visdeos about artist being arrested by Chinese government.
Artist stopped from boarding plane:
International pressure grows
His company accused of avoiding taxes:
My research of other historical and contemporary artists has centered on specific individuals who attempted to use visual art to bring about positive change. When looking into visual artists who had a big influence on society, it is impossible to ignore the influence of Pablo Picasso. Specifically in his painting “Guernica” the artist intended to draw attention to the atrocities of war, in particular the aerial bombardment of the Spanish village of Guernica.
The Spanish rulers commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Paris International exposition, as part of the world fair in Paris 1937. He had already begun work on this commission when the bombing took place. He scrapped his original work and began to create this provocative monochromatic image. It was heralded as the painting which allowed the world to awaken to the horrible events of the Spanish civil war. As an anti-war symbol it was particularly successful in catching the public’s attention. This was to do with the new style of aerial bombardment that the German Luftwaffe squadron employed. The world was becoming aware of the inevitable breakout of European war and this was the first time the devastating potential of this new style of warfare was seen.
Picasso never fully explained the work or associated symbolism. There are a number of conflicting theories which surround the work and what it has contributed to change in world history. It is therefore hard to determine or quantify exactly what impact the work has had. It is clear that this is one of the most famous pieces of art in the world and it appears to have galvinised public opinion against the ideologies of war, both past and present.
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)