Reflection: Where does documentary end and art begin?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In understanding my practice I have had to ask questions such as where does documentary end and art begin? This question was easy to answer several years ago, but no I find myself flirting with these two distinct areas in different ways.  Artists such as Luc Delahaye blur the distinctions further (interestingly his work is one of my personal favourites).  I personally think that as I regularly interact with the space in front of the lens, then my practice fits more comfortably within an art context, however, I mostly present a documentation of what I have been performing/constructing etc, so the relationship is inherently more complex.  When you document something there is an implied relationship to the truth, although this can be heavily scrutinised in an era where “to photoshop” is a verb.  This uncomfortable association with the notion of truth is one of the defining practices of documentarians, where as artists seem skilful and intentional at lying or bending the truth to suit their aims and objectives.  

Reflection: My journey

Posted on by Ben Hodson

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.

So why does Luton need peace? EDL/UAF/MDL

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In 2009 when the troops returned from the conflict in Iraq to Luton, they were greeted by a returning home parade.  They were also greeted by a handful of Muslims with extreme views, who protested and caused an angry response from some of the supporters of the troops.  This violent response led to a number of arrests and a growing sense of sheer detest to these few extreme Muslims.  These people went on to form the English Defence League (EDL), a far right group that primarily is anti-extreme Islam.  The group did initially grow some momentum with several marches, including a couple in the founding town of Luton.  The EDL provoked a reaction from the far left, namely a group called Unite Against Facism (UAF) and amongst the Muslim communities, the Muslim Defence League (MDL).  These groups and a number of others have primarily been trying to counter the EDL, branding them as racists and extremists in their own right.

Fundementally, the supporters of the EDL feel un-listened to about some genuine concerns and a number of their supporters have hijacked their core stance towards other imigration and race related issues.  The UAF and MDL have reacted so strongly towards the EDL that they have become just as violent and regularly are the ones who get arrested at counter demonstrations.  They are almost racists to who they consider racists.

Both sides appear to have truth and genuine concerns and yet both sides have very little time to sit down and create real dialogue about the issues. In my Peace for Luton project I am hoping to use the starting point of Iraq and use a dramatic symbol for peace to be a starting point for dialogue and peace.  The tensions are UK/Europe wide, but Luton has become one of the media's main focussing points.  THis is partly due to the large Asian populations in Luton and the fact that a number of the main organising people of these groups come from the area.  Although it is worth noting, that few of the actual members of the groups live in Luton.



Using people and situations

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As an artist in the tradition of Jeremy Deller, I have been using people and situations as a medium.  I view my role as an artist, as the instigator/facilitator. Deller's practice is based around the bringing together of concepts, projects, mediums and he regularly breaks conventions, works cross platform and cross media. My own practice is similarly varied, and I have been learning free myself from the constraints of traditional art practices.

Reflection: Jeremy Deller in relation to my work.

Posted on by Ben Hodson

I claim not to be a politically motivated artist, however, most of my current work involves engaging with themes of war, social injustice/inequality and social regeneration, which are highly political.  When Jeremy Deller was interviewed by the New Museum about his Iraqi project “It is What It Is” ,   “… he strenuously asserts that this isn't a political project—to which you might well ask, What could be more political than selecting which voices will represent Iraq to an information-hungry public?" Ben Davis, 09.  Deller too does not primarily seem driven by a political agenda, he instead simply attempts to “encourage conversations about our world” Deller J, 09.  In a similar way, my work does not intend to preach, rather open the doors to dialogue and engagement with difficult subjects.  I went to see Deller’s retrospective show at the Hayward Gallery and sat down with an Iraqi artist, Bassim Mehdi as part of the project.  The project attempted to create a dialogue around Iraq as a subject. Deller originally toured the exhibition across America with a number of objects including a bombed out car, an Iraqi civilian and an American Marine. 

Amna Suraka: reclaiming the prison for art & culture

Posted on by Ben Hodson

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.

Video of solo exhibition in Iraq

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As part of the exhibition I got local people to give their views of the work and how they felt about the work I had been showing in Luton and the rest of the UK.

I collected feedback at the exhibition and the general response was very positive. I have documented the English speaking interviews in this video.  The gallery has now mounted the work and is touring it around a number of galleries and locations in the region. It was important that the subject of the exhibition was from Luton, this is both because it is where I live and because of the tensions the town is facing.  

Reflection: Using people and situations as a medium?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

I now see myself as an artist in the tradition of Jeremy Deller, Since pursuing a higher level of reflection and development in my practice while studying for this MA, I have begun to use people and situations as a medium.  I view my role as an artist, as the instigator/facilitator.  Deller’s practice is based around the bringing together of concepts, projects, mediums and he regularly breaks conventions, works cross platform and cross media. My own practice is similarly varied, and I have been learning to free myself from the constraints of traditional art practices.

Reflection: Iraq exhibition

Posted on by Ben Hodson

British people have ideas, pre-conceptions and stereotypes about what people are like in Iraq and the Middle East.  Equally people who live in these areas have ideas, pre-conceptions and stereotypes about what British people are like. I aimed to show some common humanity and the beauty and dignity to be found in every culture and society. There are three collections of work I exhibited in Iraq; Firstly, a project called Lutopia, which is reproductions of large scale photomontages, depicting everyday scenes from Luton in the UK.  Secondly, the portraits of everyday people living in the town.  Thirdly, there are prints showing some of the exhibitions and events in the UK, that showcased work by Kurdish and Arab artists and photographers.  The project attempts to challenge sensationalist or traditional art responses to war and war zones. I tried to address the cross cultural notion of the “other” or foreigner by showing common humanity.

Overview and main changes to proposal

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In 2009 I travelled to Iraq. I collected a large amount of data, images, video and audio. From this large database I created art work, curated a travelling group exhibition called Iraq – The Forgotten Story and creatively supported a charity. I went on to create and exhibit a number of projects for the first half of my MA. For the final major project I have brought this large body of work to an ambitious conclusion with a return trip to Iraq in June 2012.  The project has resulted in two main outcomes;


1)  Exhibition in Iraq <> Exhibition in the UK

2)  Peace for Luton, mountain installation and reenactment.


The outcomes are showcased in this studio journal, the rationale, the final major project work and subsequent degree show.  The cultural exchange exhibitions were initially set out in my proposal, however, the Peace for Luton project has developed after persuing some of my initial research and following leads I had in Iraq.

What am I?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

I have asked myself numerous times; What am I? A photographer/designer/filmmaker/creative director/businessman/philanthropist/technician/lecturer/ and the answer that always sits best with me is artist.  Everything I do is an extension of my creative practice.

Better then expected....

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So far the project has exceeded my expectations.  I hoped that my intervention in Iraq would get out a message of peace, art and hope.  Due to all the media attention in Iraq and subsequent coverage in the UK, that message appears to be getting out there.

The Preemptive Love Coalition

Posted on by Ben Hodson

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 :

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.

Reflection: Cross medium like Jimmy Robert?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

The majority of the final major project lies in a more performative space.  The act of going to Iraq and putting on an exhibition is more important to me then the actual content of what I exhibited or the shots of the installation.  The act of painting messages of peace on the side of an Iraqi mountain is more important then the brush strokes themselves or the images and video which show the event.  I don’t consider myself a performance artist, however, I do take inspiration from artists, like Jimmy Robert, who also work across mediums, using photography, film, collage, video and performance. He is big on layering and the re-appropriation of other artist’s works, which in itself becomes another layering technique.  His work can be read on many levels and as the artforum writes: “mercurial practice resists speedy parsing”. Editor, ArtFourm 2012.  As my practice develops I find myself developing the concept first and deciding on the medium second.

Reflections on modernism and Post modernism

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Modernism has forever transformed society, culture and the context within which all contemporary art is made.  It was a fundamentally floored but equally neccessary transition to come through.  The reaction to postmodernism has opened up the space in which an art can be practiced and freed the artist to question and challenge everything.  I am an artist in the tradition of Jeremy Deller.  His practice is based around the bringing together of concepts, projects and mediums. He regularly breaks conventions, works cross platform and cross media.  My own practice is similarly varied. This breaking down of barriers and moving across mediums is certainly a result and fruit of postmodernism, although I do not support much of its theoretical elements. In searching for context for my own work I find myself identifying with elements of altermodenism, metamodernism and remodernism.  Fundamentally I believe that art should interact, comment and even try and change the world, whilst still providing space for enjoying the shear beauty or challenging concept of a piece of art.  Art and cultural history will show how we characterise this current phase we are currently in.  Some even argue that since postmodernism, that even defining movements has become impossible.  Whether that is true or not, I hope that the art made today in this broken world we live in is celebrated for its ability to bring about positive change. 

An attempt at making a statement

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As part of my on going reflection of my work I have put together a manifesto which sums up a lot of my practice and the values I try to live by.  This is defintely a work in progress and by no means finished.


Art can change the world

Art in its widest context can and does positively change the world. My work, time and research is caught up with this notion. Art is a great way of intervening in situations.  Art sits at the forefront of change in a society and has an inherited responsibility to engage with social change.

Creativity is always better in community

I consistently look to work in collaboration with other artists and creatives.  It is always better to work with someone who genuinely wants benefit for others rather then just for themselves. I am actively working against the isolation that is sometimes apparent in being an artist.


Visual peace making

As an image consumer and creator I am devoted to peacemaking and breaking down stereotypes by displaying the beauty of cultures from around the world. I actively look to build peace through the work I create.

There is always hope

Art regularly engages with ideas and themes which are dark in nature, artists need to build opportunities for hope and constructive and creative solutions to the issues.

Everything is art

Everything I do is an extension of my art practice; connecting people, projects, ideas, collaborations and image creations.  Constructing a creative business or community project is as valid as using more traditional methods and mediums. 

Everyone is creative

I strongly believe that everyone is creative.  The claim that some people aren't creative, normally means they can't draw or paint.  Everyone has creativity built into them although it expresses itself in different ways.  I endeavour to draw this out of other people and remove some of the inherent elitism found in traditional art contexts.

There are stories to tell

The notions of narrative and story telling are important to my work, as they are important to human society.  Everyone has a story to tell and art has a wonderful opportunity to tell these stories.

Posted on by Ben Hodson

I have been preparing the prints for my show in the Ismail Khayat Gallery in Iraq.  Due to the challenges over there and the need to transport the exhibition, there are a number of restrictions on the work.  This has meant I have had to cut out some of the series and concentrate on the work which will help me accomplish my goals; show work from Luton to people in Iraq, to show them what I have been doing in the UK and to get there responses to both.