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.



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.

Our Farley, Documentary Film Project

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As part of my on going research into visual peace making and artist intervention, I have been one of the main organisers of a summer film project.  The purpise is to use a creative skill (in this case filmmaking) to give people a voice and address some of the tensions in the Farley ward of Luton.

With this project we will aim to use film making to bring encourage further community cohesion. We will run a series of workshops training young people with the ability to make documentary films. We will then ask them to use these new skills to get footage for an overall documentary of Farley. The documentary will then be shown at a premier where the entire community will be invited. The subject on the film will be on Farley looking at its positives and also some of the challenges but from the point of view of the inhabitants. The project will be aimed at 16-21 year olds but will hope to have an effect on and represent the entire community. 

On the first day we will put on taster giving a brief overview of the project and all the aspects to all who come along, we will then choose 3 groups of 5 people who will be given provided with some basic camera equipment and will allowed to progress to the rest of the course. We will then do 4 days of training over the next two weeks while the groups will still be creating their own footage. The training will cover technical skills, but will also look at subjects like understanding other peoples perspectives. We will then take away the footage and make the film, seeking to be true to the themes and words of the people of Farley. The young people will have an opportunity to contribute their thoughts to the final edit of the documentary before the public showing.



Show Luton to Iraqi's

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Previously in the UK I have showed people what Iraqi people are like: their lives, their places of work and their homes. I have been attempting to go beyond the media and address some of the stereotypes and assumptions. However, there are direct parallels with what I have been doing and early photography’s relationship to colonisation.  I have been researching concepts that touch on colonial and post-colonial theory in art.   I would never support a colonial perspective or celebrate its effect on the world, yet I have regularly mimicked/reflected their actions in my own work. In as much as I have photographed distant and ‘exotic’ lands and brought them back to England to present them as an artefact.  In an attempt to reject colonial patterns developing in my own practice, I have intentionally taken work back to Iraq that was created in Luton and showcased my own culture to local people.  It has become a cultural exchange. The exhibition is part of an on going aim to tell stories and challenge perceptions through my work. 

Primary Research - It is what it is - Jeremy Deller

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Jeremy Deller's work "It is what it is" is one of the most important works for my research, so when a retrospective came to the Hayward Gallery, I made an effort to spend some time at it.  As part of the work, Deller wanted people to start a dialogue around the subject of Iraq.  I spent a length of time with Bassim Mehdi, who is the director of the Iraqi Artists Institute.  We have subsequently developed a relationship and we are looking at working together in the future. 

Exhibition: All that I am

Posted on by Ben Hodson

I went to the launch of the new space for the Departure Lounge project, an exhibition called: "All that I am" a group show of portrait photographers; Julie Cook, Jane Hilton and Nancy Newberry.  The images were stunning, a real insight into their respective subjects.  The varied scale and presentation of the work made for an interesting show and was well attended, it is good news for Luton.

Luc Delahaye, further thoughts

Posted on by Ben Hodson


In understanding my practice as someone who uses photography and video, I have had to ask questions such as where does documentary end and art begin? This question seemed easy to answer several years ago, but now I find myself dipping into these two distinct areas in different ways.  Artists such as Luc Delahaye blur the distinctions further (it is worth noting his work is one of my personal favourites). “Delahaye's big pictures ask more questions than they answer about the increasingly blurred line between reportage and art, the importance of scale, and the tangible sense of detachment that characterises a certain strand of contemporary photography.” Sean O'Hagan, Tuesday 9 August 2011 09.00 BST

The Deutch Borse prize winner is a photojournalist and artist. His large format   works blur the lines between reportage and fine art. I find both how he has been accepted in the art world and the scale of his work interesting. Delahaye has long crossed the line between photojournalist and artist. The scale at which his prints are reproduced and the high quality result that he obtains from the medium/large format photography gives the viewer a reaction which is more profound then the usual journalistic image. His work makes me start to question the nature and genre of my own work.  


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.

It is what it is: conversations about Iraq

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Jeremy Deller put the project together to encourage conversation about our world. The porject is a corner stone of the context for which I create my work and Deller's approach is one of the most inspiring and relevant to my practice.

The invasion of Iraq, and the continuing occupation, is that kind of war, too. It has released something in art: a rage, a sense of purpose, or perhaps just an extreme nihilism. Two years ago, in a London gallery, I could have sworn I had travelled back to the dada protests that rocked Berlin in 1919. Cardboard figures of US soldiers paraded through a scene spliced together from images of Iraq's war dead. These grotesque, but real, fragments had been found on websites and collaged into a furious installation by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn. The pulverised bodies, photographed by soldiers for reasons that are hard to fathom, were barely recognisable as human.

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, Tues 14th April 2009.


For videos I have watched about Deller's ambitious project follow this link:

Reflections on modernism and Post modernism

Posted on by Ben Hodson

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. 

Artist: Thomas Hirschhorn

Posted on by Ben Hodson


As I look at war artists, I have come across the passionate work by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn.  This peice here was shown in the Tate Modern is a politically charged sculpture which comments on the challenges and fragility of everything surrounding the Iraq conflict.

Hirschhorn creates monumental works from the basest of materials. Cardboard, foil, paper and plastic are bound together with tape, in an apparently casual fashion, to form works that are all the more powerful for their obvious instability. In Drift Topography, a ring of US soldiers surround and stand guard over a densely built-up, fenced-in territory. The soldiers themselves, and the weapons they brandish, are larger than life-sized cardboard cutouts. The landscape they guard is equally unstable – a city built from boxes, card, cotton wool and aluminum foil. Vast quantities of generic brown packing-tape hold the whole structure together. Political and historically significant books line the makeshift streets, alongside rows of plastic petrol cans. Paper billboards bear Arabic script enlarged from newspapers, and the bold text of truncated headlines – ‘war’, ‘power’, ‘humanitarian’, ‘globalization’ – are plastered over every surface, echoing the overuse of such terms by the press to the extent of virtual meaninglessness. Over it all, gigantic mushrooms rise out of the centre of the system, evoking nuclear clouds as much as thriving mutant fungi. Accessed May 2012

Metamodernism and Altermodernism

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Another stance that takes a position between modernism and postmodernism is metamodernism. It was proposed by Robin van den Akker and Timotheus Vermeulen in 2010. They suggest a sensibility that is both looking for universal truths and political relativism.  The term meta refers to Plato’s metaxy or ‘middle ground’. What they are pointing to is the fact that there are elements of good and truth in modernism and postmodernism, but both are equally floored, that there may be another way, a third way.  One theory that has recently been suggested is Altermodernism.  It’s an attempt at contextualising contemporary art made as a reaction against commercialism.  The Tate Britain’s fourth Triennial exhibition was titled Altermodernism, which was curated by Nicolas Bourriaud. “[Altermodernism is] a movement connected to the creolisation of cultures and the fight for autonomy, but also the possibility of producing singularities in a more and more standardised world"(Bourriaud, 2005). It is described in terms of the end of postmodernism, the expanding formats of art, cultural hybridisation and travelling as a new way to produce forms. As an artist I can identitfy with travel and cultural exchanges and making it an important part of the art process.  

Research: The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As I continue to pursue using creativity to bring around positive change in the world I find myself drawn to like minded creatives.  ON my travels in the middle east and the USA I have come across an organisation called the International Guild of Visual Peace Makers (IGVP).

I am now a member of the IGVP.  Their values and the way they work them out is particularly attractive to me.  I had the opportunity to meet with the director of the guild and joined him on a talk at the University of Warick.  The way they are working out their creativity in the world is simply by trying to use the skills they have to bring peace. They describe themselves as "visual communicators who are devoted to peacemaking and breaking down stereotypes by displaying the beauty and dignity of various cultures around the world."  I am personally interested in the notion of visual peace making as I think it is something that I have been doing.

They asked me to complete an interview here are my answers:

  1. What does visual peacemaking mean to you?

    For me Visual Peace making is using our creativity to bring about positive change in the world. Specifically bringing peace through all visual means, not just photography. My story is bit different to a lot of other visual peacemakers, especially those in the IGVP.  I am an artist, the photography and filmmaking is only part of what I do. Visual Peace making could be done through actually showing art, maybe a documentary, an exhibition of art by a misunderstood community, a series of photographs or even a peice of sculpture or installation art.  This of course embraces the beauty and common humanity of other cultures, but it also may be in finding healing/understanding in our differences and past hurts.

    Visual Peace making is what I dedicate most of my time to, it is what I am passionate about.

  2. What motivates you to be a peacemaker? 

    A lot motivates me to do it, in short: life, people I meet, my family & friends, my experiences and my faith.
    In a longer explanation:  I was born in Brighton, UK into a family with an painter for a mother and a creative entrenpreneur for a father. They inspired me to creativly look for solutions to the worlds issues. I moved around a fair bit as a child and even lived in India for a couple of years. These experiences greatly influenced my outlook on life and how I appreciate and view other cultures.  I have travelled a fair amount in central Europe, Africa, the USA and the Middle East.  It was only a matter of time before my interest of other cultures and places turned into a desire to document them.  This was firstly through painting and later photography, my first exhibition at the age of 16 I exhibited a painting of an african child as part of an Aids awareness project. I am quite a bad and impatient painter and therefore make a fairly good photographer and film maker. 

    I am interested in art’s ability to bring about positive change.  My interests, research and time is caught up with this notion.  I am also interested in ideas of story telling, narrative, place and location.  This is why I went to Iraq.  I went looking to explore the story of the Iraq still unseen, to engage with the lives, questions and challenges the media has been ignoring. Though I wanted to tell their story, I soon realised that I could not do this as well as the Iraqi people themselves. I have subsequently co- curated an exhibition of art work by Iraqi people which is currently touring here in Europe. “Iraq: The Forgotten Story” gives the Iraqi people an opportunity to have their own voice.  In my own work I have tried to show my perspective of the place and I want to convey some of the highs and lows of the experiences in Iraq. I am not a photojournalist, I do not hunt down the headlines or stop myself getting involved.  I am interested in the people, their lives and their stories. I cannot expect people to be affected by what I show them without first allowing my own heart to be broken by what I experienced.

    I am motivated to be a peace maker by a world that needs peace.

  3. Have you ever felt stereotyped?

    Yes for being young, British, white, a Manchester United fan, a skateboarder and an artist (in that order I think).

  4. How does your camera get you to reflect on your world and your life?

    Photography & film making enables me to share my vision of the world and help activily bring about positive change.  However, I also do this through other creative projects including creating, exhibiting and curating visual art in all its forms.

  5. What do you like to photograph best?

    Everything and everyone.  I especially love capturing “decisive moments” and people will always feature heavily in what I photograph.

  6. What technical aspect of photography do you find most challenging?

    Technically, I would say that hardest thing is getting out of bed early to catch the good light.

  7. Is there a particular group you feel is misunderstood or stereotyped that you’d like to document common humanity amongst? 

    There is so many, I find them everywhere I go.  At the moment I cannot get out of my mind; the Kurds, Iraqi’s, Kenyans, Irish immigrants to England, the Welsh, British Muslims to name a few.  I also quite like the idea of doing a project on peacemakers themselves, we’re a weird bunch, I bet people would enjoy seeing our lives as well.

  8. Do you have an idea worth sharing?

    I find Art is prophetic in nature.  It sits at the front-line of change in a society.  If you want to know some of the directions a society will be taking in 5-10 years time, just look at the avant garde of art and the subjects which it engages with.  As artists we are good at pointing at issues and subjects that we think need to be brought to others attention.  I am interested in whether art can do more then just point at the issues and the future.  I will continue to investigate if creative work can actually help to bring about positive changes in the society around it.

Full information on the guild can be found here:

My profile can be found here:

Exhibition: Yayoi Kusama at the Tate Modern

Posted on by Ben Hodson

I went to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern.  As one of the foremost Japonese artists, she is best known for her dots.  This installation, involving mirrors and lights, was both disoreintating and wonderfully emmersive.  Again, I am struck by the presence and scale of installation works and it makes me want to look at persuing some of my own.


Posted on by Ben Hodson

To understand modernism, it is worth first putting it in the context of the run up to the way of thinking called pre-modernity.  Pre-modernity in the widest sense was characterised by a time when there was ultimate truth and this truth exists outside of the individual.  There is also authoritative sources of this truth, which were largely religious scriptures and texts.  Art mostly responded and commented on these ultimate truths.  Pre-modern western art was still predominantly based on religious themes.  This was also before a lot of key changes in the west: - it was pre-enlightenment, pre-industrialisation, pre-colonialism and even pre-individualism.  All of these large cultural shifts that came dramatically affected the environment in which art was created and viewed. With the shift towards modernism came a far more logical and scientific outlook.  What was lost was some of the mysticism and the sense that there is more to existence then just what you could explain or prove.  This longing to bring back some of these elements led the way for post-modernism.