Video of Peace for Luton painted mountain

Posted on by Ben Hodson

A video showing the dramatic painting of a mountain in Iraq as a performance by Ben Hodson and to reenact an original work by Ismail Khayat in 2000.  Ben paints Peace for Luton on the side of the mountain to make a beautiful symbol for peace and hope for his home town of Luton, UK. Luton has suffered heightened tensions since the troops returned from Iraq in 2009.

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.



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.



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 :

Luton Peace Vigil, an artists intervention.

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Luton Peace Vigil

Artist intervention and peace making project, this included creating; photography, viral videos, social media, press release, word of mouth. The idea was to intervene in the destructive Luton protests and work to try and use creative ways of difusing the tension and building peace. #peaceforluton #lutonprotests


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:

Redeming society project proposal

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As part of my on going investigation into using art to bring about positive change, I have submitted a project proposal and once refined I will seek funding.  Here is some of the core elements below:



The idea for the Luton Community Photography project was inspired by the street artist JR, who won the 2011 TED prize. Through the Inside Out Project, JR is focusing “on the power of art and ideas to change perceptions, attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world”......


Executive Summary


To reflect the diverse range of communities across Luton through a photographic project and traveling exhibition. A selection of the final images will be used to participate in the international project: Inside Out. by the artist JR.  It will aim to train people from different communities to become ‘community photographers’ to explore the lives of people around them and people from different backgrounds from themselves through the medium of photography. Their experiences of getting to know another community through the medium of photography will be explored as part of the travelling exhibition. The dialogue between communities and their photographers will be recorded as part of the exhibition and will form the basis of the themes which are explored behind the photographs. In this way the exhibition will have depth and explore contemporary issues which are important to different communities, and therefore go further than merely reflecting the visual diversity of Luton’s communities.  Alongside the workshops at least one or more events will be aimed at taking great portraits of people who cannot afford high quality photos of themselves (eg. homeless, single Mum’s with low incomes etc.)  The project will aim to provide digital/printed copies of the images for the individuals to enjoy the self confidense these images will bring.  This could be done in partnership with stylist’s/make up artists as well?


  •  To celebrate and reflect the different heritage and cultures of Luton’s communities from multiple       perspectives.
  •  To connect communities’ heritages to people’s current sense of identity and views about living in Luton.
  •  To create a unique training opportunity for people to learn digital photography skills and spot new talent.
  •  To display photography from the project in public spaces (Town centre, LHWG, Airport etc.)
  •  To give a national and international voice to the people of Luton.
  •  To create a mechanism for people to come together to share experiences and stories about the town that they live in and for this dialogue to be rooted in people’s sense of heritage. 
  •  To ensure that a range of communities are able to get involved in the project and that the approaches that are used are inclusive and do not create barriers to involvement.
  •  To give people access to high quality photography and portraits, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. (Single Mum’s, homeless etc.)
  •  To focus on universal issues and themes that can unite people in a common understanding of the world around them rather than focus on issues which create tensions and conflict.

Proposal Overview

The project will be run by Ben Hodson and Ian Rowlands on behalf of the artists collective, A Thin Place.  They will manage the project, any other people involved and oversee the delivery of the training sessions.  The training will be based around both presentational and practical workshops.  This will be  supplemented by a number of photo-walks and group activities. The project will reflect the incredible  cohesion which is already evident in Luton.  The project will demonstrate more then just the diversity of Luton, it will show how this community lives, works and plays together.  Through this project we will seek to dissolve negative perceptions and encourage people to unite under common themes of humanity.  It will tell the long overdue “good story” of this town and its people.



The project will be based around a number of bespoke workshops – that we would want to cover: a brief history of photography, types of cameras, photographic techniques and processes, brainstorming     creative ideas, taking photographs of other cultures and how to edit, select material and prepare for an exhibition.  A number of photographic styles will be demonstrated with an emphasis on documentary, portrait, contemporary fine art and journalistic styles.  The workshops will take place at either spaces provided by LCST or by the community groups themselves.  This way members will not have to commit to every single session to be part of and enjoy the project.  Those who manage to come to all of them will benefit the most.  Each workshop will have demonstrations, hands on practical tasks and feedback   sessions.  These   feedback discussions will not be overly critical, rather they will give everyone an opportunity to develop their ideas and gain the motivation needed to succeed in their own work.  The emphasis of the workshops will be on encouraging each individual to improve their photography skills in the context of community.  Each person from the community groups will be equipped with the technical know-how, ethical code of conduct and practical and legal limitations. The environment should promote the flow of creative ideas and encourage the collaborative move towards better image creation.  The workshops will be aimed at relevant digital techniques, however, the project will not exclude individuals who wish to use film cameras. After an initial assessment of the current level of photographic understanding, the workshops will be geared to meet the individuals at the stage they currently are.  One of the benefits of having more than one community artist leading the workshops is that people of varying  abilities can be easily aided in the same workshops.  The workshops will be accessible for complete   beginners and will also add value to members who already have photographic understanding and  experience.


The project will be based around different community groups working together to document the chosen aspects of the different communities.  The project will look to build strong relationships and partnerships between the different community groups.  Traditionally pursuits such as photography can be               individualistic and isolating, we strongly believe creativity is better in community.  This project will reflect this ethos and, as far as is possible, aim to ensure every possible part of the process will be done together, either in groups, small teams, partnerships or collaborations.



If the funding was available, it would be ideal to be able to purchase some photographic equipment for the community members to use.  However, this would possibly become financially restrictive for the    project.  If there is funding available we could recommend the best way to equip the community groups.  This proposal is based on the assumption that this is not the case.  We would therefore ask the individuals to bring their own photographic equipment.  The project would then be geared to teach the individuals to excel with what they already have, even if this is only a basic camera or camera phone.  In addition to this we could make some of our own equipment available for the community members to learn additional skills and have enjoyment with.    We would supply our own laptops to demonstrate, edit and transfer the images to external storage devices.  In order to make sure the data is both protected and easily available to the project managers the project would need to have at least two external hard drives to store all the images collected two external hard drives to store all the images collected.  Having more then one is an important step to ensure the the data is not lost or corrupted.  Having the use of a digital projector would be an essential tool and we would require using one that belongs to the LHWG or having one purchased for the project.  


The main digital retouching will be carried out by the project managers, however, it will be with close   involvement, guidance and permission of the creator of the image.  The skills needed to edit the images will be demonstrated in the workshops, however, these skills generally take years of practice to refine them to exhibition standard.  Given the March deadline, we will need to do the majority of this work to ensure the project is successfully completed in time.  The final selection of the images will be done together, however, each participating photographer will be represented in the final exhibition.  We will  provide encouraging feedback and constructive tips to help them create, select and present the best they possibly can. 


The legacy left by this project will reap benefits for many years to come.  Hopefully, the friendships, contacts and cooperation between the various individuals and community groups will be one of these lasting legacies. The exhibition itself is also a very real way of helping bring the communities together as well as physically demonstrating and documenting this positive side of life in Luton for as long as it is exhibited.  It will be a fascinating look at the current lives of people in our communities and will be an invaluable historic resource in the future. Another part of the legacy should be that every individual and community group involved will gain skills, confidence and enjoyment from their camera that will enable them to continue to document the lives of their family and life in Luton.  Also the skills gained and perceptions changed will benefit these people for the rest of their lives.  The project should add to the developing arts scene, enrich the wider town and continue to grow Luton’s reputation for initiating engaging cross-cultural programmes.  We would suggest allowing the community members to retain digital copies of all the work they create.  As the project comes to a close we would propose creating a basic catalogue/book which demonstrates the best of the work which isn’t demonstrated.  With self publishing websites becoming so accessible, we could then allow anyone who wants to purchase it to order a copy straight off the website.  One of the ways that the project could maintain a presence and legacy would be to film the project, this could be through ATP Media or someone like Suitecase media etc.


  • The project managers will quickly develop logos and branding to give the project a clear identity and help the community groups to associate with it.  One of the artists, Ben Hodson has good experience creating logos and marketing material and would happily do this as part of the initial set up of the project.
  • The project managers have experience with web design and are fully prepared to create, update and facilitate a project website.  The information could just be added to the LHWG sites, however, the   benefits of having a project specific website would be; 
      • The ability to quickly update the current progress of the community groups and project as a whole.  Ensuring everyone involved, including stakeholders can clearly see progress.
      • It could list all the dates and information for the workshops, photo-walks and exhibitions for the LHWG and project members.
      • A blog could show the stories developing behind the final outcomes, including photos, video snippets, comments and examples of the created work.
      • All content could be created and maintained with clear advice and guidelines from the LHWG.
      • The site could briefly profile all the community groups/individuals involved.
      • This site would link back to any LHWG websites and associated partners.
  • The exhibition opening event and subsequent exhibitions could be advertised through the project   website, through the community groups themselves and any other available outlets through the LHWG marketing strategies.
  • We are fully prepared to develop posters/flyers/digital invites as required to support the project.
  • As previously mentioned a catalogue or small book would be a great way for people to both promote and ultimately remember the project and associated exhibitions.



The initial exhibition will be co-curated by the project managers with close consultation and involvement from all the exhibitors and any relevant LHWG staff however, the final decisions would be made by the project organisers.  The exhibition will be aimed at being as inclusive as possible, with the interpretation being aimed at a broad range of viewers.  The exhibition will be designed to travel easily and will be put together with high quality and lasting materials and fixings.  

As part of the final exhibition at least one large digital photomosaic will be created by the project managers.  This image will include all the photos created through the project and will form either a Luton specific object, the project/town logo or recognisable landmark. This photomosaic will be a fascinating centre piece for both the exhibitors and people who come to view the exhibition.  A high quality version of this could also be uploaded to the website and possibly be used as part of the marketing strategy for the exhibition. Example of a Vauxhall 10 car on following page.  The printing, mounting/framing will be done by professionals with whom we already have already worked in partnerships with, such as The Print Space in Shoreditch, London.  This way we can guarantee quality, good customer service and the best available prices.  The final layout and installation of the exhibition will be primarily carried out by the project managers, community members and LHWG staff and volunteers, with as much involvement by the community groups as is both wise and possible to ensure a quality show is put together.   

All aspects of this project are flexible and we look forward to having an opportunity to talk through any parts of this proposal.  We hope that through this project both the reputation and very fabric of this town will be improved.

Primary research - Interview with artist Ismail Khayat

Posted on by Ben Hodson

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)

Artist: Ernst Friedrich

Posted on by Ben Hodson

The German pacifist and anti war champion Ernst Friedrich created a book; “Krieg dem Kriege!” (War Against War!).  This book used shock tactics to reveal the atrocities of war to the masses.  Over one hundred and eighty images were primarily drawn from German medical and military archives from the First World War were combined in a published book.  The book starts by showing military based toys, such as toy soldiers, toy cannons and other war games for boys.  The book goes on to show some truly shocking and gruesome images even by todays desensitised standards.  This includes carefully positioned sets of diptychs.  This includes on one side an image of the heroic march off to war and on the other side an image from a mass grave from one of the battles.  It simply has the words; “Enthusiastic...for what? and on the opposing side ...for the field of honour.”(Ernst Friedrich, 1928) in four languages.  Friedrich's book had an incredible influence on “educated” society, however, he was imprisoned a number of times by the Nazi's which made continued production of works difficult.  

Visual Peacemaking

Posted on by Ben Hodson

The concept of using photography to help bring understanding between communities is not a new one, however, in recent years there has been a growing interest in direct “Visual Peacemaking”.  The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers aims to: build bridges of peace across ethnic, cultural, and religious lines through visual communication that is both accountable to an ethical standard and created by those who authentically care about people.” (IGVP 2011).  This worldwide collective of photographers and creatives is directly trying to use the skills they have to positively influence the world.  They largely work with photo narratives and documentaries to tell stories and build understanding across different cultural and social barriers.