Peace For Luton
In 2009 when the troops returned from the conflict in Iraq to Luton, they were greeted by a returning home parade. There was protest by a handful of Muslims which caused an angry response from some of the supporters of the troops. This violent response led to a number of arrests. Some of these people went on to form the English Defence League (EDL), a far right group that primarily is anti-extreme Islam.
Initially they gained some momentum with several marches, including a couple in Luton. The EDL provoked a reaction from the far left, in particular 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 rallied around the cause of countering the EDL, branding them as racists and extremists in their own right. Both sides appear to have truth and genuine concerns and yet neither side will sit down and create real dialogue about the issues. In my Peace for Luton project I am hoping to use the starting point of the conflict in Iraq and use a dramatic symbol for peace to be a starting point for dialogue and peace.
It is therefore important that the final stage of this project be showcased to the people of Luton. The centrepiece of this is a large painted mountain in the Iraqi desert, near a significant cultural border. I painted the slogan Peace for Luton on the side of it. To understand the project and why I facilitated this dramatic and seemingly random event, you need to understand the context.
As the result of a bitter and violent war between rival Kurdish factions (the PDK and PKK) a well-known Kurdish artist, Ismail Khayat decided that something needed to be done to help bring the sides closer. His quest for peace 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 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.
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”(Ahmed S, 2011).
The recent re-enactment refers to this initial and exciting event, while connecting it to a more generic and worldwide context as a peace symbol. As an artist from Luton, it seemed right that I use this dramatic and beautiful symbol as a rallying point to wage peace. This project uses Iraq and Luton as case studies to see what can be achieved as trying to use art to bring about positive change. Therefore having some sort of call to action is important. As part of the project I have created a website and have blogged most of the main events and the recent trip itself. I have put some main links to some good social causes that are actively working to bring communities at odds together both in Luton and Iraq.
The whole engagement with both places as subjects is to see what can be achieved in positive intervention. The final exhibitions attempted to start dialogue about the tensions both in Luton and Iraq and the relationship between the two places.