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Culture & Art

Toronto exhibition explores Kurdish identity

By Ava Homa 6/1/2015
The Canadian audience has responded warmly to the gallery, describing it as a “pleasant surprise.”
The Canadian audience has responded warmly to the gallery, describing it as a “pleasant surprise.”

TORONTO, Canada – An exhibition by four Kurdish-Canadian artists in Toronto explores the question of “identity” and what it means to be a Kurd in Canada today.

Painter Dara Aram, photographer Henderen Chalak, creative artist Khadija Baker and dance scholar Fethi Karakecili – all with roots in the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq -- put their works on display at the Cedar Ridge Gallery of Toronto in a week-long exhibition that opened last Friday.

Aram, the event coordinator, told Rudaw he created the acrylic and encaustic paintings that hang on the walls especially for the exhibition.

“I blend formal expression with political statement,” said the artist, who believes that aesthetic experience is vital in creating world peace. He uses photographs, installations and sculpture to express his creativity, closely linking the political and personal.

His painting of Kurdish children is placed in four logs to convey how the younger generation are only protected by nature.

 “I have created political art a few times before, although it’s not my main focus,” he said. “I organized this event to use contemporary art to bring my Canadian audience closer to Kurdish culture and struggle.”

Karakecili used fire in his newly-choreographed contemporary dance, also interacting with a large canvas painting and a model of a Yezidi temple, all to represent the Kurdish struggle and send prayers to all parts of Kurdistan.

“I think the best way to showcase Kurdish identity is through giving voice to the Yezidi Kurds’ struggle in Shingal and their resistance in Kobane,” said Karakecili, whose costume represented a peacock, a respected archangel in the Yezidi religion.

Iraq’s minority Yezidi Kurds have suffered some of the harshest atrocities by the Islamic State (ISIS), which Kurdish troops have been fighting for months.

Another creation by Aram is the centerpiece of the main room: it is a miniature of the Yezidi Lalish temple, which is surrounded by four boots, each with a Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian flag, represents the four countries that run the lands of the Kurds. 

For Baker, identity is “uncertainty of home as it relates to persecution, displacement and memory.” She works with textile, sound and video and incorporates storytelling, performance and digital arts to create site-specific artworks that engage the audience.

Her video installation “Home Song” invites viewers to experience the act of writing letters home. She created this when she was pregnant and was trying to reconcile memories of a past home while adapting to a new home and sheltering her unborn child.

Chalak has been out of Kurdistan for 40 years and has travelled through and photographed in North America, Europe and the Middle East. His photographs showcase Kurdistan’s nature and life. He shared his portraits of children running in dirt streets, men engaged in discussion as well as pictures of musical instruments and rugs.

Shahriyar Jamshidi, a Toronto-based Kurd who plays the Kamancheh, opened the exhibition with music that was part of his “Tears of Sinjar” project, aimed at giving a voice to the pain of Iraq’s displaced Yezidis.

The Canadian audience has responded warmly to the gallery, describing it as a “pleasant surprise.”

“The people invited by me and the gallery were thrown out of their comfort zone by being exposed to an unfamiliar culture,” Aram said.

“They expected a mellower and more homogenous exhibition, yet they enjoyed the music, dance and video installation that they had not anticipated.”


MALCOLM | 13/1/2015
We want Kurdish fine art in London. Contact the Flowers Gallery for advice - especially Angela Flowers if possible; she would know how to put you on the right track. If you have any (aspiring) jazz musicians, contact Ronnie Scott's club - they will tell you what needs doing. The UK is awash with visual artistic and musical activity.
HAMID Sayadi | 17/2/2015

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