Violence, conflict and art: Iraq’s Hiwa K – artist profile

Dutch art space De Appel invites Hiwa K to produce new works and an exhibition discussing violence and conflict.

Exploring social confrontation and “what if” moments, the exhibition continues until 16 December 2017. Art Radar profiles the artist on the occasion of his latest show.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

A socio-politically engaged artist

Born in Kurdistan-Iraq in 1975, Berlin-based artist Hiwa K concerns himself with oral histories, political charged situations and social confrontations. His work explores artistic possibilities, or “what ifs”, motivated by common accounts and narratives he hears through the shared experiences of family and friends. Collective or participatory elements are common in his work, as is a focus on shared learning. As Hiwa K describes in his artist statement, he is an autodidact and often criticizes the heightened professionalisation of artistic practices, and the myth of the individual artist.

Recent exhibitions have included documenta 14, the 56th Venice Biennale and Manifesta 7, alongside renowned art institutions such as the New Museum in New York, Serpentine Gallery in London and KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Violence in art

His current exhibition, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, curated by De Appel Director Niels Van Tomme, is currently on show at De Appel until 16 December 2017, and centres around Hiwa K’s work on the fictional character, K.

As the curator describes, “on a frigid winter night in Amsterdam, K, at that moment a recent migrant in the Netherlands, became the victim of a violent attack by four unknowns”:

After they stabbed me under the bridge, they ran away. I slowly lay down on my back. My breath was very cold because I was surrounded by snow. It was after midnight, December in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. I was looking at the underside of the bridge. My lungs were cold; blood was dripping down into my lungs. Each drop would warm them. It was pleasant.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

With this story in mind, De Appel has invited Hiwa K to Amsterdam to produce two new works and an exhibition in which the artist discusses serious forms of violence and conflict.

These ideas take a visual form through the artist’s new works. In the open-ended and intimate series of works deDutched (2017), Hiwa K tries to track down the attackers of K in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. When finding the attackers, K decided not to file a complaint, something he calls an “as-if” performance:

For him, making an “as if” performance, a way to rise above the conflict “as if” [it] did not take place, is more important than appealing to the Dutch legal system.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

In the Dutchized, Hiwa K explores the possibility of having a shared experience with K’s attackers, thereby ignoring traditional notions of guilt and retribution, and resisting a redemptive, formal conclusion of the case.

One aspect of the work is the mysterious stone sculpture in the gallery space, which gives off heat, the warmth somehow representative of domesticity and home. As the gallery explains,

The object shows certain notions of existential strangeness and exclusion, feelings that K also experienced when he almost became homeless. These ideas are further emphasized by an expanding but personal accumulation of drawings and documents.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Encounters as “events”

Another visual manifestations of Hiwa K’s artistic practice is Pin-Down (2017), a more performative piece which is described by the artist as an “event”. The work features an intellectual wrestling session between the artist and Bakir Ali, a Kurdish-Iraqi philosopher and writer who currently works as a taxi driver in Berlin. Themes discussed include the Kurdish issue, ideas about displacement and “lack of control”, “horizontalism” versus “verticalism”, and a changeable definition of the world.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Now, these encounters have transformed into amateur wrestling sessions, where the body functions as an extension of the intellectual mind. This is then shown through a video installation as part of the exhibition. As the curator explains,

These sessions do not develop according to prescribed performative gestures, but rather develop organically each time the conversations come to a verbal impasse. In the work ‘Pin-Down’ the artist challenges Bakir Ali for the first time for a public “fight” in the renowned El Otmani Gym fighting club in Amsterdam Nieuw-West.

Hiwa K, "To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools", De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Hiwa K, “To remember, Sometimes You Need Different Archeological Tools”, De Appel, 2017. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk. Image courtesy De Appel.

Dealing with violence and displacement

In addition to these two new projects, the exhibition also present a selection of other works by Hiwa K, including Star-Cross (2009), Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue)  and (2017) A View From Above (2017). These works also consider the ways that experiences of displacement and acts of violence are treated, revolving around improvised solutions and approaches.

Taken together, these works consider how conflicting concepts of hospitality and hostility inform migrant experiences, influencing the daily life of the migrant, as well as how memory can intervene and interplay with storytelling. Throughout the exhibition period, the gallery will organise varied activities that share knowledge and experiences surrounding its themes.

Anna Jamieson

1959

“To remember, sometimes you need different archeological tools” by Hiwa K is on view from 7 October to 16 December 2017 at De Appel, Schipluidenlaan 12, Amsterdam.

Related topics: Iraqi artistsdrawinggallery showsartist profilesart and politicsart about society

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