In conversation with Iraqi-Kurdish artist, Walid Siti

Reconstruction exhibition by Iraqi artist Walid Siti

Re-Construction (EOA.Projects, London Gallery, 2014)

CAF: Could you tell us a bit about your recent exhibition Re-Construction (EOA Projects, London, UK) and the installation that you were working on?

WS: This body of work is comprised of paintings, works on paper and installations. The concept of the work stems from my preoccupation with the ongoing process of change and transformation in the Middle East due to politics and war. Each of these forms has a powerful symbolic meaning; their deconstruction in the work conveys the concept of a shift from their former position within historical and cultural tradition to a complex contemporary form, with the resulting transformation from order to disorder and vice versa.

In these works I tried to create a visual metaphor for dislocation and disorientation. The fragile and troubled landscape is witnessing rapid social change and a shift in power structures, yet regardless of an uncertain future, it still holds vast potential.

CAF: Your oeuvre is intertwined with your Kurdish heritage, how did you arrive at exploring the subject and why was it important for you to work with your own cultural heritage?

WS: I am an Iraqi Kurd, brought up in a troubled town in the mountainous area of Iraqi Kurdistan that suffered immensely. My homeland’s recent history of many wars, disasters and catastrophes instigated a deep sense of injustice and hopelessness. These feelings are always there; a sense of attachment or belonging to a place that experienced many upheavals and is witnessing major changes is a reason for constant exploration. It is increasingly relevant for me, as an artist living in London, to engage with Kurdish or Iraqi heritage especially in the world where the definition of borders of home, country and region are so unstable. Rich cultural heritage and symbolism embodying various elements and circumstances give my work the foundation to deal with issues I felt needed to be addressed.

CAF: How did you arrive to the monochrome palette in your art?

WS: My education in Printmaking trained me to work with lines, forms and a simplified palette. The colours of ochre, black, and grey align with the general theme of my work that everything – the balance of nature, the clash of contradictions – is always black and white. I find my work illustrates the idea that in life there are mainly two options.

CAF: What is your relationship with materials and why do you experiment with them?

WS: In any given project I tend to leave my options open when it comes to choosing a medium. I like to work with different materials and am very much attracted to using my hands as much as I can. I thrive on learning about new media that could help me develop my work.

Each artwork or space poses as a challenge to me, in terms of arriving at an appropriate medium that can communicate various realties. I see this as an opportunity to go a step further in exploring the possibilities of new materials as well as media. In this regard the working process is kind of entering into a less familiar territory that requires further exploring, learning and understanding of new materials

Reconstruction exhibition by Walid Siti

Re-Construction (EOA.Projects, London Gallery, 2014)

CAF: Living outside your homeland for such a long time, is it important for you to have an artistic presence there (Kurdistan)?

WS: Generally speaking, people in Kurdistan are embracing change. They are hopeful of future. It is an exciting time in many respects, including in the arts and culture. Presence of artists in any shape or form is important to facilitate a new platform where various artistic practices and visual interpretations become possible. My project for the Memorial Commission, in city of Duhok, could be classified as such as an attempt to contribute with the aim of being part of a larger visual project.

CAF: Do you aim at contributing to social change in Kurdistan and what role does your art play in imparting a wider understanding of Kurdistan abroad? Would you label your work as political?

WS: All my existence that relates to art is formed by the series of unfortunate events that engulfed the region and subsequently my being, starting from my childhood to the current date. These experiences and memories have shaped my life and my art: issues relating to culture, memory, identity and dislocation are important to me and give me the urge to work. Hopefully I succeed at incorporating these topics into a language of visual art.

CAF: I have read about your skepticism with regards to current developments in the cities such as Erbil and Dubai. Is your increasing focus on nature a protest against the rapid and maybe at times, careless development in the areas of the Middle East?

WS: In 2011, the title of my solo exhibition in Dubai was Erbil-Dubai, Chasing Utopia that concentrated on the theme of rapid development. As an artist from the region, I am interested in this tale. The pace of change taking place in this ancient environment intrigues me. I believe the lack of debate and serious consideration given to the unique history, environment, social and cultural aspects of society, brings the whole experiment to the edge of Utopia.

Both the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the people in the street publicly draw comparisons between Erbil and Dubai, desiring their Kurdish city to match the rate of progress in Dubai. Many places in Erbil are named after landmarks in Dubai.

CAF: What role does architecture play in your art/inspiration?

WS: I am interested in ancient buildings and monuments of the Middle East, not for nostalgic reasons, but rather as a means of understanding the subject’s historical context as essential for grasping our current history. Architectural forms, both from cultural heritage and contemporary life, continue to play an essential part in my visual vocabulary. The shapes of metaphorical mountains, pyramids, skyscrapers, Ziggurats and ladders are the forms that connote powerful symbolism and multi-layered meanings. The deconstruction of these forms convey ideas of movement from a simple historical cultural element to a contemporary complex form and the transformation from order to disorder and vice versa.

These forms can visually contribute to an idea of movement, of thriving, climbing to higher social order, power, dominance as well being places for contemplation and enlightenment. The ladders, an ancient tool for climbing, epitomise the idea that we all possess the potential of moving upward to achieve something, even though sometimes we are unsure of the result.

Copyright © Caspian Arts Foundation 2014. All rights reserved.
All images are courtesy of the artist.

Interview by E.Kapanadze on behalf of Caspian Arts Foundation
Edited by Nina Mahdavi