Rostam Hakeem


Abstract Author: Rostam Abdulazeez Hakeem Title: Trace and history: an investigation of Kurdish banner-making through contemporary art practice. This practice-led research project considers the culture of banner-making in Iraqi Kurdistan. The research is trans-disciplinary in character, combining artistic, historical, and sociological research. The calligraphers’ workshops of the city of Sulaymaniyah in Kurdish Iraq are a focal point. Here the backing-boards to banner-making have absorbed traces of slogans written on banners for many different purposes over extended periods of time. The permitted appropriation of these backing-board palimpsests provides material for the development of an innovative genre of abstract painting, deploying calligraphy to embody a coded chronicle of communal life in Kurdistan. Concurrently, interviews with the calligraphers of Sulaymaniyah are undertaken, and these, in conjunction with conventional historical research into Kurdish banner-making, provide important context to the practice. Many first-hand stories of the calligraphers contain powerful socio-political insights, especially regarding the status of martyrdom in the region, and evidence of corruption in martyrdom designation. These insights lead to an invitation to a normally inaccessible archive, research into which prompts a significant shift in theoretical and artistic mode, away from personal expression through the globalised field of abstract painting, toward a socially engaged methodology deployed through an installation in the Archaeological Museum of Sulaymaniyah, in which the creative role is envisaged as means to provide the calligraphers of the city with a collective voice in response to a potent concern. Contributions to knowledge are made through: the appropriation of distinctive material to develop a specific genre of abstraction; new insights gained through interviews with calligraphers; historical research from photographic archives, and martyrdom archives; through the culminating exhibition, the selection of key stories of calligraphers, combined in radical and provocative form to directly address their own community, with relevance also to the wider region of Kurdistan. Further artistic research interrogating these themes is presented as an exhibition in the UK.

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