In addition to her stunning painting, Khadija Baker offers creative, thought-provoking and inspirational art projects to bear witness to the Kurd’s plight and raise awareness.
Khadija Baker, a Kurdish woman with very long, beautiful black braids is sitting on a chair, having a thoughtful åbut distant stare. She is in an art gallery in Montreal where multiracial viewer gather around her, hold a braid at the end of which a small speaker is placed and listen to the recorded voice of another Kurdish woman. My Little Voice Can’t Lie is the title of this exhibition. Khadija is silent but her hair, a cherished and private part of her, tell the story of loss: many Kurdish women have lost loved ones.
“Previous generations of women played a big role in encouraging their sons to fight and were proud of the sacrifice of a loved one. As a Kurd, I too was proud – at first – of my brother’s and other relatives’ deaths in fighting for a nation, justice and basic human rights,” Khadija says. However, there was, and still is, a big sense of loss and sadness about their absence from my life because their bodies were never brought back to us, to the family. I believe that their lives will be more meaningful if they are not forgotten. Our past feeling of pride was just to calm down our great sense of loss. It is important that women of my generation use our voices to reverse the cycle of past generations who were raised to believe that this sacrifice was positive.
Moreover, we have to take our proper place in the world and stand up against war and violence. Using communication within different cultural backgrounds, travel, and various media, I am working with viewers and participants to ensure that children will have better human rights – my work raises awareness about the dangers of war and violence, especially for uneducated and vulnerable women.”
Khadija Baker creates politically charged and intimate sculptural installations that raise issues of the suppression and survival of individual and collective memories. Coffin-Nest (2004) was inspired by a documentary featuring a mass grave exhumation in Iraq where items of clothing were the only means of identifying the dead. Collecting clothes from friends and family in Syria and Montreal, Baker symbolically wove them into a nest-shaped coffin for herself.
Another of her projects involves two women at a table with a plate of food before them. Each has a long spoon in her hand, trying to eat from the plate. Since the spoon is so long, eating, an everyday and easy activity becomes a pain.
Participants eventually realize the solution would be to trust and feed each other rather than struggling self-absorbedly.
39 year old, mother of two, originally from Amuda, Syria and residing in Montreal, fluent in French, English, Arabic and Kurdish, Khadija Baker holds thoughts, melds thoughts, inspires and encourages, bears witness and resists oppression against the Kurds. She has had solo and group exhibitions in Toronto, Montreal, New York, Berlin and Damascus.
Ava Homa: Khadija, with an 19 and a 5-month-old child, can you continue your projects?
Khadija Baker: They tight me up but I have never had as many ideas as I do now. They are my muses.
AH: What are your muses called?
KB: Diar and Rodan
AH: How do your family feel about your work?
KB: Since I was a little girl everybody loved my drawings but they kept saying “nice, now go back to your homework.” They never took my talent seriously, “do something useful,” they kept saying. My husband is Kurdish from Iraq. He supports my work but doesn’t know much about art.
AH: What are your subjects usually consist of?
KB: Immigration and war have influenced who I am as a mother and an artist. They, therefore, play an essential role within my art practice.
AH: You don’t paint much anymore?
KB: I like instillation works. Most of the time I use more than one material: video, song, animation, sculpture. Story telling is part of my work, too.
AH: How does your Kurdish community respond to your work?
KB: Hehe... some of them show up in my exhibitions but they tell me they don’t understand my work.
AH: Any new exhibitions coming up?
KB: I have many around Canada but the one I am very excited about is that I will be presenting my work in The Biennale of Sydney: a very prestigious art festival. In October, I will be in Toronto for another exhibition.
AH: Your art is very subversive. Do you believe art can make a difference in Kurd’s situation?
KB: Art bears witness and protests; not directly and not immediately but art’s language transcends boundaries and history. Art creates a sense of empathy, battles apathy, emotion creates reaction and reaction ignites critical thinking. Change will happen.