Thursday, November 21, 2013

Another Star among Kurdish Women

Warzandegan was born in Sanandaj, in Kurdistan of Iran

Persheng Warzandegan: A Kurdish Artist , A Role Model and an Inspiration

Ava Homa
Persheng Warzandegan is a Kurdish artist who is better known among Europeans than Kurds. In 2013 she was the winner of both the jury prize and the public prize at Zutphen, Netherland during the Art Days.

In 1999 her ceramic sculptures were selected for “Keranova II, a new generation of ceramics,” a major event in the field of modern Dutch ceramic art. In 2005, the first of her series of 40 bronze sculptures, made in commission of the foundation Leendert Vriel, Enschede, was unveiled by Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix.

Warzandegan was born in Sanandaj, Kurdistan to an artist family. His father, Ali Warzandegan, a well-known architecture and her mother Mariam Ovaisi, a woman who wove carpets with delicacy and passion, were Persheng’s original inspirations. “It was those beautiful colours of my mothers’ carpets and amazing shapes of my fathers’ buildings, which inspired me greatly. This inspiration reflects itself in my paintings, colour compositions and sculptures.”

When Persheng was at primary school, her teacher punished her for her painting. It wasn’t because she hadn’t done her assignment or had done it wrong. The problem with Persheng’s art was that it was too good. The teacher didn’t believe she had drawn the image herself without the help of an adult.

At age 12, however, Persheng won the first price for provincial juniors painting contest in Kurdistan and received the prize on the local television in Sanandaj. That’s probably a moment when the teacher shouted, “Cheating again.”

Warzandegan had exhibitions around Iran but left the country later to make a peaceful life for her children in Canada. She didn’t make it to her final destination and settled in Netherland in 1998. The independent and hardworking woman that Persheng was, she decided to build her life anew there.

It didn’t take long for her to notice the Dutch showed interest in her work. Feeling encouraged, Persheng decided to achieve official education in Art. When she won a scholarship, from UAF (Dutch Association for Foreign Students), Persheng started her studies at the Art Academy in Enschede (AKI). In five years she graduated from the disciplines Painting and Photography. 

“For my graduation exhibition I wanted to surprise my professors by making few ceramic sculptures. Since I have never had any lessons in ceramics, my professors wouldn’t believe I made those sculptures. It was the inspiration from my parents that taught me how to work with different materials. One year later I got an honour diploma in ceramic discipline.”

This Kurd woman makes different forms of craft: ceramics, paintings, bronze, necklace and brooches. “I like to work with different materials and it is important to learn different disciplines in the right sequence. For instance if I want to make a human sculpture, I have to know about the human anatomy and be able to draw it first. Later I also started designing necklaces and brooches with china, gold, silver and other high glazes. Making ceramic and bronze sculptures can be physically challenging.”

Throughout all her life: studying, working, and volunteering, Persheng has always relied on her two children’s love, the deep compassion she has for them and the kindness and care she receives in return. They have kept her going, fighting, struggling and creating. Sharmineh, her daughter and Daryoush, her son have been her muses.

Persheng’s story, however, is not only that of art and success. This brave and strong woman has suffered significantly in her life. Two years ago, she lost her daughter to a car accident. “Many of my works tell the story of how to make a more beautiful world, since in my perspective, to live as a human is the greatest art.” Sharmineh was only 28 when she passed away and this marked a significant change in Persheng’s life and art. “The subjects of my artworks are now about living a fair life and preserving the precious moments.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you are in Europe or elsewhere. It is your will, perseverance and originality, which count. Art is not something to learn from the scratch, but it’s the feeling about the world, things happening around the artist and his or her stories behind it.”

Persheng’s art is recognized and appreciated in Europe. Private and social organisations have invested in and commissioned her art. Thus her work has been exhibited inside and outside Europe and has been received warmly due to its originality and the influence from her background. In 2008 she was recognised as a “European Artist.” This is a recognition awarded to few selected artists per province. In addition, serious art fans, collectors and media follow the development of her work very closely. Even though she has been recognized in European media, only two Kurdish TV have ever interviewed her.

Despite her recognition, an artists’ life is usually financially challenging. “I work very hard, seven days a week and even when my works are not sold, I am still busy presenting and promoting them. On top of that I teach at schools and art centres for young and adult. Being an artist is not only about making art, I have to promote, expand and maintain network with galleries, arrange exhibitions and transportations and invitations, etc. And when all that is done and I have sold a work, I then have to pay up to 50 per cent to the gallery and pay the taxes. At the end I have to compensate the costs for the used material and equipment. Many people don’t realize that.”

In the year 2000 Persheng lost her home and studio, with all her works in it, to a fire disaster in the city. “After that until 2003 I worked really hard and continuously in a second studio. This studio was in an old school building, in which six other artists had also their studios. Again, unfortunately I lost my second studio along with my three years of work, this time due to a pyromaniac who lit the school in fire.”

“At that moment for the third time in my life I was totally broken and I had to start with my life and my work all over again. It was because of my love for my children and their love for me that I found strength and decided not to look back in the past, but look ahead. From that moment I shifted the style of my artworks from realistic to abstract. The stories and the subjects that can be found in my artworks are therefore linked to and influenced by the events in my life and by the people around me. My Kurdish background doesn’t play a political role, it rather expresses itself in my artwork in the same way as any other hard working woman from any other ethnicity.”

Despite the lack of support she receives from the Kurdish community, Persheng still feels the pressure of representation. “Being a Kurdish woman means to me that I have to do my best here, since I consider myself as a representative of Kurdistan. It is important that people have good hearts and be in balance with each other, no matter where they come from. That is why I see myself rather as a citizen of the world.”

“For many years women’s right was one of the main subjects of my paintings. This was greatly influenced by the position of women in many countries, especially from my background. As a woman it is very hard to make it and to survive as an artist. Since the age of 15, I found myself “in the ocean without knowing how to swim.” I tried to keep my head above the water and learned from good and bad things to shape my life in a better way. Instead of complaining and self-pity I wanted to become somebody in the society. Next to that the traditional thoughts and expectations of women to bring up children and to be a good housewife still rule and obstruct the development of women everywhere, even in the Western countries. Therefore as an artist I must have perseverance to present and promote my work and my love for it. Although I have to mention, that many thing that I have achieved was also thank to the support and the love that I have received from my children.”

At the end of our interview I asked Persheng if she has a message for the aspiring Kurdish artists. “It is wrong to become an artist only to make money. You have to love your work. If you have a hobby, make your work from it and give your 200%. In art the investment is not only the materials, but also it’s the time, thought and energy you put in it. Sometimes I work for two or more months on some of my works, while for a period of half year or even longer I didn’t sell anything. That’s why like many other artists who don’t have any external financial support I give art lessons, so that I can have a small income to invest in my materials and exhibitions. This way I can promote my name and my artwork to be perceived seriously. In the first few years I even taught and worked on voluntary basis.”

“Art is not only about nature, portraits and flowers. It’s about the message of life, composition and the power of it. Those are the stories, which the artist wants to express via the art.”

One important way for us Kurds to empower is to find the stars among us and support them. Persheng Warzandegan is a role model and an inspiration for us all. Her life, her perspective of life as well as her art are treasures for Kurds.

Monday, November 11, 2013

From Hell to Where?

From Hell to Where?

Ava Homa
Review of Mary Jo Leddy’s ‘Our Friendly Local Terrorist’

Suleyman Govan is a Kurd from Dersim who arrives in Canada in 1991. Dersim is the region of Seyit Riza, the Kurdish leader who in 1937 took the noose from his executioners and placed it on his own neck, denying the Turks the final act of control—the leader who confidently announced: “The Kurdish youth will revenge.” In Dersim more than 70,000 Kurds were massacred, justified by Turkey as the quelling of a rebellion of Kurdish “terrorists.”
Suleyman is a relative of Seyit Riza, an Alevi Kurd, one of the youth Riza hoped would rise and claim justice. After being imprisoned and tortured in Turkish prisons, Suleyman gives up on receiving justice in Turkey and migrates to Canada, to a promised land of peace and prosperity.
Upon his arrival, hunger, homelessness and loneliness are his companions. An engineer, Suleyman receives admission from McGill University to pursue his studies, to get his Canadian education, as if he is only eighteen. He has to start from zero.
'Our Friendly Local Terrorist'
‘Our Friendly Local Terrorist’
Sometimes, a person gets fed up with their situation.  Dismayed by its future and too restless to stay, they condense their lives into one or two suitcases and bid farewell to their land and people.  On departure, they leave behind a part of them, a small but significant part of their being and their identity. They do this to find a better life, in the hope of discovering happiness. Is it the same for a Kurd? What can this stateless group expect, people who have such a bitter  history, who have been betrayed by themselves and by others?
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service one day calls Suleyman in. At this point Goven’s request for permanent residency at Canada is pending and thus he cannot attend school. CSIS tells him he has to co-operate. They tell him he is a terrorist unless he agrees to spy on other Kurds.
“Now, Mr. Goven, you realise that if we find you credible and if you co-operate with us, we will recommend you for landed status.”
“Yes. I would like to be landed. I hope to get my engineering degree in Canada so I can work. I have been accepted to go to McGill but I must be landed.”
“We’ll see about that.”
The security officer took off his glasses and squinted. His mouth was tight and he spoke with a discernible French accent. “You are an engineer, Mr. Goven. Now that would qualify you to make bombs, wouldn’t it?”
Our Friendly Local Terrorist recounts Suleyman Goven’s fourteen years of struggle, his torments and his resilience. It is a rare insight into the dark side of the Canadian Government. Canada has become the second home for many immigrants and refugees, but at what price?
The book also sheds light on the Turkish government’s brutality and its ability to hide and deny its crimes. The government influences numerous European and North American countries, to the point that they can continue harassing Kurds long after their physical escape from hell.
The author of this courageous book is a Canadian woman, Mary Jo Leddy, professor of Theology at the University of Toronto and the founder and director of Romero House, a haven for refugees. She is also the author of eight other books. She has sent copies of her exposé to Members of Parliament because she loves Canada too much to stay silent when its leaders give in to power and the politics of injustice.
The narrator’s reasonable, honest and compassionate voice makes the bitter facts of Goven’s life more digestible and less painful. The book is filled with religious allusions. Goven’s tormentors are “The Nameless One,” “The Faceless One,” a reference to Genesis 32:24-27.
Even though Suleyman Goven’s life is saved and he can eventually, after a decade and half of struggle, prove his innocence, Leddy writes this book to raise awareness and prevent others from suffering.
The very title of the book is a smart irony. The dread of “terrorist” is contrasted with the words “local” and “friendly.” Leddy criticizes the arbitrary labelling of innocents as “terrorists,” the profiling, the unfounded accusation that creates tension rather than being a move towards peace.
Leddy sees Suleyman Goven and his persecutors as representatives of different aspects of human existence. She tries to remain what she describes as “life-size.” “To remain life-size in a time of being diminished by terror… is the moral struggle of our era and our world.”
Our Friendly Local Terrorist offers a rare insight into the dark side of the Canadian government and is a recommended read.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Enchanting Kurdish music

Gaziza   - Dleki shkaw