Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Art Gives Rebirth to Unschooled Kurdish Mother

‘It was at the peak of glory that my tears finally ran down” Khanim Amin sits under a tree in Toronto holding one of her paintings. Photo by author

‘It was at the peak of glory that my tears finally ran down” Khanim Amin sits under a tree in Toronto holding one of her paintings. Photo by Ava Homa
TORONTO, Canada – If you are in your 60s and your talent has not flourished yet, don’t worry too much. Khanim Amin, an unschooled and untrained Iraqi Kurd, was 72 when the paintings she had drawn out of sheer boredom gave her rebirth as a recognized artist.
Recently, the works of the homemaker-turned painter, who lives in the Netherlands and is now 75, were shown at a solo exhibition at the Toronto Public Library in Canada. 
You could say she was discovered by her own son.
Several years ago Hama Renas, an Amsterdam-based artist and graphic designer, was startled to see what a potent image drawn by his mother, who was about 65 at the time. He praised the painting and asked her to continue. But Khanim did not believe her son, thinking he was only being silly.
“We argued several times as I firmly believed what I had drawn wasn’t any good; I wanted to get rid of them,” she said in an interview with Rudaw. “But he wouldn’t allow me.”
After half a decade of painting, Khanim finally allowed her neighbourhood community center to put her art on display. Even then she was surprised to see the praise she received.
Before long, Khanim was recognized as an artist in her own right, and interviewed internationally.  She had paintings on display at exhibitions across Europe, and back in Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region, where she was born and raised.
“It was at the peak of glory that my tears finally ran down,” she recalled. “Everybody asked why I was crying. I said that I needed this attention and recognition when I was young, not in my 70s.”
She had grown up in such a traditional family that her father had not allowed her to go to school, when most girls in her neighbourhood and her family could at least complete elementary school. At 16, she was married off to a man who was 25 years her senior, and a father of six.
Khanim worked all her life to raise her 12 children and step-children, making sure that – unlike her – they were all given an opportunity at education. 
When her fans purchased her colorful paintings and asked her for signatures, it was with a shaky hand that she would spell out her name: Khanim has never taken any literacy or painting courses. And yet, she could converse with her admirers in Sorani, Kurmanji, Arabic and Farsi, exhibiting her enormous talent for languages, as well as for art. 
Asiyah Majid, her Toronto-based daughter, said that about 10 years ago when she was shown a painting, she assumed it was something by her brother, Renas. She was surprised to find that her mother was the creator. 
“But that was only a momentary feeling,” Majid told Rudaw. “In a second everything made sense. I remembered how she’d help all of us with art and craft school projects, how she always admired art and beauty and would purchase art for our home, something that was considered excessive in the culture. She has always admired color, music, nature, art -- everything beautiful.” 
The difficulties of life in Kurdistan, and the war that Saddam Hussein waged on the Kurds, did not leave Khanim a chance to discover and express her talent.
In addition to caring for twelve children, she helped the family by working all her life, as a tailor and later a midwife. When her husband passed away, she left Kurdistan and has lived in the Netherlands for 21 years.
Shillan Jabbar, a local Toronto artist who organized and promoted the exhibition, summarized Khanim, her life and her art in a single phrase: “Opportunities like this come only once in life.”


This article was originally published by Rudaw

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