Torontonians faced a pleasant surprise when they stepped in the Cedar Ridge Gallery opening on Sunday. The diversity of art forms and the topicality of the Kurdish resistance to Islamic State turned the exposure to an unfamiliar culture into an amusing and enlightening one.
Four Kurdish-Canadian artists—Dara Aram, Fethi Karakecili, Khadija Baker and Henderen Chalak—have come together in an exhibition to reflect on identity, to explore what it means to be a Canadian with a Kurdish descent at this point in history.
“This is political art,” said Dara Aram, a Toronto-based award-winning artist and program coordinator from Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. “I believe aesthetic experience is crucial in creating peace and harmony in the world. I’m using contemporary art to raise awareness about the history and the present situation of my people.”
The oil, acrylic and encaustic paintings of Aram were of refugees, children, women and men of Kurdistan. On four logs, paintings of children were placed in the corners of one of the rooms in the Scarborough gallery. “Nature is the only protector of these children,” Aram said, an allusion to the famous Kurdish saying that “we have no friends but mountains.”
Aram’s 90X180 inch installation and mixed media represented the occupation of Kurdistan by four countries of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. A miniature temple of Yezidis, Lalaish, was placed in the middle of what represented the land of the Kurds, surrounded by four boots each carrying the flags of one of the four states that currently run the Kurds.
Yezidis, a religious minority who used to live in Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan, were massacred, their homes and temples were ruined, and their women were enslaved by IS radicals.
Fethi Karakecili, in a peacock costume, interacted with the canvas, temple miniature and fire to perform a contemporary dance. “Known as Malek Taus, the peacock is a significant bird in the Yezidi tradition, representing Lucifer,” Karakecili said who resides in Scarborough and is a PhD candidate of Dance at York University. “But to the Yezidis, Lucifer is not a negative force in the world. He is an archangel who represents immortality. Some dismiss Yezidisas devil worshippers but that only shows a lack of understanding of this monastic religion.”
Karakecili from Urfa, Turkey has used his talent to showcase Kurdish music and costume and has combined folk and modern dance to give voice to his nation’s plight. He staged the first international Kurdish ballets in Elizabeth Bader Theatre in downtown Toronto in 2011 and 2014.
For Khadija Baker the concept of identity is closely linked to the idea of home. Her poetic video installation, “Home Songs,” engaged the audience to actively observe the act of writing a letter home, using black ink and a transparent liquid. Pregnant when she created this art-form, Baker was struggling with her memories while trying to adapt and create a new home for her unborn child.
From Amuda, Syria and mother of two, Baker resides in Montreal and was not present at the opening. She is a painter and combines video, textile and sound to create installations that are socially and politically charged. Her work explores “persecution, displacement, memory and lost,” she wrote.
Henderen Chalak, a Hamilton-based photographer who has lived in diaspora for forty years put his photographs from his home town, Erbil, on display. They portrayed children playing hide and seek in dirt streets, a girl running towards an unknown destination, older men in traditional clothes engaged in a debate, rugs and a musical instrument, a Daf.
Shahriyar Jamshidi played a part of his project called “Tears of Sinjar” that moved the gallery visitors on Confederation Drive. He is a musician from Iranian Kurdistan and resides in Toronto. His stringed instrument, a Kamanache, is made from wood and has a bowl-shaped resonating chamber and a tall neck.
Sinjar is another name for Mount Shingal, a place where an estimated 40,000 Yezidis escaped to when their villages were attacked by Islamic State in August 2014. The Kurds stayed in the harsh conditions with scarce supplies of food and water and, with bare hands, buried family members who didn’t survive.
“When I read the news of hundreds of Yezidi women kidnapped and raped by IS, my entire body started shaking,” said Jamshidi about his inspiration to create the musical piece.
“Such cruelties are not new in Kurdish history. We are not given a chance to forget our painful His project, created originally for an orchestra, is an attempt to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern music. He modifies the tunes to make his music appeal to the Canadian audience. “I also hope to raise awareness about the lives of Kurds, in particular Yezidis by dedicating this piece to them.”
The exhibition on Cedar Ridge Gallery will be on until Friday January 9. The diversity of arts and the freshness of the topic has made the exhibition highly appealing.