PRESS: Irakista ­Suomeen ja Venetsian biennaaliin

Source: Suomen Kuvalehti


Timo-Erkki Heino


In English (Translated)

Read the full article in Finnish here:

From Iraq to Finland and the Venice Biennale

Kholod Hawash’s textile art made it to the Nordic Pavilion.

Kholod Hawash. © Pirje Mykkänen / Kansallisgalleria

The world’s most significant contemporary art event, the Venice Biennale, opened in mid-April. The theme is “Stranieri Ovunque,” which translates to “Strangers Everywhere.”

The Nordic Pavilion at the Biennale has been transformed into a bamboo-framed dragon ship. It is propelled by a contemporary opera with a Chinese influence, The Altersea Opera. The embroidered details on the performance costumes reflect Iraqi culture.

The opera was designed and scripted by the Swedish artist Lap-See Lam and composed by the Norwegian Tze Yeung Ho. Both have Chinese heritage.

The embroidery on the costumes is the work of Kholod Hawash, born in Iraq in 1977, who has lived in Finland for five years.

In the pavilion, the opera is presented as an hour-long video version. The costumes are on display in their original form throughout the Biennale. In the intricately crafted embroideries, dragons breathe fire, fish fly, and a woman sheds large colorful tears into the sea. It took eight months to create the costumes.

“Of course, it was exhausting, but I’m always so excited to see the end result that the effort is immediately forgotten,” Kholod Hawash says in Arabic amidst the hustle and bustle of the opening in Venice. Swedish interpreter Maya Abdullah has been the liaison for the entire opera project.

Hawash’s textile art fits well into this year’s offerings at the Biennale. The main exhibition’s Brazilian curator, Adriano Pedrosa, aims to highlight self-taught artists who have been marginalized in the art field.

Hawash learned the quilting technique from her mother in Iraq. Her artistic work gained momentum in Finland. Her piece “Wild Song” was exhibited at Kiasma’s ARS22 exhibition, featuring a nude woman cutting her long hair with a sword.

The starting point of the piece was Hawash’s anger at the demand for widowed women in Iraq to cut their hair.

During the creation process, the work transformed into a symbol of women’s strength and independence. “I couldn’t have done something like this in Iraq because it features a nude woman,” Hawash says, drawing her hand across her neck. “I would have been killed.”

In Finland, Hawash has found artistic freedom.

“Now I can create the artworks I want.”

The unstable conditions in Iraq have left their mark on Hawash. She rolls up her sleeve and shows her arms, which bear scars.

After the Iraq War and the fall of Saddam Hussein, the country’s conditions were chaotic. Semi-militant extremist Islamic groups demanded that women wear head-covering hijabs. Hawash did not comply. It had consequences:

“One morning, as I was going to work, a masked man emerged from behind a palm tree and threw acid on me. I managed to protect my face and eyes with my hand.”

Hawash and her painter husband, Saddam Jumaily, fled Iraq across the border to Jordan.

After nearly ten years as refugees in Jordan, Hawash and Jumaily made it to Finland. They are in the country on work permits and live in Tapiola, Espoo.

The artist couple was assisted to Finland by the Artists at Risk organization. Operating from Helsinki since 2013, the organization has managed to relocate over 850 artists to safer conditions. There are about 600 Ukrainians among them.

The activities are supported by, among others, the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Finnish and Swedish Arts Promotion Centers.

At the end of the interview, Hawash wants to return to the image of the woman cutting her hair: “I want to address in my art the position of women both in Iraq and in Finland.”

The exhibition of artists assisted by the Artists at Risk organization begins at the UNESCO Venice office at the beginning of the Biennale. Hawash’s and Jumaily’s works are also included.

The Altersea Opera. Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale until November 24th.