Ana SayfaÖzel‘Drawing is a kind of catharsis’: The ‘journey’ of a Kurdish artist who witnessed Anfal

‘Drawing is a kind of catharsis’: The ‘journey’ of a Kurdish artist who witnessed Anfal


Interview: Bekir Avcı

Translator: Ezgi Gül


A drawing is not a realistic representation of what has been witnessed but an ‘impression’ of it created by impulse. I am ‘surrounded’ by my drawings and by the memories of these events. They are constants in my imagination, shadows in my daily thoughts and echoes in my mind. I strive to make a body of work that not only records the genocide (the Anfal) and a world of flashbacks and dreams, but simultaneously to explore pain and feeling through this creative process. Drawing is a kind of ‘catharsis’, a meditation, a therapeutic reliving of the pain and forces that have been pushed into the unconscious.

Osman Ahmed was about to start his journey from Suleymani to Austria’s capital Vienna for his exhibition on beginning of October, then the ‘independence referendum’ took place on 25th of September, and Turkey, Iraq and Iran started to place an embargo; thus Ahmed’s journey became into a long-wided story.

Nearly all flights were suspended from Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), because there were 92% ‘yes to independence’ votes.

For this reason Ahmed had to reroute to catch his exhibition’s opening on 11st October.

In the end, he made it from Suleymani to Baghdad, then Istanbul to Vienna. But, with concerns:

I was afraid of the inspection of the security in Baghdad and Istanbul because all my art work was related with repression, Kurdish genocide, displacement of the Kurds, in other words crimes against Kurds.

Well, why Osman Ahmed’s, a Kurdish artist’s work that are showed on an ongoing exhibition in Vienna, is making him worried when he was passing through Istanbul and Baghdad? Or with the true question: What kind of reality his work reveals that some governments dislike?

Anfal’s memory

Ahmed’s works are describing the Kurdish Genocide in Anfal in 1988. These works are also a PhD project of him for London University of Arts in 2013.

In Anfal, according to Human Rights Watch report published in 1993, more than 100 thousand Kurds were killed, tens of thousands civilians were disappeared. According to KRG, nearly 4 thousand villages were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of villagers were displaced, thousands of women, children and elder people were arrested.

Ahmed’s thesis, Documenting the Kurdish Genocide Anfal 1988 through Drawing, investigates
artists’ responses to crimes against humanity, and records through 355 detailed drawings of 15 Anfal survivors as well.

Ahmed, reached an agreement with Hinterland Gallery in Vienna in 2016 April to show these art works.

Among all that obstacles, last month (on 8th October) he succeed to go there. According to him, having strong persistence and
determination, helped overcoming them.

Osman Ahmed, as he explain, is drawing the Anfal Genocide that he witnessed. Actually he is doing it ‘live’ sometimes. We asked him, “Is there a connection between doing things on ‘that time’ between going ‘that time’? In other words, is this technique working as a bridge between yesterday and today?”, and here is the response:

I want to create and document the history of a stateless nation whose struggle to preserve their denied cultural identity meant their self annihilation, because equally their identity depended on their being freely within the landscapes of their forefathers that was continuously threatened and used as their own mass grave.

My objective has been to record a genocide rather than the suffering of isolated individuals. And in this process I have hoped to evoke in the viewers a sense of inquiry: To make them pause, be drawn to the image inquiringly, wondering at the insanity of our ruling contemporaries.

I wish to enable the viewer to share with me the experience and the feelings; to provoke a debate about the issues raised directly or indirectly in the drawings and to appeal to their sense of humanity. And to remind the future generation of the denial of their identity and the destruction of their landscape and the genocide.

And when we told him Anfal is continuing actually; Sinjar, Kobane, Cizire… Your paintings are describing more than Anfal. He is continuing:

I think that we are the human being before we are Kurd like any other nation being in another place in Africa, Asia, America, and others. It is our human duty to share with other nations to build a bridge with themes to have better understanding and learn more from their experience and have belt trust and respect between the sect and the race. As a goal of my drawings, I can try to draw the suffering of a homeless man and form him without national symbols.

Lastly, he mentions the exhibition in Hinterland Gallery:

And I would like to thank the organizer and crater of Hinterland Gallery in Vienna, Gudrun and Franziska for their support for creating this opportunity to present my memory by drawing direct on the wall in the gallery, and bringing intellectuals and academic artists to the gallery to have discussion and dialogue. This supported my aim to build a bridge with Austrian people and exchanging experience with discussion with Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences.

As I have explain about my drawing. this study explores the ‘creative process’ and the relationship between the artist and his works on the subject of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The line across the landscape in most of my works narrates a no return journey, just as Paulo Freire remarks that “We make a road by walking”, here figures leave a road, a village/a homeland ‘behind’ by walking away from them, meanwhile being still an integral part of the landscape that embodies them throughout their journey as in drawings below. In some images the individual is even carrying away the landscape with him – as a memory?

Franziska Niemand from Hinterland is explaining why they want this exhibition in their gallery with these words:

There are a lot of refugees in Austria but nearly no one know why they had to escape here. For example they don’t know Anfal, the situation of Kurdistan, the history of the region really. Osman’s art work can give an idea to the people of Vienna and push them to show empathy. In the opening of the exhibition, Osman made a conversation with an anthropologist and a historian. It was about the memories, remembering and quite interesting. For example we don’t have photos or videos about Anfal. Well, how can we remind that and why should we? As a memory, Osman’s art work comes to the stage at this point.

Osman Ahmed’s exhibition is open until the 11st of November.


Photographs from the exhibition: Jacop Winkler


Click HERE for the adress and further information about the exhibition.


Original article in Turkish:

‘Çizim bir katarsistir’: Enfal’in şahidi Kürt bir ressamın ‘yolculuğu’