United Kingdom Research trip, Iraqi Kurdistan 2009

March/April 2009
ArtRole CE Adalet Giarmany with Helen Pheby PhD from Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Andrew Mitchelson, Live Art Development Agency, traveled to Iraq-Kurdistan to liaise with partnership organisations for forthcoming ArtRole projects for 2009-2012. Based in Erbil, they also visited Saddam’s Red Security Building in Sulymania and met the Museum director to discuss the Post War event due to take place at the venue. Lectures and talks were given to students and atists in both cities and they attended a wedding celebration taking place in the countryside.

Report by Andrew Mitchelson from Live Art Development Agency,

of the his visit to Kurdistan-Iraq:

I was invited by Adalet R. Garmiany, Executive Director of ArtRole to Iraq-Kurdistan in March/April 2009 and traveled on behalf of the Live Art Development Agency with Helen Pheby from Yorkshire Sculpture Park. My trip was financially assisted by ArtRole, the Live Art Development Agency and Visiting Arts. We were based predominantly in Erbil and also visited the city of Sulaymanya. The research trip was intended to be an opportunity for curators and partners working with ArtRole to assess the long-term impact of arts and cultural exchange upon the region and feed into the future planning of our partnership relationships with ArtRole, aimed at building further cross-cultural activities between the UK and the Iraq-Kurdistan through public programming of events and artist residency opportunities.

Following the Agency’s long-term partnership with ArtRole, beginning in February 2007 with artists and curators from Iraq visiting the UK, the visit to the region was an exciting opportunity for me to meet artists, further develop contacts both with organizations and the arts infrastructure in the region and support and assist ArtRole in meetings with officials (within regional Government and the FCO from the UK) towards future ArtRole activity – predominantly the Post-War event scheduled for November 2009.

In ‘being there’ I was able to gain a much deeper understanding of the cultural, social, economic and political context of the Kurdistan region of Iraq through this first-hand experience.

The most striking experience of the visit to the region for me, was the difference between the prolific media and news coverage we receive in the UK, and an ‘imagined’ reality, versus the lived experience of being there and experiencing the culture and ‘daily life’. Despite some of the areas experiences in recent history under the Saddam regime, and with stabalisation of the region with regard to security situation improving on a daily basis, it seems there is a bright and optimistic future, and a real sense of looking forwards.

ArtRole has an extensive knowledge of the way in which the arts infrastructure operates within the region, and in particular some of the difficulties and challenges faced by different generations of artists, working both within and outside of the funded framework, and also within the framework of traditional versus non-traditional artistic practices. The Agency would be very keen to assist and feed in to any strategies for looking at ways to bring these often disparate group together or providing opportunities and frameworks for all to gain as much help and support for their practices as is possible within the given context.

In summary, the research visit was integral to deepening and strengthening the Agency’s understanding of contemporary arts and culture within Iraq-Kurdistan. I was able to meet artists face-to-face and hear first-hand how and why artists make the work they make and also gather a sense of the urgency for more experimental practices to be supported. The Agency is firmly committed to supporting ArtRole for the foreseeable future both towards the Post War event in 2009 and also through any future Residency programmers planned for 2011/11. We are particularly keen to explore with and support ArtRole to build strategies which mean that risk-taking and experimental work by artists in the region can be supported and nurtured in the best possible way, and firmly believe ArtRole is well- positioned as the leading organization working across the UK and Iraq-Kurdistan to offer this support to the vibrant artistic community in the region.

Finally, the trip in 2009 directly produced a new piece of artwork back here in the UK. The visit directly inspired my final MA Performance at Queen Mary, University of London called “Credo / I Believe”

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