‘Anything I Do Is an Archaeological Act’: Kurdish Artist Hiwa K Explains How Personal Experience and Global Politics Inform His Work

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Artist Hiwa K in a still from "Art in the Twenty-First Century." © Art21, Inc.

The Kurdish artist Hiwa K, a native Iraqi who now lives in Germany, has firsthand experience of the plight that faces migrants who move from place to place, never knowing which aspect of their identity will be welcomed or shunned by the people they encounter.

“Kurds are about being formless,” he says in an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of the PBS series “Art in the Twenty-first Century.” “We are just cut in four pieces like a pizza,” he says of his ancestors, who were split into territorial Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria after World War I by occupying French and British forces.

Much of the artist’s work is drawn from a combination of historical facts and personal anecdotes, creating a hodgepodge practice that he says borrows from dance to music to the culinary arts. In his work, Hiwa K uses his own presence and identity to interrupt the status quo, even going so far as to making himself an active participants in situations like the Arab Spring of 2011.

Currently, the artist is included in “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars, 1991–2011,” a show on view at MoMA PS1 that explores the toll of American conflicts in the Middle East. (In an ironic twist, a group of Middle Eastern artists participating in the show were not allowed to enter the United States to attend the opening.)

Speaking to Art21, Hiwa K says “anything I do is an archeological act.” Using his childhood memories as a starting point, the artist often digs into geo-political history to unearth underlying tensions. “People tend to forget,” he says with dismay. “Sometimes you have to remind them just what happened yesterday.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. Hiwa K’s work is included in “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2001” at MoMA PS1 through March 1, 2020.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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