‘When My Mom Understands, I Am Happy’: Watch How Iraqi Artist Hiwa K. Makes Art That’s Accessible to All

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

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Hiwa K: 'The Bell Project.'" © Art21, Inc. 2020.

When it comes to making his work, the Kurdish-Iraqi artist Hiwa K has no interest in the flashiest, most expensive equipment or in expounding on the most complex theory. In fact, the artist says his measure of success is whether or not his mother can understand his work.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s new season, the artist explains the process of making the video The Bell Project (2007-15), which was included in the exhibition “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011” at MoMA PS1 in 2020.

In the video, the artist explains how he worked with a Kurdish man named Nazhad who owns a scrap yard. Nazhad was melting down cast-off weapons from the US and European militaries into bricks of metal, which he then catalogued and recorded, noting where and when each weapon had been brought into the country.

“These weapons are made by the West and sent to our countries,” Hiwa says in the video. “Nazhad is somehow melting it into possibilities of transformation.”

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Hiwa K: 'The Bell Project.'" © Art21, Inc. 2020.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Hiwa K: ‘The Bell Project.'” © Art21, Inc. 2020.

Inspired by this process of converting one object into another, the artist decided to do the opposite and melt weapons down to turn them into a church bell. In pre-industrial Europe, the reverse happened: Church bells were made into cannons for war.

“I was thinking about the circulation of materials,” Hiwa tells Art21

Ultimately, the artist sourced the metal bricks from Nazhad and sent them to a small Italian foundry where they were cast into a bell inscribed with Assyrian imagery. The project encompasses a complicated and fraught history related to the transfer of weapons and power, international relations, and the affect on localized businesses—not to mention the scores of individuals whose lives are affected by geopolitical wars.

“I don’t want to overdose my work with philosophy” the artist says, “When my mom understands, I am happy.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Extended Play, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. 

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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