French Artist Brings Art to Kurdistan

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November 15, 2013 by throughwriting

TMR, Staff Reporter, AUIS Voice, 2013


Two young women in black sat with their back to the painter standing in front of a large white canvas. Spectators gathered around them behind a circle of Kurdish rugs, waiting in suspense for something to happen. The music came on and a woman used a teapot to pour water in various Henna dyes in which she dipped old maps of France.

“My exhibition is about the mix between Kurdish culture and French culture,” said Mary Malifarges at the opening of her exhibition entitled “Voyages” on February 28 in Slemani.

Malifarges, a painter, writer, and illustrator, came to Kurdistan over land about a year ago. Since then she has painted more than 20 paintings half of which are on exhibit at Sardam gallery until March 28.

The dancer’s bodies came alive when the tone of the music changed. Each one performed loose gestures combining a mixture of moves while Malifarges started to paint abstractly on the canvas using brown, aquamarine and black. The dancers, Soma Latif and Mina Niyaz, met the painter only twice before and were told to let the music inspire their movements.

As the music became more intense, their movements became more complex. In the beginning one of the dancers went to Malifarges and took off her hair clip and thick brown scarf as if liberating her. They then took turns to use the scarf in their dance. When one had it and stood still, the other would let loose until the switch. Then one dancer tried to go toward the painter and the other wrapped the scarf around her neck and pulled her away from the canvas. They played and teased until they both then twirled around the canvas and painter. When Malifarges could see the dancers, she would move her paintbrush to the rhythm and direction of their bodies.

Malifarges said the hour-long performance was a challenge to her because she is normally shy. Yet, Malifarges stated that when she smelled the colors and the painting and focused on the music, she became more comfortable. She felt she had to challenge herself to reflect the challenge she has as a woman, an artist and a French person living in Kurdistan.

One of the dancers, Latif, an actress, felt excited about the performance and at ease in front of about 50 spectators taking pictures with their mobile phones because “I’m part of the people.”

“We haven’t practiced for this work for a long time, but what we did was connecting the music with the painting,” she added. Latif hoped the audience understood the work, though due to her optimism and eagerness to the work, she explained intriguing the audience was enough, even if they didn’t completely understand the movements, art and music.

“I don’t care about the money. I’m doing if for myself. I love this,” Latif said. “As a Kurd I want to bring all the beautiful things from abroad and mix it with our culture.”

Stéphane Tellier, the director of the Institut Français à Erbil (French Institute in Erbil) that sponsored by the exhibition, talked with the other dancer, Niyaz, at the end of the performance.

He told her how surprised at how different the two dancers were from one another and how he thought some of their movements resembled a music box that opens with a figurine twirling around.

“That’s actually the idea that I wanted,” said Niyaz, excited that he’d correctly interpreted her movements. He extended his invitation to her and her family for a repeat performance in Erbil on April 23 in Institut Français.

“I want to do it again,” said Niyaz who has trained as a ballet dancer. “The music moved us. It was something different. It’s my first time to improvise, to mix dance with art together.”

“This public display is a beautiful one and a new thing here in Kurdistan because within the exhibition the artist was working. The two dancers made the work more beautiful,” said Bakhtyar Halabjai, a local sculptor.

He also said he hoped to see more activities like this so that he and other people could learn from them and they, foreigners, could learn from us, Kurds.

“I was impressed when I saw the art, dancing, and the people taking pictures,” said Harem Aziz, 20 years old from Sulaimani.



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