By Karen Dabrowska:
“Go for it!” That is the loud and clear message from Kurdish artist Evar Hussayni as she inspired the young people who came to her art class in London’s P21 Gallery.
The theme of the class was identity. “Identity to me is so important as a Kurdish woman,” Hussayni said. “ Whereever I go I explicitly state that I am a Kurdish woman because that is what I am considering my history and my culture.” She emphasises that the Kurds are one people and does not draw attention to the fact that she comes from the Syrian part of Kurdistan.
Through the use of pencils, crayons, and paints Hussayni encourages the students to explore what identity means to them. She has pinned definitions of the various art schools on the wall. “The definitions were there to help the students chose a style to draw. It was also to guide them because many people came and they did not really know what to do, so I wrote down words relating to identity. They could focus on portraying these words and what identity really means to them. The definitions would just give them an idea of what art is like. It teaches them that art has gone through all these periods: it can be surrealist, expressionist or cubist. It is very much down to how you feel and what you want to portray. In the class there was a lot of expressionism, exploring line, shape form and colour.”
It was Hussayni’s first art class. The vibrant, dynamic, 23-year-old with a boundless reservoir of energy is determined to make art an integral part of people’s lives. “Art is so important whether it is personal or whether it is for political, social or cultural reasons. It is everywhere and it is important that we keep it alive because art is becoming something that is seen as lazy or something people do to avoid doing other things. It has a bad image.”
The students loved her. She encouraged and explained but, above all, she inspired with her love of art and determination to make sure creativity is fostered. “I enjoy working with people and I thought – what better way of introducing art back into peoples’ lives than setting up an art class? It was very informal – a workshop rather than a class. It was giving a space to young people to just come and focus on one thing: identity mainly, because my own work is about identity and the face and the body.”
Hussayni is a Kurdish multi-disciplinary artist whose main focus is on the exterior aesthetics and societal stigmas of a woman’s body and face, through themes of memory, culture and identity. She is currently working on a project to help tackle judgement, body-shaming and stereotyping and challenge norms and cultural ideologies that women are expected to conform to just because they are women.
Her mixed media techniques explore space, shape, form and line as well as having a recurring nucleus centered around the naked body and face to highlight the way identity is affected by surroundings, memory and culture. Having grown up around fellow artists who focused on controversial and cultural topics, she began to pick up this trait in her own artwork.
Hussayni is currently working on a major project involving 150 volunteers, all women from different backgrounds who have chosen different paths in life. “They are all basically expressing themselves through nudity and I portray that in my paintings and drawings of them. It is basically a way of showing that when you look at someone you can’t judge them from their exterior because you don’t know their path in life. You don’t know who they are, you don’t know what they have been through. I am photographing and drawing them for a big project to show diversity. I would not call myself a photographer. It is more taking the photographs from which to produce art work. I found the volunteers through social media, word of mouth and meeting people.”
The project will be completed next year and Hussayni hopes to hold a major exhibition which will include photographs, sketches and written work. At present she works at home but dreams of having a studio and making enough money from the sale of her work to give up her part-time job at the Tate Gallery where she assists with events and public viewings.
Hussayni was born in Sweden and moved to London when she was 11. She graduated from Leeds University with a BA in Art & Design. Her work has been exhibited at the Pesangeh exhibition in Diyarbakr (2015), the Tales of a Genocide Art Auction in London (2014) and the ARTROOMS2016 Art Fair in London.
Her mother inspired her to break away from boundaries that were set for her just because she was a woman. “Watching my mum who raised us, working so hard and achieving all these things by herself without any man’s help was very uplifting. It shows women are as strong and as powerful as any man.”
She has an unshakeable belief in Kurdish unity despite the political realities on the ground and hopes to visit all parts of Kurdistan. “I am trying to break away from anything political because it is so draining. The internal conflict between Kurds is not something I want to get involved with. All my life I have grown up believing that Kurds are one.”
Karen Dabrowska is a journalist and author – www.karendabrowska.com