Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ismail Khayat knows what dreams are made of

Ismail Khayat

The Kurdish Globe
By Rommert Kruithof

"Picasso of Iraq."

Kurdish people the world over love Kurdish painter Ismail Khayat for his action painting of schoolchildren in the war-stricken no-man's land near Koya. Now that its colors are fading after years of burning sunlight and the star of Khayat is rising in the world of art, it is time to keep that man and his work alive.

An old dream of mine came true when I first saw some work by Khayat, who is also known as the "Picasso of Iraq." It happened years ago during a trainings trip in Suleymainya when a visit to the local GaleryAram fulfilled my sudden desire for a thing of beauty, anything. The heat in the streets that summer and the dense dustbowl suddenly started an almost physical craving for at least some joy--if only for the eyes. And when I saw this black and white drawing of primitive naked people hanging on the wall, it crossed my mind that this was the chance to finally get decent art from outside Europe into a decent galery in Europe. With my studies in the history of art and archaeology, it always annoyed me to see how such fine art from just outside the Western world automatically ended up always in multi-cultural, heavily subsidized centers in the West, with no chance whatsoever of making it to the serious world of art. One glance was enough: This work of Khayat definitely deserved making it to this serious world of art.

So I bought that particular piece with the primitive naked people from GaleryAram, and later got in touch with the artist himself and his wife, Gaziza, who is a famous actress and playwright in Kurdistan. The friendly couple--with two young kids--living on the outskirts of the city had me over for tea and invited me to visit the theater. The primitive drawing of naked people was Khayat's homage to the thousands of victims of Saddam Housein's ethnic cleansing in the Kurdish north of Iraq, also known as the Anfal Operation, with chemical gas attacks on the city of Halabja. It's one of the main themes that runs through his paintings, and over the years I bought around 27 works of art from him and succeeded in showing them in some of the most prestigious galeries in The Hague/Holland, where some of it was sold both home and abroad. Mission Accomplished," I almost thought, but then something happened. Something nice, I might say.

During one of those visits, the master himself showed me a couple of objects like stones and pieces of wood that he carefully painted--like what he did years before with schoolchilderen in the no-man's land near smalltown Koya between the two Kurdish factions that were fighting each other brutally in those years. What had been a deafening cry for peace in those days now became to me nothing less then a possible smallscale design for an impressive monument. I saw a kind of "Stonehenge" in England before my eyes, and so I told him about that idea of mine, which he adored. He immediately started working on it, making photos of his smallscale objects in landscapes and building a sort of maquette with them back home. It didn't need much imagination to see how good it would be to walk around and in between his painted fullscale objects.

Where else should this be, especially when years ago he woke his own Kurdish people with that deafening action painting of the schoolchilderen" And wouldn't it be wonderful for the Kurdish nation to have that kind of monument with a proper Khayat "museum" right there--the more so since he is and will forever be one of the finest Kurdish painters of all times"

What is needed now is to find funding and an intelligent business plan to make that wonderful Khayat museum come true. A civilized tribute it would also be to the people of a reunited Kurdistan as a followup to his cry for peace with schoolchildren in that no-man's land years ago--and a civilized landmark for the Picasso of Iraq for all the people of Iraq, come to think about it.

The writer is a journalist in The Netherlands who works both home and abroad. Since 2004, he has visited Kurdistan as "mamosta" for journalists and as media trainer for politicians and captains of industry.

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