Scott Douglas Jacobsen: First of all, could you please tell our readers where were you born, and when did you leave your country?
Azad Nanakeli: I was born in the city of Erbil (Hawler) in Kurdistan. I was Seventeen years old when I left my city and went to Baghdad to study then I left the country entirely and went abroad to Europe.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Is it possible to share some of your memories about growing up in a country which was dominated by war, dictatorship, and lack of security?
Azad Nanakeli:Since I was a child, my only dream was to see my society living in peace and for Kurdistan to become independent. However, dreams are something; real politics is something else. People of Kurdistan spent their entire lives in war.
They lived under vicious dictators in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. This is in addition to the fact that the United Nations never supported Kurdistan and its people. Let’s also not forget that our political leadership is also guilty of not caring enough about the new generations of Kurds.
I remember when I was a child sleeping on the roof top of our house, looking at the stars and trying to count them. When suddenly, all we could see are bullets fired in the sky in a fight between Peshmarga fighters and the regimes thugs.
The bullets would mix with the light of the stars in our vision. It became such a norm. That if one night there were no fight then we would be surprised. While I was studying in Baghdad in 1975, this was also the year when the Kurdish rebellion movement was defeated.
The Iraqi government began a new wave of violent attacks against the Kurdish rebels. Life became very difficult for us. I was not a member or supporter of the official Ba’ath Party, which meant I could be arrested at any time.
Despite my opposition and refusal of cooperation with the oppressive regime, I still managed to complete my studies and go into exile outside Iraq and eventually settled in Italy.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You were born in Arbil, Kurdistan and are a prominent Kurdish artist. How did you discover the latent talent?
Azad Nanakeli:From the age of seven, when I was at primary school, my art teacher helped me immensely and encouraged me to use different tools. In the same year one of my art works were sent to an international children’s art exhibition in Warsaw-Poland.
My work won a prize. After this, my teachers helped me more in my art lessons. After completing my high school studies, I went on to study at the Institute of Fine Art in Baghdad. I completed my studies there and graduated with honors, first place.
There my teachers were also supportive and advised me to go abroad. At that time, the political situation was very dire in Kurdistan. I traveled to Italy. I started studying at the Academy of Florence and successfully completed it.
My art work was exhibited in various galleries and museums around the world; both in solo and in group art exhibitions.
Jacobsen: When you interact with the media, whether lay people or artistically knowledgeable, how do you convey the purpose and style of your art to them?
Azad Nanakeli:I do not adhere to a particular technique. That is related to the diverse nature of my work. For example: if I want to present a work related to environmental issues, I might use video art because it allows me a better chance to communicate my concept.
Or I can use photograph or installation or performance, or painting on canvas. These and other technical tools can help an artist to convey a message in his/her work. Getting closer, contemporary to modern art is not easy in society, this is why it is important to have involvement from intellectuals, art critics, and cultural organisations to create an atmosphere whereby people and art get closer and interact. The role of cultural centres is vital in commissioning more art work and exhibitions to show case to people.
Jacobsen: As a Kurd, and a long-time artist, do you use art as a means of protest and activism as well as self-expression?
Azad Nanakeli:Without doubt as an artist, I would want to express my own feelings and concepts in relation to environment, identity, war, social unrest, and exile. I came from a place called Kurdistan, from a long time ago my country was divided and has gone through many ordeals.
Colonisers invaded and bombarded our people using chemical weapons. Our people were subjected to genocide and exodus. Our resources were looted.
Jacobsen: Who are some elder and some up-and-coming artists who those interested in Kurdish culture should look out for and learn about their art?
Azad Nanakeli:This is a relative issue, I cannot say which artist should be made a role model in order to learn from them. We as Kurds in order to enjoy art; we need to learn more about the history of art and understand it.
Jacobsen: With a lifetime committed to the artistic life, what have been the most general, consistent principles that you have learned from the representation of your own experience and messages in art, and the ways in which observers interpret the artistic productions?
Azad Nanakeli:As I mentioned above in my answers, my work is related to current events, consumerism, for example, is a disaster in modern day. As an artist, I observe and study this catastrophe and other problems in society. Most artists work along similar lines, I believe.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr.Nanakeli.