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Białystok: “May Flames Pave the Way for You” – exhibition

June 26, 2020 - August 9, 2020

photo Maciej Zaniewski


The Kurdish art scene has been developing in particularly strenuous political and economic conditions. The long-term pressure of neo-liberal economy, the as yet futile dreams of an autonomous state, the innumerable international Kurdish diaspora, and the characteristic shortage of any conceptual watershed experience on the scene have all had significant impact on social life and crucial artistic attitudes. 

The title of the exhibition – May Flames Pave the Way for You – references the case of artists burning paintings in the streets of the Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah* in the 1990s, a time when many artists of the older generation had already left the country while the younger generation sensed a depletion in the formerly used language of art, given the geopolitical positioning of a state troubled with war and insurgence. The dramatic demonstration became an announcement of an artistic breakthrough, as it were, comprising a breakaway from continuing modernist tradition, quest for inspiration in daily life practice, and use of the visual vernacular.

Emotional transformation associated with experiencing history and the varying paths of individual memory, coupled with changes brought by the Iraq War to daily life and the society are a major component of the exhibition. While developing a new language of art in a country ravaged by war and the social experience of struggling for economic survival is particularly difficult, it did produce a number of vital works and introduce a number of major characters to the art scene. Exhibition-related research spanned many years from the year 2007 onwards, i.a. thanks to workshops delivered in the Iraqi part of Kurdistan by Polish curator Aneta Szyłak and Hiwa K, an internationally renowned Kurdish artist residing in Berlin; the majority of artists showing their works at this exhibition were active participants of these workshops.

Artists invited to join the exhibition are in their thirties and forties; most have had the opportunity of studying abroad, chiefly in Germany, the United Kingdom, or Scandinavia. Some have returned and are teaching at art schools, while others remained in the diaspora. Invitees include the following, among others: Hiwa K (Berlin), Sherko Abbas (Manchester), Kani Kamil (Manchester), Shirwan Fatih (Sulaymaniyah), Rebeen Hamarafiq (Sulaymaniyah), Rozhgar Mustafa (Sulaymaniyah), Sakar Sleman (Sulaymaniyah), Walid Siti (London), Halgurd A. Baram (Sulaymaniyah).

The exhibition comprises a number of multimedia installations, sculptures, drawings and photographs, all of which will fill the space of Białystok’s Arsenal Gallery with multi-dimensional, emotional narrative carrying an extraordinary cultural and political message.

Aneta Szyłak

* We are using the name “Sulaymaniyah”. The official index of Polish geographical names published by the Head Office of Geodesy and Cartography (2019 edition) lists the city as As-Sulajmanijja; transcribed from the Arabic, it is considered offensive by the Kurds. The city’s name in Kurdish reads “Silêmanî”.

Translated by Aleksandra Sobczak-Kövesi 

Co-financed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage from the Culture Promotion Fund



June 26, 2020
August 9, 2020
Event Category:


Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok
ul. Mickiewicza 2
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