Refugees: Forced to Flee

This project is a part of the exhibition Refugees: Forced to Flee at the Imperial War Museum, London, 24/09/2020- 24/05/2021  

The works include five miniature paintings and two handwoven carpets based on my journey from Iraqi Kurdistan to the UK. The works relate to the process of leaving my homeland, the 2 years of travelling across borders illegally and the 8 years of waiting for asylum in the UK.

The carpets were designed by me and made by a group of Kurdish weavers as part of my project Chenin, which aims to revive the ancient tradition of Kurdish weaving in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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After the First World War, the Treaty of Sèvres, an agreement between the Allies and defeated Central Powers made provisions for an independent state of Kurdistan. This was never realised. Instead, under the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the Allies agreed that the Kurdish region would be split between nations. In this painting, Saleh depicts British planes flying over a divided Kurdistan, symbolising the British implementation of the treaty. 

Division,

 natural pigment and walnut ink on paper, 50 x 70 cm, 2019

In 1988, Saleh’s home town was destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s forces. He and his family lived in a camp for the next three years. In this painting, Saleh evokes the texture of burned flesh, a reference to the regime’s use of chemical weapons against Kurdish people and the ongoing persecution of Kurdish people today. 

Despair

Natural pigment, barbed wire and iron on paper

2019

In 2001, Saleh left Iraq. For two years, he travelled across the Middle East and Europe. Making illegal border crossings, his homes were mountains, camps, streets and squats. He dreamed of being able to cross borders on a flying carpet.

Departure

Natural pigment, stone and clay on paper

2019

On his journey from the Middle East to Europe, Saleh crossed the Mediterranean Sea by boat. This journey is fraught with danger. Refugees often travel on overcrowded boats run by smugglers. Fuel and supplies are limited and the boats, many of which are not seaworthy, risk capsizing at sea.  

Drowning

Natural pigment, iron and copper on paper

2019

Saleh applied for asylum in the UK, but it took years for this claim to be granted. During this time he was unable to work and was moved between hostels in five different cities. The fragmented mirror represents Saleh’s divided sense of identity, caught between the UK and his home country. ‘To me,’ he says, ‘home is not a place, it is people. The Kurdish term for a “dear friend” or loved one is malakam, which translates as “my home.”’

Detached

Natural pigment and mirror on paper

2019

The fragmented patterns in this carpet represent the destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages and towns in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Saleh’s own home town was destroyed in 1988.

 

This carpet was hand-woven by Kurdish women in Iraq as part of Saleh’s Chenin project. Chenin aims to revive traditional Kurdish carpet weaving and provide income for local people.

Destruction

Naturally dyed wool and cotton 

2019

Saleh and his family were forced to flee to the mountains. In this carpet, the diamond-shaped motif symbolises the mountains and fading colours represent the disappearance of traditional Kurdish culture through displacement. 

 

This carpet was hand-woven by Kurdish women in Iraq as part of Saleh’s Chenin project. Chenin aims to revive traditional Kurdish carpet weaving and provide income for local people.

Design for Displacement

 © Shorsh Saleh 2020

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