Hiwa K: "The Bell Project" | Art21 "Extended Play"

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Episode #269: Kurdish-Iraqi artist Hiwa K discusses his desire to make artwork that is understandable to a wide audience. Describing his video and sculpture installation, "The Bell Project" (2007–2015), the artist explains how he spent years following and filming a Kurdish scrap yard owner named Nazhad, who collected the U.S. and European military waste that was sold to an used in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars. Melted down into bricks of raw metal, these weapons of war took on new life and became, as the artist states, "possibilities of transformation."

Inspired by the fact that church bells were often melted down to make cannons during times of war in pre-industrial Europe, Hiwa K explains how he became interested in swapping this process by making a bell out of melted down weapons. The artist had Nazhad's metal bricks sent to Italy, where a foundry cast the material into a large bell, adorned with Assyrian imagery. The bell, installed at MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York alongside the artist's videos of Nazhad’s scrap yard and the Italian foundry, becomes a simple but potent depiction of the circulation of materials and how countries are linked through warfare. Expressing his own difficulty with the art often exhibited in museums and his intention to make his work intelligible to all viewers, Hiwa K states, "I have an affair with knowledge, I don’t have a relationship with knowledge. I don't want to overdose my work with philosophy."

Hiwa K was born in Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan, Iraq, in 1975. His sculptures, videos, and performances slyly weave together anecdotes from friends and family members with his biography. As a Kurdish Iraqi and immigrant to Germany, Hiwa K draws from personal memories to tell stories of our ongoing global crises: war, migration, and the effects of neoliberalism and colonialism. Documenting with video, the artist inserts himself into his works, which often involve participatory dimensions (such as group cooking classes, musical performances, and political protests) and collaborations with a wide cast of players, from Iraqi philosophers to Venetian metal casters. Largely self-taught, his multidisciplinary approach draws upon his peer-to-peer education in Iraq as well as his musical training under the Flamenco master, Paco Peña.

Learn more about the artist at:
https://art21.org/artist/hiwa-k/

CREDITS | Producer: Ian Forster, Rafael Salazar, and Ava Wiland. Interview: Ava Wiland. Editor: Misha Spivack. Colorist: Jonah Greenstein. Camera: Jarred Alterman and Rafael Salazar. Sound: Jaime Guijarro-Bustamante. Music: Blue Dot Sessions. Artwork Courtesy: Hiwa K and Collezione La Gaia, Busca, Italy. Special Thanks: MoMA PS1.

"Extended Play" is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the Art21 Contemporary Council; and by individual contributors.

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