Sexism In Iraqi Kurdistan – Part 1

Following on from last week’s musings….

Considerably less “refreshed” than I was when I wrote my initial post on this subject, I’ve been mulling over the evening that started me thinking about the role and rights of women in Kurdistan. Whilst there are still reports of female genital mutilation and honour killings, I wanted to focus on the surface of the issue to begin with. What I have seen so far. I’m sure as I learn more about the place I will learn about the darker side to Iraqi Kurdistan, just as there is a darker side to all countries and regions of the world. However, until I see those goblins, I won’t try to imagine them.

I made the comment “I’d wager women are treated better here” in the Intro piece. I’m pleased no bookies took my money, because it was a statement of ignorance – I don’t know if women are treated better or worse than in the UK. Besides the cultures are very different, and I’m sure misogyny wears incomparable masks.

I met with Tony, a Baghdadi Christian, for a few drinks in the Sulemani Palace Hotel bar. He had a nargila, whilst I stuck to my Gauloises. We had a few beers, and after he’d twisted my (very maleable) arm into having a tequila, he said that he wanted to show me a place in Sarchenar, a well-off district 15 minutes away by taxi. “What sort of place?” “Somewhere where they have live singing, we can have a beer or two,” was his reply. And that is exactly what is was.

A three storey Chinese establishment, filled entirely with men, excepting the female singer on each floor and the waitresses.

We sat at a table next to a group of four men, two in a high state of excitement. The entertainment was provided by a man on keyboards, sometimes vocally backing an undeniably beautiful singer. There were about 30 men in the room, and to begin with it was mostly calm. As the tempo began to rise, so did the spirits of the audience. It was around this time that men started beckoning the singer to their tables, and requesting a “shout-out” for the price of 5,000 dinars (about £3). Pretty raunchy behaviour in this conservative society – in my mind at the time I was thinking of parallels in the UK. Specifically, lap dances. My pissed reasoning was that women are treated with greater respect here, in this case at least. I’m still not straight in my mind about this….any thoughts?

Updated – I Don’t Know Much About Art

I was watching a natural history programme the other evening; of the type where the out-of-his-comfort-zone Westerner is constantly amazed by the survival skills of the people who’ve lived in the area in question for hundreds of generations. In amongst the subtly patronising comments and sweeping vistas so essential to such a chunk of television (North Greenland in this instance), invariably we are invited to be revolted by the base nature of their eating habits. Bruce, our host, was offered the eyeball of a recently dispatched seal. Whilst it didn’t appear to be valued as a delicacy, it was apparent that one of the Inuit hunters was giving up something he considered special. Bruce didn’t hesitate, and sucked the contents of the eyeball down. And with it, he balled his eyes up, retched a little and generally made sure that his hosts knew what he thought of their little treat. I’ve had dinner guests like that, but I was asking them to appreciate my chicken curry, and they could reasonably have expected their meal to have been edible.

Serve up seal eyeballs to a restaurant critic at any NY restaurant, and (unless they are Anthony Bourdain or suffering from the most serious case of Emperor’s New Clothes) the resulting review will be unfavourable at best, a simple cartoon of spluttering Bruce at worst. You’re wondering what the fuck I’m on about, so perhaps I should cut to the chase; different people like different things, and this is the only truth about art.

Take the case of Damien Hirst. Much like my dinner guests anticipated that eating my food would not lead to prolonged visits to the bathroom, I was expecting the recent Damien Hirst No Love Lost, Blue Paintings exhibition to be challenging and witty. Unfortunately they were mediocre pastiches of Francis Bacon, as if copied for a high school art project. This was compounded by the fact that Hirst had spent a small fortune persuading the Wallace Collection to show the pieces. That these paintings are his own work, rather than the product of his workshops, is telling. The work preceding was the spectacular For The Love Of God; maybe he set the bar too high? The work after is the very similar For Heaven’s Sake which smacks of desperation. Oh, Damien, how confusing. And then, in early June, I was given a glimpse into his new project. Half of me wishes I could share (by the time this is in print you may already have seen the painful fruits of his latest work), but the other half is genuinely excited to have had an “in” before not only most of the world, but the majority of the art world. The project that he is involved in with several other names finally moves the Banksy commercial question into a challenging new direction, something the wall dauber has consistently failed to do. This critic’s mind’s-eye sees the quality graph of his recent portfolio as a heartbeat monitor – at least he isn’t flat lining. But this is all my opinion. Art is subjective, you and I can like what we want. And art critics sometimes forget that.

Robert Mapplethorpe was able to divide opinion like almost no other. In the 1980s it seemed every accessible published word was written by the shocked moral majority; the same breed that delights in taking offence at issues large and small in the 2010s, Twittering horror, emailing outrage and registering digital disgust. It’s true that the photography of Mapplethorpe was challenging, and some of the later work, especially of children, flirted with the very boundaries of decency. However, unless one actively seeks out this work alone, stumbling across the nudes is highly unlikely. Many people will have seen his touching portraits of Patti Smith and developed an understanding of his work as a whole, rather than being wilfully upset by the homoerotic images. I was in San Francisco at Fulsom Fair time, a couple of years ago. There with work for a conference on marine fuels (yes folks, some of us have lived the dream, tasted true manna), three of my colleagues decided to go to the fair; middle-class, straight white girls from London off to gawp and point and whisper at the strange gay men. I declined the invitation to go, as I don’t approve of zoos, human or otherwise. They returned ashen-faced and faux-corrupted. I asked them what they had expected, “Well, not that”, was the reply. Within three minutes, there were 3 digital cameras in front of me, accompanied by a commentary of all the disgusting and vile acts committed in public – all looked like fucking good fun, literally. My opinion was completely different to theirs, but was torn apart as invalid. As the evening wore on, more drink taken, I lost my patience. “Don’t tell me what to think,” was my petulant response, starting in motion an untenable situation that led to my eventual resignation. To be told how to respond to anything – art, life, anything – is to assume a lack of intelligence, a lack of sense. Or, worse, it is the arrogant belief that the critic’s subjective opinion is the only one worth considering.

Jeff Koons’s self-portrait photographs with his then lover, Cicciolina are far less shocking to me than his ambiguous sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. My mother, my nephew and a legion of fans will most certainly see it through different lenses. No doubt some people see the epic seascapes painted by JMW Turner in his later years as the daubings of a near-blind, over-praised old man – I have sat for an age in front of just one painting, endlessly intrigued by this brush-stroke taking wave to cloud, questioning whether the brilliance of painting with failing sight can be regarded as the true beginning of Impressionism.

You’ll have to excuse me for a slightly UK-centric look at what must be a global occurrence, but such is my frame of reference. We have an annual art award, The Turner Prize, which never fails to get the more reactionary mainstream press hitting the “be outraged” key for the chattering classes. Over the years the media used by nominees has included elephant dung (Chris Ofili); concrete (Rachel Whiteread’s internal cast of a house); bronze (the Chapman Brothers’ Death which was painted to look like the blow up dolls and dildo that they had cast); a bed (Tracey Emin); and pottery (Grayson Perry). Not, “provocateurs” Chapman Brothers. Not, “shocking” Tracey Emin. Not, “challenging” Grayson Perry. I’ll be the one to decide how provoked, shocked or challenged I am by a piece of art.

The best critics, those that I look up to and hope to emulate (rip-off, plagiarise, imitate, fail to get near to) have forthright opinions that they present to and not foist upon readers – let’s face it, as consumers of their words readers are unlikely to need to be told what to think. Just by being attracted to an article of this nature, the reader is demonstrating a certain intelligence or at least an inquisitive mind – only a pseud needs telling what to think. One critic who often, but not always, pulls off the feat of presenting and not foisting is Jonathon Jones, in the UK’s Guardian newspaper ( The joy of his writing is that anyone can comment – he defends his position, sometimes as an elegant fencer, epee-ing contributors easily. At others times, he snarls and swipes like a cornered tiger. He doesn’t always win, but he never shies away from a fight. I’d suggest searching for his May 2011 article on Mark Leckey. Not only does he defend his current opinion, he also (quite remarkably) has to defend his right to change his mind.

However, even those who like to think they live outside “the system” or recognised art establishment aren’t immune to shouting their opinions at us. Protests about the Turner Prize are not limited to the playfully ignorant press. Happily, this is done with a wit and knowingness that words alone cannot convey. Banksy had one of his finer moments when he stencilled “Mind The Crap” on the steps of the Tate before the prize-giving one year; something which might have already come back to haunt him, in the derivative, dull and ultimately pointless Exit Through The Gift Shop, may mark him down as a hypocrite as he expressed a desire to support his nomination at this year’s Oscars ceremony, or perhaps it’s one more example of his searingly post-modern criticism of art. You decide.

Mighty Samurai Pen – An Interview With Wataru Yoshida

Wataru Yoshida was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1987. In 2007, Wataru chose to pursue an education in design at the Tama Art University, majoring in graphic design and illustration. He enjoys working intensively, and his illustration series “Body” is no exception to that rule. His design interests are not limited to illustration. Wataru’s work has been shown in other related design mediums. His portfolio includes works that have been incorporated into the posters, advertising, photography, designs for T-shirts, manufactured goods, even catalogues. One of his designs of T-shirt, for example, features an illustrated body structure that matches the physical system underneath, when worn. Wataru believes everything starts with an idea. When creating his work, his focus remains on creating images that are new and interesting.

It wasn’t going to be easy, interviewing Wataru Yoshida in Tokyo, Japan whilst I was in the final days of a short chapter in Samara, Russia. I had no teleporter, and despite repeated pleas about the necessity of a face to face interview and a Japanese language implant in my brain (they have those now, right? I mean, as I remember of the sci-fi promises from my dimming and distancing youth, that was coming before the flying car and after the food pills), the editors were having none of it. I mean, business class would have sufficed, and a translator.

I’ve been to Japan once before, and I didn’t understand the place very well; it was a three day stopover and I was confused at every turn. What will I make of Wata? Introducing ourselves over Skype messenger, it became clear that Wata’s English eclipsed my Japanese, but it was not quick enough for a fluent chat…you are about to read a re-jigged version of our Skype/email conversation.

>Hi Mr Yoshida, what should I call you, first of all?
Hi Luke, please call me Wata. Where are you?

>I’m in a cafe on Leningradskaya Street, Samara, Russia. Where are you Wata?
-Russia? Wow! I’m in Tokyo.

>How are things there? Before we start, I just wanted you to know that are thoughts are with your people after the recent disaster.
-Thankyou for being worried about the Japanese people. I am in the bathroom now, please wait for 30 minutes.


>I was just looking at the smoke rising from the chimneys in the “My Laboratory” line drawings – they are the only colour. Are you trying to see the beauty in our industrialised world, or make a comment on pollution?
-No, this work was made trying to imagine my art university. Whilst there is a continual flow of work at university, it is not mass production like a factory, but highly individual. I expressed it by colorful smoke – this work is anti-mass production.

>Sorry for the delay, I was lighting a cigarette, filthy habit that’ll kill me. Are you a smoker? Or is “Lungs” an anti-smoking piece?
-Yes, I’m a smoker. This piece is an anti-theme for “me”. And, I guess this theme is very fun visually. I get out of bed, I smoke a cigarette right away each day. I love “KENT” cigarettes. I started to smoke at high-school. Japanese law prohibits smoking under 20 years old. So, I received attention sometimes. Yes, sometimes I am disgusted by it…but, I can’t stop it…haha Yes! me too. I worry about it. I struggle with my addiction daily too. You and I are comrades..haha.

>What inspired the piece? It’s one of your witty works, like the body T-Shirts.
-My work is purely about curiosity and that is the only spur. My inspiration is it. It occupies my mind.

>But you must have some inspiration? The écorché of Da Vinci, perhaps?
-I refer not only to Da Vinci but also to more anatomical artists. I have seen other references. For example, Andreas Vesalius. However, I don’t like grotesque things. And yet, I choose this theme.
I suppose I don’t see this theme as grotesque, I merely have pure fascination for the mysterious and delicate qualities of the anatomy of mammals.

>Do you appreciate the earlier work of Damien Hirst – The Impossiblity of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, for example?
-I wasn’t thinking especially about Damien Hirst when making these works, but I like his works. I have noticed my work has similar motifs when I finished it. There is a chance I was influenced but I probably failed to notice.
Again, I recommend Andreas Vesalius. I have referred to his anatomical works. His anatomical illustration is very good. At first, I didn’t know his name when I started drawing this work, but my friends said “Look at this anatomical illustration by Andreas Vesalius. He is good.” So I got to know his name. Since then, I have referred to the Atlas series. Atlas is a famous anatomical/medical book and even though this is very expensive in Japan, I bought it.
I have been greatly influenced by Oroz Istvan. He is a graphic designer from Hungary. Not only that, he is famous for his animation as well. His work includes copperplate expressions and tromp l’oeil simliar to Escher. It was his copperplate expressions that inspired me in particular. I don’t use copperplate in my work, but I use fine point pens to draw, to emulate it.

> I can imagine you drawing – a young man crouched over some paper, completely involved in his work. Maybe the only light comes from a lamp beside you, and your concentration leads to your tongue sticking out of your mouth. Am I close to the reality? What is your creative process, once inspired?
-Yes, I’m very focused when working on originals. Sometimes I keep drawing for hours on end. It’s just as you imagine. Though I don’t put my tongue out while drawing (haha). And, I take time to look at and to research some reference material. First I draw realistic works, after that I add my original ideas, gradually.

>Let’s talk about the “Brain” series.
-Specifically, it is not a series. I believe everything starts with an idea. When creating the Side Face, my focus remained on creating images that are new and interesting. This is one of the my favorite works. I drew this degisn in my early career, and it took a lot of time and energy. The reason why it is drawn in black and white is that it is easier to copy my original design without being influenced by the function of a printer, because I thought the copies would be true to the original beautiful and attractive design. Brain Light is based on the finding of ideas and hints that came to me during the production, not as you may think from cartoons – even though I liked to draw and paint MANGA as a child In particular, I liked to draw fine/sensitive paintings. So I went to art university this is a natural progression. I didn’t dream of being an illustrator in the future. Simply, it was the first time I was interested in illustration. Brain Quake is an idea that expresses the explosion and radiation in the brain. This work doesn’t particularly refer to earthquakes.

>The earthquake. What was your personal experience of the recent earthquakes and tsunami?
-First, I’m OK after the earthquake and tsunami. I’m in Tokyo and my family and all friends are safe. After the earthquake, almost all the public transportation stopped in Tokyo, which caused a little panic amongst people who tried to make it back home by bus/by car/on foot. The real damage is in Northern Japan, and I just cannot believe my eyes to see views of those areas on TV…Northern Japanese people still need someone to help.

>Do you think your work may be influenced by this in the future?
-Yes, of course. The Japanese graphic design scene will certainly change after this earthquake. Japanese advertising already changed. Many Japanese companies have self‐imposed control in advertising already. I have never seen a large earthquake & tsunami like this in my life. So, I can’t understand the future. But Japan is sure to revive. I believe it.

>We believe it too. Moving on; “Stomach” – what’s the thinking behind the organ being closed by a shell?
-This piece of work does not have any hidden theme underneath, rather my work is done mostly to seek visual appeal. My interests extend to photography, typography and etc. In fact, one of my favorite things is photography.

> It is easy to see your love of photography. “Compostion of Mammals” combines the fine delicacy of high resolution photography with the detailed curiosity of 18th century anatomists. Do you have a love of science or of history – or of both?
-Thank you so much. These are my favorite works, my graduation works at university. The description of this work is;
“A series of Photographs, to show a pure fascination for the mysterious and delicate qualities of the Anatomy of Mammals. The motive for the series of Photographs, “Composition of Mammals”, is to show the complex and interesting structure of mammals’ bodies. I came up with an idea of an exhibition, “The Composition of Mammals”, which studies the anatomy of mammals with displays of taxidermy and skulls. I tried to visually explain the context of the show by incorporating my diagram-like illustrations of bone structures and photographs that I took and edited myself. This project was my graduation work at Tama Art University.” First, the original drawing was done on paper. Then the drawn image was scanned. When necessary, additional drawing was done, then modified to be combined with the original drawing. I took photographs of the mammals at the same time. After taking photos, I modified them. Finally, I combined them. I don’t know science in detail but it interests me. Specially, the universe interests me. I love world and Japanese history too. If I could bring something back to life, it would be men of olden days, and hear about world or Japanese history. I am interested in Japanese and world history. Or I would bring back my ancestors. I will try to trace my ancestry. By the way, my ancestors are Samurai. It is true.

>The pen might yet be mightier than the sword, Wata. When are you happiest?
-I am happy when I have finished a piece of work. And when these works have made someone happy. It is the same for anyone creative. I try to please someone. And I smoke a cigarette right away each day when I get out of bed. I’m happiest at that time. And I love some coffee. Coffee and cigarettes are a perfect fit..

>Those dangerous smokes again. What is your greatest fear?
-My fear is “time”. Ti me passes quite quickly. The Beatles said “Life is very short!” I agree. I hate it.

>What is your great love, besides art?
-It is my family. And, my friends. And some exciting things that I still don’t know. I love that some people inspire me, spur me on.

>Family. What influence did your parents have on you? What was your upbringing like?
-I had a very strict upbringing, but I was a free and troublesome child that vexed my parents. I think that this upbringing converse to my free nature. But I love my parents. I had a strict upbringing, then again, my parents pampered me. I am an only child. I know now that my parents love me.

>Any final thoughts for our readers, Wata?
-Thank you for you read my bad English. I think it is hard work. I’m studying English.
The many Japanese man can’t speak English. Generally people can speak Japanese only.
and, generally Japanese people don’t go to abroad for a work. The Japanese people end’s my days in my country. I think we should go to abroad. The Japan is very small country. world is very big! I hope so. I hope to know many people.

>Wata, I’m fairly sure you’ll be understood wherever you are. Thanks.