Saddam is Here

From shepherd, to café proprietor, to sculptor to photographer, Jamal Penjweny has something of an interesting CV.

Jamal Penjweny, Saddam is Here, 2009-2010

Source: courtesy the artist, Ruya Foundation and Ikon

Jamal Penjweny, Saddam is Here, 2009-2010

Penjweny was born in 1981 in Sulaimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan, and is soon to show his first solo exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, presenting work documenting Iraqi people in a rather unusual way.

Jamal Penjweny, Saddam is Here, 2009-2010

Source: Jamal Penjweny, Saddam is Here, 2009-2010

Jamal Penjweny, Saddam is Here, 2009-2010

The exhibition, entitled Saddam in Here, will show 12 images, each depicting an Iraqi person in familiar surroundings holding a life-size picture of Saddam Hussein’s face in front of their own.

Jamal Penjweny, Saddam is Here, 2009-2010

Source: courtesy the artist, Ruya Foundation and Ikon

Jamal Penjweny, Saddam is Here, 2009-2010

As such, their faces become masked of emotion or the features that identity them, creating an ominous portrayal of a life without individuality.

Penjweny says, ‘Saddam is here. Iraqi society can not forget him even after his death because some of us still love him and the rest are still afraid of him – his shadow is still following Iraqi society everywhere’.

Jamal Penjweny, Without Soul, Photographs, 2011

Source: Courtesy the artist, Ruya Foundation and Ikon

Jamal Penjweny, Without Soul, Photographs, 2011

Another series of photographs entitled Without Soul takes a similar approach, masking the identities of the subjects.

The images show people with a single red line drawn across their necks. According to the gallery, this alludes to ‘the Islamic custom dictating that images of living creatures should be avoided’.

Ikon adds, ‘By separating body and head, Penjweny “invalidates” the image, disclaiming his role of creator.’

Jamal Penjweny, Iraq is flying, Photographs, 2006-10

Source: Courtesy the artist, Ruya Foundation and Ikon

Jamal Penjweny, Iraq is flying, Photographs, 2006-10

Alongside the photographs, the show will also present Penjweny’s 2010 short film Another Life. The piece uses grainy, amateur phone captured-style footage to show the realities of Iraqi people smuggling alcohol from Iraq into Iran. It’s a stark, frightening work – the final moments present textual explanation of how the two men featured were killed by customs police a few days after filming.

This show marks the opening exhibition of Ikon 50, a year-long programme celebrating the gallery’s 50th anniversary.

Jamal Penjweny
 Saddam is Here
 runs from 19 February – 21 April at Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1. For more information visit ikon-gallery.org

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