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Equivalent Violence: Hiwa K’s Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet

Material detritus of war transforms into a receptacle of sound; sound intervenes revealing the interconnectivity of conflict—these are some of the motifs embedded within Hiwa K’s practice, which often uses poetic juxtapositions to make visible the refrain of violence. Part of the generation of refugees from Kurdish Iraq to escape in the 90’s, his work often is about transit and diaspora. Such ideas lay the grounds for the survey Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet at KW in Berlin from June 2nd to August 13th, an expansive exhibition showing the arc of the artist’s oeuvre. One of the most poignant works, This Lemon Tastes of Apple, 2011 is a documented intervention the artist performed in the last days of civil protest in Sulaymaniyah.

In it, the artist plays a haunting tune on a harmonica, taken from the 1968 spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West, reminding us that the state sponsored violence in Iraq is supported by the image of the West. The title, This Lemon Tastes of Apple, references a brutal gas attack by Saddam Husain’s forces in 1968 against the Kurds, where the taste permeating the air was apple. Hiwa K, thus, draws attention to the facsimiles of deceptive mythologies perpetrated by the regime—past and present—as evidenced in the guttural memories of the victims whose recollections of vast pain are symbolized by the taste of the air. Such poetics, often lost in work about trauma, are essential for Hiwa K. Similarly liquefying in its breakdown of locality, The Bell Project, 2015 shown with What the Barbarians did not do, did the Barbernini, makes visible the material of war in Iraq by transforming its decay into metal for bells in Italy. In one scene, a small boy, working in the smelting yard in Northern Iraq, points at a large aircraft and says how he wishes he could shoot it down and smelt the metals to create a new aircraft: to send it back to where it came from. The project literalizes the global nature of war often organized in an import/export system of organization, similar to the flow of capital. In another work Moon Calendar (Iraq), 2007 the artist is seen rehearsing a tap dance while in the midst of visiting Amna Souraka, the site where Saddam Hussein tortured political prisoners. The horrific details of the site percolate over the rhythmic tapping of the artist’s shoes.
Overall, the exhibition shows the production of an equivalence of relations, often manifested through Hiwa K’s own body, by asking the viewer to reconceive of their point of vantage to global warfare, often left to media circuits in the West.

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Vanessa Gravenor is a writer and artist based in Berlin. She has written for N.Paradoxa, ArtSlant, Sleek Magazine, EXPO (Chicago), and Bad at Sports. She was the assistant editor for the book the Proxy and Its Politics: On Power and Subversion, Archive books, 2017. When she’s not writing she is making videos on the entanglement of cybernetics and trauma. Her bot form can be found on twitter as @femmepicaro

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