Ikon presents the first solo exhibition of Jamal Penjweny, including photography and video works reflecting on life in Iraq today. Born in Sulaimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan, in 1981, Penjweny started his artistic career as a sculptor and painter, moving into photography whilst supporting himself by working as a shepherd and, latterly, a café proprietor. His work has been the subject of international attention following its inclusion in Welcome to Iraq, the Iraqi pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, curated by Ikon Director Jonathan Watkins.
Saddam is Here (2009-10) consists of twelve images of Iraqi people in familiar surroundings, each holding a life-size picture of Saddam Hussein’s face in front of their own. Saddam’s likeness becomes a mask obscuring any expression of emotion, any gaze, or possibility of sure identification and individuality. It is ludicrous, hilarious and at the same time absolutely ominous, pointing up the insidious influence of a dictator. Of the work, Penjweny comments, “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.”
Another photographic series, Without Soul (2011), shows everyday scenes – Iraqis at work and prayer, Western soldiers in ranks and on patrol – each with a single red line drawn across the neck. The mark references the Islamic custom dictating that images of living creatures should be avoided, their creation considered the rightful domain of God rather than that of humanity. By separating body and head, Penjweny ‘invalidates’ the image, disclaiming his role of creator.
Ikon Gallery Website