Jamal Penjweny is an Iraqi Kurdish photographer who has funded his artistic career by working variously as a shepherd and, more recently, running a café.
Last year his work was on show at the Venice Biennale in the Iraqi pavilion, curated by Jonathan Watkins, director of the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. Now Watkins is mounting Penjweny’s first solo exhibition, Saddam is Here, as part of Ikon’s 50th anniversary season.
The image above, included in the show, is taken from Without Soul (2011), a series of photographs by Penjweny of ordinary Iraqi people going about their daily lives on to which he has drawn red lines across the necks of his subjects. Penjweny explains that as a child he was told not to create images of living creatures because they are the work of God and “the one who gives the shape of the being is obliged to give it a soul in the next life”.
By drawing a line across the neck of his subjects, Penjwely is disclaiming his role as creator, as well as referring to the old idea of photographers “stealing the souls” of their subjects.
Penjweny produced two further series, also included in the exhibition: ‘Saddam is Here’ (2009-10), which captures ordinary Iraqis whose faces are obscured by images of Saddam Hussein; and a collection of photos from 2006-2010 entitled ‘Iraq is Flying’, in which subjects leap into the air. The slideshow below includes photographs from all three series.
‘Saddam Is Here’ is at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (www.ikon-gallery.org) until April 21