'Until you leave it, you don't know what is home'

Artist Shorsh Saleh has created a series of works for the Refugees exhibition at IWM London, including five miniature paintings and two handwoven carpets based on Saleh’s journey from Iraqi Kurdistan to the UK.

Shorsh Saleh: “A home. It's a very sensitive issue for the people when they leave home because then you have a completely different understanding. Until you don't leave it you don't you don't know what is home. 

My name is Shorsh Saleh. I’m Kurdish, from north of Iraq. I’m an artist doing painting usually miniature painting and sculpture and I am a weaver as well. 

When I was selected for the project, I was really excited because it's not about myself but probably my people because as a Kurdish we don't have a lot of opportunity to speak. So that's why my project started from the how we define ourselves as a stateless people in the Middle East which we always have an issue with identity. We always have this kind of almost like a crisis. You're born in a country, but you don't feel that you belong to the country and that's what's happened with us for about 100 years, since the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the area was divided between some kind of nation state which is mostly formed by force.

I made five miniature paintings which is one of them is as a reference of the history of the Kurdish people and four of them is about my journey as a personal story starting from conflict in the area where I grow and then traveling through the borders and ended up in UK. 

And there's two other works involved which is carpets and carpet is a kind of highest visual art we produce in the Middle East, especially the Kurdish area, in Iraqi area we lost this kind of cultural heritage or skills which is related to the weaving. Almost 50-100 years ago it was very rich there but now it's almost died out and I did a little research and I find out most of the weavers they were living in the mountain region which is during 80s and 90s those area all cleaned up and destroyed by Iraqi regime and the people are forced to move. So, then the skills died out, so I try to use this skill again to talk about what happened to the people. So, two carpet I made, both of them for this particular project, I say it has to be done in the area where the stories start. So, I did the research, I went back, I found a small kind of workshop, the only workshop basically in all Iraqi Kurdistan there's two workshops left in the big cities. So, I talked to one of them, they were very happy about it, they are still excited that it will be shown in the museum.

Carpet, it's a part of traditional art so they have a lot of motifs, which these motifs have a symbol or a present of different meaning. So, I, in this particular painting I choose a deer which is, it symbolises of a victim in carpet because it's always been hunted in a carpet or has been targeted by the, by the predator either a lion or tiger, wolf or all these things, so the deer symbolises the victim. So, I used it in this painting to represent of the Kurdish people in the region. And in other paintings which is, I repeatedly use in the one motifs which is related to the Kurdish Jaff motif. Jaff is a big tribe of Kurdish people they are living between Iraq and Iran border which is my descents are Jaff as well. We have belong of these big tribes and there they have this kind of particular motif which is like a diamond shape and it's represent of the mountains if you look at them from far, like a range of the mountains, which is, we identify as a mountain people in the region, we live in the highlands. High this kind of mountains become a kind of a safe zone for the Kurdish whenever they are in a in a danger, so they, they flee to the mountain or they, they fight back from the mountains and there's a saying among the Kurdish they say: “we have no friends but the mountains.” So that this is uh coming from this kind of sense, which is I hope one day we have more friends than mountains.”

The works relate to the process of leaving behind his homeland, the two years of travelling across borders illegally and the eight years of waiting for asylum in the UK.

The carpets were designed by Saleh and made by a group of Kurdish weavers as part of the artist’s project Chenin, which aims to revive the ancient tradition of Kurdish weaving in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The artworks were on display as part of Refugees: Forced to Flee.


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