Angels of War: Iraqi Artist Takes a Stand

By Kate Roff

Over the past 35 years, the people of Iraq have had little peace. The country has been the central theater for the Iran-Iraq War, with an estimated 1 million deaths, the Gulf War and International Sanctions Regime, where up to 1 million people died, the Iraq War, with an estimated 115,000 deaths, and now the war against ISIS.

However, one photojournalist was fed up with how the media portrayed his homeland. Jamal Penjweny comes from a border town in Kurdistan, and has worked for The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Geographic.

He was frustrated with the media’s focus on devastating images of Iraq. Jamal wanted to show that his country is capable of more than just violence. So he created an exhibition called Angels of War. It’s a stunning reminder of the tenacity of Iraqi people, and of the hope that doesn’t make into mainstream images of the war-torn region.

In the series, ordinary people are depicted with angelic wings – an attempt, Jamal said, to show the people of Iraq that angels are all around them, in the everyday people they encounter. Jamal told us that after speaking with accused terrorists in custody several years ago, he was inspired to create the exhibition.

He said he wanted to counter the ideology of reaching paradise through suicide bombing – he wanted to show people who might be tempted by extremism that they are already surrounded by angels.

He also wanted to show the wider world another side of Iraq.

“We have art, we have culture, we have life. I want to show people the other side of the war,” he said.

Juliet den Oudendammer from Art Represent said the London gallery is excited to host such an insightful exhibition, and that art offers a different view of conflict, and people’s experience of it.

Juliet’s favorite piece is an image depicting a young child looking through metal bars.

“You see this little boy in a complicated situation, with a really complicated story at the beginning of his life already, and because he has those wings it shows that even in a bad situation, there is always hope,” she said.

She said art offers a different view of conflict, and people’s experience of it.

“We can show a different perspective, and start a dialogue between what the media is saying is happening in these countries, and what is actually happening to these people who are a lot of the time very far away from the politics, or the fighting or actual conflict,” she said.

“Art can motivate people, to gather behind a movement or to pay attention to issues that aren’t ‘sexy’ enough to be portrayed in mainstream media.”

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