The spatial embryo in contemporary art: Shadi Al-Harouni

Fatih Tan

Shadi Al-Harouni was born in 1985 in the Iranian province of Hamedan. One of the most famous Kurdish artists in recent times in contemporary art, Haruni completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, College of Fine Arts, and was Director of the Steinhardt Art Program at New York University, where he has been appointed since 2017. In addition, the artist performs Simultaneously implementing the Clinical Assistant Professor program in the Department of Studio Arts for Art Professions.

Shadi Harouni is the artist of the “Galleria Tiziana di Caro” in Naples. His works have been shown in many important cities of the world, especially in America and Europe. They were deemed worthy of the “Gatusso” award in the distinguished gallery branch of that year with the exhibition “With an Instinct for Justice”, which they set up with Elise Rasmussen and curated by Noa Bronstein, at the Doris McCarthy Gallery in Toronto in 2018. The artist, as well as several programs The art he attended, especially literature, took his artistic career to an important point by participating in the “Foundation Citivella Ranieri” program, which occupies a prestigious position in the world in music and visual arts. His articles on art have been published in such important places as the Art Forum, The New York Times, and The Guardian.

Shadi Al-Harouni presents her productions with more than different technical possibilities such as drawing, sculpture, video, photography, installation, printing, and transforming space into a medium for her work through direct intervention in space. In particular, it provides spatial integration, in a sense, with the symmetrical harmony of the different objects that it places in the recesses that it opens on the walls of the exhibition spaces. Al-Harouni, who uses the extravagant dimensions of Kurdish identity in her work, creates the images she uses of controversial bodies, forbidden objects, and forgotten places. In his own words, he deals materially with the “metaphysics of living hope.”

In general, the projects developed by the artist deal with the marginalized history of the Kurdish opposition and resistance, whose presence in the Middle East is denied. His recent works are on the traces of a double site in quarries and cemeteries in Kurdistan. On the one hand, a deleted and ignored date; On the other hand, it is another history to resist and resist. At the heart of these projects that he generally designed is the search for the political, social, and physical makeup of the collective and personal ethos. The artist with the hereditary weight of the past; It focuses on the inevitable interventions of a clear future—clear to him but evolving outside of himself.

What I’m particularly focused on is the artist’s video work called “The Owl Made a Nest in the Ruins of the Heart” in his recently completed solo exhibition at Galleria Tiziana di Caro last February. The title of the video is also identified as the name of the gallery. The main general theme (concept) of the exhibition was formed by the Kurdish children’s book of Emin Bozarslan “The Alphabet”. (Bozarslan wrote his book in Turkey and published it in 1968. Of course, the book was immediately banned, and he was arrested and prosecuted for secession.) It forms the main center of the exhibition. By the way, in this context, I would like to quote Pierre Bourdieu’s important suggestion on censorship: “Censorship happens by dividing information and making things unthinkable on both sides of the border.” (One)

Shadi Harouni

On this proposition of Bourdieu, we can easily say that censorship is the most powerful act that defines discrimination. More precisely, hegemony systematically implements ‘differentiation’ within a rational tradition, without resorting to ideological determinism or political polarization to be ‘the same thing’. To control the same means of separation. Because domination distinguishes the other by implicitly making him like himself. Therefore, he has no need to impose his own language (argument) on those who differ from him – that is, on the other – culturally assimilated or in an oppressive manner. The censorship and banning of all human arguments by those who differ from themselves is sufficient to bring dialectics into the process. The logic of this process is the procedure of forcing the other to incorporate it into his own language, by removing or censoring all his arguments about his own ontology. The action of forcing the other is an implicit implementation of the process of balancing the system and the main root of the separation. It is precisely the definition of a distribution that classifies the other as the other. Referring to Foucault, to put it simply, power is always more familiar than all components of society and is closest to the truth, far from romantic. While the community prides itself on seeing the Kurds and Alevis as the result of a difference. However, the government knows very well that they are not differences, they are “units of being” on their own, and it implements its policy accordingly. As Rancière summed up in his striking presentation on the matter, “People are ignorant because they are in control. He is under control because he is ignorant.”

Going back to the video, the title of the video: “The Owl Made a Nest in the Ruins of the Heart” is the name of an unknown Kurdish poem from the Hiruman district. The video takes place inside an old house in East Kurdistan, where a black Jersey cow roams freely without any human intervention. In the video, the worn shapes of various things like chairs, curtains, books, rugs, plates, lamps, hangers, clothes and blankets in the house remain the same in the streaming image. We seem to feel the traces of still life inside the house. Although the objects in the main house do not describe the space, on the contrary, these same objects describe the images that transform into the movement of the image. The video was accompanied by the voice of a convicted Kurdish former resident of the house, who had been against the regime all his life. The house is presented in the same picture. First of all, the artist does not go into the simplicity of showing the public the physical and material misery of such antiquity. It reveals the invisible misery of the fact that the existence of order, which is beyond the image, is there. In fact, all systems of domination are always in great misery against the mental structures of the aesthetic image produced. But the paradox is that misery is the organic form of social risk in which sovereignty dominates. Because this organic state of the king provides for the desired exclusion not directly, but by merging with him (organically). Contrary to what is known, the process of dominance works by looking at integration, not exclusion. Culture is an important pillar of this integration. Therefore, under all circumstances, art must operate separately from culture. Culture is an instrument of legitimacy and domination. Cultural images inside the house and the safety of the roaming cow in the house, which becomes natural in the viewer’s eyes, turns into a means of legitimization.

The home is undoubtedly a site of political and ideological struggle and a constant means of producing resistance that affirms belonging to an ethnic group. This turns the house into the epicenter of a symbolic violence that runs in parallel. In other words, the house is the first legitimate exterior door to a structure based on disobedient obedience, collective expectations, and socially inculcated theological beliefs.

Therefore, the wandering of the cow in the house not as a metaphor, but with its biological identity that defines it, turns into a “real” fantasy of the imagination. Reality is essentially a legal fiction. The artist shows the astonishing appearance of the system with the physical structure of another living being, as an enhanced transformation of the lack of value. In a way, it reveals the genetic indifference of history towards the whole local life of the Kurds. In other words, it attempts to frame the invisible presence of the system through the insolence of the bodily cow, thus abandoning the irrational invisible image of the system. The perceived physical existence of a cow is rational, but its thought-based existence is illogical. The existence of the system is irrational, but its historical, genetic and pragmatic existence is rational. The presence of the cow in the home is thus the legitimate and rational version of a new literary style that normalizes participation in violence. Violence is a set of normative rules that successfully satisfy the regime’s monopoly on legitimate use. The presence of the cow is the hidden shadow of the system. It is the result of state action that eradicates the privacy of the home.

In terms of order, the presence of the cow there is treated as follows. By indicating the presence of the weak home, the creation of a new identity of an equivalent person is replaced by the cow. In other words, the presence of the cow there from the front of the system is the rational existence of the Kurds. As Rancier said, “Once man ‘produces the means of existence’ he is separated from the animals.” (2) One of these means (the home) is the dwelling. What reveals the existence-based distinction here is the image of the animal encroaching on the dwelling. The point is that the cow is fully manifested as the ultimate rough target of the psychological and physical violence of the system’s function. This aspect is a representation of the internal state transactional logic of a political system.

As a result, in Harouni’s work, we see the embodiment of order in the most authentic and idiosyncratic vision possible of its deep penetration into the art form.


  1. On the State, Pierre Bourdieu, p. 158, translation. Asli Sumer, Communications Publications
  2. The Philosopher and His Needs, Jacques Rancière, p. 95, translation. Aziz Ovuk Kilic, Metis Publications

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