Tracing Fragments: Art, Youth and Feminist Activism in Iraqi Kurdistan

Tracing Fragments: Art, Youth and Feminist Activism in Iraqi Kurdistan

Friday, 3 February 2023 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm
Investcorp Lecture Theatre, St. Antony's College
Isabel Käser, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern & Visiting Fellow at the Middle East Centre, LSE
Houzan Mahmoud, Feminist Activist, Writer, and Founder of Culture Project
Professor Laurent Mignon (St Antony's College)
Middle East Centre Friday Seminar Series


Isabel Käser is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern, and a Visiting Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre. She is also the Principal Investigator of a collaborative project between the LSE, the University of Kurdistan Hewlêr (UKH), and Culture Project titled “The Kurdistan Region of Iraq Post-ISIS: Youth, Art and Gender”. Isabel gained her PhD at the Centre for Gender Studies at SOAS in London and her award-winning first book "The Kurdish Women's Freedom Movement: Gender, Body Politics and Militant Femininities" has been published by Cambridge University Press (2021).

Houzan Mahmoud is a Kurdish feminist writer, public lecturer, and activist. She is the co-founder of Culture Project, a project formed to raise awareness about feminism and gender in Kurdistan and its diaspora. Houzan holds an MA in Gender Studies from SOAS, is the winner of the Emma Humphrey’s Price 2016, and is the editor of Kurdish Women’s Stories published by Pluto Press in 2021. Her articles have been published in The Guardian, The Independent, The New Stateman, Literary Hub, and Open Democracy among others.


In recent years, a new generation of young artists and feminists have emerged in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), who in their creations and political organising problematise issues around gender and sex-based violence, religious conservatism and corruption - finding a powerful visual and literary language to address patriarchy, misogyny, the onslaught of ISIS, and how their interconnections impact women’s understanding and sense of space, identity, sexuality and body politics. This talk maps out and portrays the main actors behind these emerging dynamics and asks how social and political change is imagined and enacted amidst ongoing political and military conflict in the region. Drawing on transnational and post-colonial feminist literature on gender and war, and artmaking as knowledge production in “forever war”, we argue that a new generation of artists and activists are tapped into a global - and often online - conversation about justice and equality, however, that due to the democratic deficit in the KRI and prevailing conservative gender norms and relations, their space for activism remains scarce and their impact offline is limited. Nevertheless, there are “fragments” of art, youth and women’s activism that challenge the static binary between war and progress and push for more diversity and inclusivity.

*image credit: Solin Nirvana, Intimacy, acrylic on canvas, 2020.