IRAQ

Iraqi artist shows 'ugly faces' of IS using old shoes

An Iraqi artist has transformed worn-out shoes and trash into works of art to illustrate the 'ugliness' of Islamic State group. Using old footwear salvaged from local shoemakers, Akeel Khreef has created ugly-looking 'shoe faces' to decorate an entire wall of his house. The mural is set to go on display in a London gallery this summer. Read more...

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An Iraqi artist has transformed worn-out shoes and trash into works of art to illustrate the 'ugliness' of Islamic State group. Using old footwear salvaged from local shoemakers, Akeel Khreef has created ugly-looking 'shoe faces' to decorate an entire wall of his house. The mural is set to go on display in a London gallery this summer.

"I took these worn-out shoes and turned them into a metaphor for the conflict that has torn the Muslim community apart"

 I decided to call my project 'the faces of Islamic State group' because it symbolises the group's hideous, barbaric face and its assassins who spread terror and death.

Some media outlets have tried to make the link between my work and the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoe at former US president George W. Bush in 2008. They say that throwing shoes is an offensive gesture common in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. As a matter of fact, my work has nothing to do with that. I would never encourage that kind of behaviour, and I assure you that the practise definitely isn't commonplace in my country.

I work mainly with objects that I find in dustbins. Then, I try to give them a second life. For this project, I salvaged a bunch of worn-out shoes from local shoemakers. I wanted to use them as a metaphor for the conflict that has been ripping the Muslim community apart from the inside for more than 1,000 years [Editor's note: The artist is referring to the struggle between the two branches of Shiite and Sunni Islam]. If you wear a shoe long enough, you end up wearing it out and deforming the sole. Likewise, this long-lasting fratricidal conflict has left today's Islam completely deformed. I’ve been building a wall out of these shoes and the finished project will be shown at an exhibition in a London-based gallery this coming July.

 

Akeel Khreef heads to a local shoe store to salvage old shoes.

For me, the Islamic State group stands for more than just a group of jihadists. It stands for Arab dictators, corrupt officials, and people who provoke hatred between different communities. Several people have sent threatening messages to my Facebook account. I have no idea whether these threats come from genuine IS members or just sympathisers. In any case, I don't think I'm in a position to complain: I'm far more fortunate than those soldiers sent to the frontlines to fight or the dozens of women and children massacred by the jihadists.

"I find my ideas in dustbins"

 

A lot has been written about my shoe project of late. Funnily enough, it isn’t actually the subject that interests me the most. I'm most interested in finding ways to evoke the quirks and peculiarities of the society in which I live and the everyday concerns of the Iraqi people.

Every one of my works tells a story. For example, I found this bike in a trashcan and I transformed it into a work of art. When I was a child, I couldn’t afford a bike so, with this piece, I think I am trying to make up for my childhood frustrations.

 

Electric generators have spread across Iraq in the last few years. They're in shops, in houses and on the streets. The motors make a huge, bothersome racket, so my response was to turn this generator into a comfortable chair.

 

This fork (shown below) is a small piece that I made after the Iraqi army recaptured Tikrit from Islamic State group fighters a few weeks ago. I twisted the fork into a V for victory sign to celebrate the city's liberation.

 

I put this piece together at the request of the United Nations office in Baghdad in honour of International Women's Day. I covered the entire red shoe with a condom to make the point that the only right to pleasure that women have in the Arab world is through sex with their husbands.

 

Right now I'm working on a giant piece of art work, a commentary on the theme of hunger. It will be included in a contemporary art collection scheduled to go on display next July. It will be the first exhibition of its kind ever seen in Iraq.

All of the above photos were posted on Akeel Khreef's Facebook page and republished here courtesy of the artist.

 

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Djamel Belayachi (@DjamelBelayachi).