The photographs of Iraqi artist/photographer Ali Arkady dramatizes the theatricality of the scene, telling the story of a generation of people in war-torn Iraq. Through his uncanny knack for capturing people’s expressions at just the right time, in what’s known as ‘the decisive moment’ in photography, they also reflect the collective feelings of whole segments of society within the country as a whole.
‘Day Laborer’ Series
These photographs document the day laborers that gather every morning in Sulaimaniyah to look for day jobs that pay a pittance and offer no rights or have any job security. Which is common in many cities around the world. However the people in the community are actually grateful that they do this work, as they are the ones re-building Iraq, even if they don’t feel it all the time.
‘Shirvan And Belief’ Series
These are the Kurdish people who live in the border regions between Northern Iraq, Syria Turkey and Western Iran, who in the face of genocide have taken up armed resistance against their aggressors. They are stateless since nobody wants them because they don’t believe in the predominent, mainstream religion of the area and have their own ancient religion.
The word ‘Shirvan’ is similar to the word ‘Shahrban’ which means ‘the governor’ in Persian. So ‘Shirvan And Belief’ would lead one to think about the belief in the establishment of the country of Kurdistan one day, which is why they are being brutally treated in the hopes of being ultimately exterminated, by ISIS.
Traumatized Yazidis Kidnap Series (2015)
The Yazidis are a particular segment of Kurdish people, who since ancient times have been living in Northern Iraq and have their own religion, which is a mixture of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. It is because of their religion that ISIS feels justified to kidnap their women and kill their men. Apparently they are the most oppressed group of Iraqis as their faces tell their story.
Happy Baghdad Series
In the Happy Baghdad Series (no date unfortunately) Ali Arkady took 50 Iraqi actors and playwrights and photographed 4 facial expressions each, based on the theme of ‘who they are’. In a place where artists and theatre performers are effectively shunned, suffocated by the main-stream narrative of the sectarian violence, strict religious rules and financial difficulties of survival, these playful, whimsical gestures provide a rare glimpse into an alternative culture within Iraq.
Devoid of anything including colour, clothing and backdrop that might cause a distraction, these gestures also begin to depict what these young people care about, their hopes and dreams. In this respect, it attempts to re-invigorate and re-interpret the ancient Iraqi theatre tradition and provides an image not commonly associated with the country.
FARMAN 74 Series
The word “Farman” means a government decree or law. It was the 74th Farman issued during the Ottoman Empire that ‘legalized’ genocide against the Yazidis and hence the name for this series.
These pictures depict the mastery Arkady has with darkness and light. He seems to be able to use darkness to its fullest potential to bring out the brilliance of light and the illuminated areas. In depicting warm and cool hues, he further accentuates the theatricality of the scene, where it is treated like a stage set, and the people become characters. In this respect it is almost classical, like one of the paintings by the masters of the Renaissance who accentuated certain aspects of the painting with darkness and light.