Jamal Penjweny is a Iraqi Kurdish photographer, war artist and a filmmaker. Penjweny started as a sculptor and painter in Iraqi Kurdistan. Since 2004, while based in Baghdad, his photographs have reported the Iraqi conflict all over the world and appeared in more than dozen international news publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The National Geographic and The World Press Photo Magazine. Penweny latest works as filmmaker include “The Gun Market and “Another Life”- reporting the life of smugglers and the weapons illegal trade at the border between Iraq and Iran – where Pejnweny was born. Penjweny’s photography series “Iraq is Flying” has been selected and exhibited in United Kingdom, United States, Dubai, New Zealand, Brazil, and China. In 2011, Penjweny was selected by Musée du quai Branly amongst the twenty non- European best artists “Saddam is Here “ has been exhibited at Photoquai, the Paris-hosted photography biennale. In his latest project, “The New Leaders” Penwjeny has report the historical changes engulfing the Middle East region in the aftermath of the popular uprising.


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Biography

Jamal Penjweny is an Iraqi Kurdish photographer, artist and a filmmaker.
Penjweny started as a sculptor and painter in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Since 2004, while based in Baghdad, his photographs have reported the Iraqi
conflict all over the world and appeared in more than dozen international news publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The National Geographic and The World Press Photo Magazine. Penjweny latest works as filmmaker include “The Gun Market and “Another Life”- reporting the life of smugglers and the weapons illegal trade at the border between Iraq and Iran – where Pejnweny was born. Penjweny’s photography series “Iraq is Flying” has been selected and exhibited in United Kingdom, United States, Dubai, New Zealand, Brazil, and China. In 2011, Penjweny was selected by Musée du quay Branly amongst the twenty non- European best artists “Saddam is Here “ has been exhibited at Photoquai, the Paris-hosted photography biennale. In his latest project, “The New Leaders” Penwjeny has report the historical changes engulfing the Middle East region in the aftermath of the popular uprising.


Penjweny stopped photojournalism to dedicate himself to his artwork. He has
expressed frustration at the recent focus of media on Iraq: “it has been largely
negative and focused on Iraq as a war country” he explains. Penjweny’s
fundamental desire was to show another side of Iraq – to show the life and future of Iraq rather than focusing on war. Throughout his projects, Penjweny attempts to give an insight into different human stories in this post-conflict, war-torn Iraq.


He depolarizes Iraq and its people in a brief, ephemeral project, unifying them
through a common reflection on the country’s state. Though Jamal focuses on
photography as mean of expression, his training as a sculptor continues to
influence him to this day: “I almost objectify the people I photograph, placing
them at the center of my work, and capturing them like I would for sculptures
through my lens.” Notably started in the peak of the civil war, “Iraq is flying” was one of his first art projects. Through it, Penjweny attempts to present a more optimistic view of Iraq. This project helped him to gain considerable international attention since and became the first of many projects.


Recent projects Penjweny’s last project, “Angels of war,” discusses terrorism, and the belief that martyrs will be attributed angels in their after-life.

 Penjweny explains that this project is about “telling these suicide bombers that they already have angels with them in real life – they don’t need to move on to another life to find them. 

So these pictures were taken to encourage these people to move from darkness to light.” Following Manama’s award as the capital of Arab tourism in 2013,
Penjweny was also invited by the Bahraini government to work on a project about the city for the Bahrain National Museum. Penjweny spent a few days in
Manama, looking for something original about Manama. He explains that he was.


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looking for something he could not find: “the missing thing in Manama and
Bahrain were [rose] flowers. So I took pictures of the city and incorporated what was missing” – the project is entitled “City of Flowers.” Penjweny has also participated to the Venice Biennale in 2013. He has more projects planned, including a future project in Argentina, as he will be attending a presentation of “Art and Revolution” in Buenos Aires, a book that will feature “Saddam is here”.


Iraq, Art, and Saddam Hussein: in the continuity of the Iraqi “Leader
Syndrome” – Propaganda as the Connection between Political Personality,
History and Art Perhaps since the earlier days of humanity, to this today – art developed throughout history as a most effective propaganda tool. Catholic Church and Popes, Napoleon, Hitler, Nazi Germany and the Third Reich… – Influential figures, institutions or periods of history that all effectively used art to promote a certain agenda. Iraq was likewise subjected to effective propaganda art – and in particular under Saddam Hussein’s rule. Kanan Makiya’s “The Monument: Art and Vulgarity in Saddam Hussein's Iraq” opens up with the following questions: “ Why care about monuments? Why care about them enough to build them, or guard them, or tear them down?” He notes: “within two weeks of the war ending on 1st May 2003, the U.S. civil authorities in Iraq had banned any public representation of the fallen president, and started the scramble to change the Iraqi currency that carried Saddam’s face.” The U.S. civil administrators of Iraq obviously feared the lingering power of Saddam’s propaganda machine and the strong symbolism Saddam himself embodied would challenge their authority as
an occupying power.

How do leaders affect and shape the course of history? And can today’s Iraq
ever be understood independently of Saddam Hussein and his legacy? Saddam, through an iron-fist rule, shaped, developed, recreated the history of his country.


His rule was marked by authoritarianism, repression, and the control of the arts for propaganda purposes, developing a strong cult of personality around his own persona. Saddam’s project for Iraq was to cement a strong and unified Iraq, putting himself forward as a unifying factor. And to that purpose, Saddam did provide important funding to artists, co-opting them to promote his image and using them to develop the symbolism around his persona. To what extent was he successful in shaping the arts, and to what extent has he affected the course of Iraqi history and the way Iraqis perceive their country and themselves?
Since the import of the modern nation-state system to the Middle East, and in
order to support these newly carved states, Arab leaders and intelligentsia have
repeatedly attempted to develop separate national narratives. These national
narratives at times supported, and at others clashed with, the larger Pan-Arab
identity that had loosely brought Arab populations together into imagined
communities – from Algers to Sanaa, or Aleppo to Khartoum, of course passing.

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by Baghdad. This identity struggle often gave way to justification for brutal means to impose these new national-truths, and often communicated to the populations through effective propaganda means. To this day, questions of Arab versus National identity continue to dominate the cultural and political scene of the Middle East, especially considering the political vacuum the overthrown dictators left behind.

Iraq has been no exception to this rule. Since its inception, the Iraqi state has
been the subject of discords and divisions. Fragmented into various religious and ethnic minorities, it has repeatedly been plagued by waves of sectarian or ethnic conflict. The various Iraqi regimes following the country’s independence attempted to foster a sense of national identity around a Pan-Arab popular sentiment, incidentally excluding non-Arab populations from their version of the national identity. The Baath regime on the other hand abandoned these Pan- Arab sentiments to focus on a more specific brand of Iraqi nationalism – partially a response to the sectarianism and ethnic tensions such Pan-Arab national narrative brought about.


Iraq as a modern state has struggled to define a common sense identity and to
foster a national narrative that would bring together its diverse communities. The Baath Party’s project for Iraq – and eventually directly Saddam’s – was to cement a strong and unified Iraq. By shifting emphasis from Pan-Arabism, an ideology that only gave credence to Arabs – to one that stressed an Iraqi national identity, the Baath regime tried to give the Kurds and Shi’ites a sense of belonging to the land of Iraq (Abdi, 14). Through its totalitarian approach to power, the leader became the embodiment of the party, the ideology, the country and the nation (Abdi 22). Saddam Hussein’s persona became the heart of the propaganda machine.


But in fact, this only was the continuation of an established Iraqi tradition that
Kanan Makiya entitles the Iraqi “Leader Syndrome” – and that goes back to early Iraqi Pan-Arabism. Creating a narrative implied carefully selecting passages of history that would be most relevant to foster an Iraqi sense of belonging.


Following Iraq’s independence from its British Patron, its new ruler, King Faysal, worked to promote an Iraqi national narrative, assisted by a number of eager Arab intelligentsia (most notable among them Sati’ al-Husri). Accordingly, an important aspect of the various Iraqi regimes since the independence of the country has been the emphasis on leader heroes. As soon as the nascent Iraqi state embarked on creating a national identity, starting in the 1920s, leader heroes from the past became a critical component of the historical narrative that was presented to the Iraqis (Abdi, 24). As Kamyar Abdi, an Iranian archaeologist, points out in his article “From Pan-Arabism to Saddam Hussein’s cult of personality: Ancient Mesopotamia and Iraqi national ideology,” Saddam only further continued this tradition. Historical figures from ancient Mesopotamia and Islamic Iraq were handpicked and arranged in a sequence from Sumerian times to the present day. Some figures, such as Harun al-Rashid and Salah al-Din.

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were well-known historical figures in Islamic history. Others such as Sargon of
Akkad, Naram-Sin, Gudea of Lagash, Ur-Nammu, and Hammurabi were only
identified in the past few decades thanks to translation of cuneiform texts or the discovery of monuments bearing their names. Later, to stress the continuity in ‘Semito-Arab’ history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the present, King Faysal, thanks to his popularity among large sectors of Iraqi population, was
posthumously granted a place in this long line of ‘Iraqi’ leader-heroes. (Abdi, 24). Makiya highlights that “tyrants sweat under the weight of their own self-image.


Alone they seek a mirror to their selves – a mirror that will show them what they already see, outward expression of their imagined greatness. Saddam Hussein, like so many Caesars both ancient and modern, was a relentless builder with a grandiose taste for size. But if his building was a child of his megalomania, it was also born from the knowledge that image is power’s handmaiden.” From the beginning of his rule – and later in the context of the Iran-Iraq war – Hussein took this obsession with leader-heroes to new heights. He associated himself with many historical figures, from Sa’d ibn abi-Waqqass, the commander of the Muslim army who defeated the Sasanid Persians at the Battle of Qadisiyyah, to Salah al-Din, the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty who fought the Crusaders, or even Nebuchadnezzar in an attempt to bring forward Iraq’s Mesopotamian past as an essential part of its modern identity. (Abdi, 24) With the Baath Party’s totalitarian stance, Saddam’s image naturally became a recurrent symbol of Iraqi nationalism, and one that could be found in every aspect of Iraqi’s daily life. 

His face (in two and three dimensions) adorned every house, office, shop, street, an square. School textbooks, bank notes, stamps, and T-shirts carried his image (Abdi, 23). When discussing “Saddam is here”, Penjweny evokes memories explaining his choice for using Saddam Hussein’s portrait throughout the project.

The first picture of schoolbooks was always the one of Saddam Hussein: “his
picture was always everywhere.” Probably largely due to his own deeply
ingrained personal and psychological issues and delusions of grandeur, Saddam Hussein undeniably attempted to unite the various ethnic groups in Iraq through the cult of his personality, especially in the face of the threatening revolutionary Shi’ite Iran (Abdi, 30). “Saddam is here” argues against the proposition that Iraq can ever be understood independently of Saddam Hussein and his legacy – and in fact, Penjweny further fuels this tradition, bringing Saddam’s cult of personality back to life. Using a picture of lost decades – a picture Saddam had as the first page of all school books – Penjweny opens and provides a window for these recollections. He effectively connects them with an Iraq that attempts to move beyond the trauma of the dictator’s years. This Iraqi “Leader Syndrome” and cult of personality is however continued through Iraqis carrying’s Saddam’s photography, and facing the weight of his memory and of his era. Born in Iraqi Kurdistan, on the border of Iran, during the Iran-Iraq war, Penjweny is only too familiar with Saddam’s era. Living with his family between Iran and Iraq as war refugees, Penjweny grew up with the hardships and the instability Saddam’s Iron fist brought about, subjecting his family to kidnappings and random killings of. 

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some family members. Penjweny explains that the idea for “Saddam Is Here” began in 2007 in Baghdad as he was covering the difficult years of the conflict as a photojournalist. Saddam was dead but it felt as if he was still alive in the way people talked, lied, loved, dreamed and did politics’ (Guardian). Penjweny’s message through “Saddam is here” is clear: until today, Saddam’s legacy haunts Iraq like a ghost, impacting the everyday life of Iraqis – in spite of their various social and geographical differences – in the streets or at work – and in fact, to the very core of their own identity. People going about their everyday business – from a dentist at work, to a soldier, the butcher at the slaughterhouse, shepherds, a prostitute, children in the street – all accept to take a moment to remember Saddam and openly disclose the weight his legacy bears on them. Saddam’s reign of terror affected all Iraqis populations alike, as he attempted to control and to unify them. Through “Saddam is here”, Penjweny effectively achieves the same thing - controlling and unifying Iraqis from across Iraq and from various social backgrounds, imposing
Saddam’s persona on them. Very little has changed in spite of the further
instability the U.S invasion of Iraq brought about.

Feelings towards Saddam Hussein are generally as ambivalent as towards the
current regime. Iraqis may or may not have been sympathetic to Saddam
Hussein, but what they all long for is the relative stability his rule imposed, albeit authoritatively. Throughout “Saddam is here,” Penjweny attempts to give an insight into different human stories in this post-conflict, war-torn Iraq. He depolarizes Iraq and its people in this brief, ephemeral project, unifying them through a common reflection on the country’s history. Penjweny however
emphasizes that he does not want to depict Saddam Hussein in any particular
light: “I do not try to take a stand for or against Saddam Hussein. I am not saying that he was good or that he was bad. I want to show the persisting problems of Iraq, from Saddam to today.” “Saddam is here” is a project imprinted with nostalgia and with a longing for stability. Penjweny notes that while Saddam may have been a dictator, there were predominant problems independent of his rule that might have further comforted him in his autocratic role. And indeed, today, in spite of the post 2003 Iraq war context, the democratic experiment, and Saddam’s removal from power, the country and its new leaders seem poised to follow the same road taken by Saddam: that of brutality and violence, albeit in a context of instability.


Penjweny explains that subjects photographed were often initially apprehensive and questioned his motive for the project. A recurrent concern was the reprisal of authorities or other third parties. Penjweny had to adapt his explanations: “depending on the person’s level of education or background, I talked to them, tried to get to know them through a conversation. I stirred the conversation towards reminiscence of Saddam Hussein, asking what kind of life they had during his rule, to understand their position on the topic.” Accordingly, people who agreed to pose for the project tended to be Iraqis sympathetic to Saddam or.

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who may have had a better life under his rule – and who were disheartened with Iraq’s current chaos. In a first picture, a soldier sits, holding Saddam’s picture.


Taken in Baghdad, it represents a soldier of the new Iraqi army. Saddam used
the army to strengthen his hold over power, to repress Iraqis, and defend the
nation-state he embodied. Today, in spite of his removal, the army’s importance has carried through as a symbol for a united Iraq. Large sums have been channeled towards its funding. Soldiers on the other hand have had no say in this, and have become a tool in Iraq’s struggle for power. The vulnerable position of the man highlights that though the army continues to be a powerful symbol and tool today, it is often in at the expenses of its own men – something that also carried through from Saddam. Another photography shows a man brewing tea in the street. Penjweny explains that he chose to photograph this man after finding out he was a Shia Iraqi. Although initially worried about the authorities’ reaction to these pictures, the man agreed to pose. There are two photos of Saddam – one over the Tea brewer and another one over the sugar pot. Saddam remains in his mind a “sweet” memory – highlighting the man’s sympathy for Saddam and his regime’s days, or perhaps, once again, the longing for days of relative stability. Choosing this man as the focus of his picture, Penjweny highlights that Saddam’s charisma was in fact cross sectarian, in spite of expectations otherwise.

 All these pictures come as a testimony to the difficulty people face in unwrapping the persona Saddam imposed on them throughout his 23 years rule.


Beyond Penjweny’s project, debates about restoring monuments symbolic of
Saddam’s era, such as the ‘Victory Arch’ – a symbol of Saddam Hussein’s long, violent and oppressive rule – confirm the difficulty Iraqis face in dealing with Saddam’s legacy. Saddam Hussein’s memories continue to influence the
everyday life of Iraqis, and their reflection of the country’s direction. In 2011,
authorities ordered the ‘Victory Arch’ without public announcement or debate, in an attempt at reconciliation with the past. “We don’t want to be like Afghanistan and the Taliban and remove things like that,” Ali al-Mousawi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said, referring to the infamous destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamian, Afghanistan, “or to be like the Germans and remove the Berlin Wall.” “We are a civilized people,” he added, “and this monument is a part of the memories of this country” (NYT). In the post-US invasion and civil war context, Saddam’s legacy seems indeed undeniably tied to the country’s soul and identity searching. Iraqi identity is indeed going through a crisis, with no strong, unifying Iraqi figure able to bring them together like Saddam once did. With the country divided, engulfed in chaos and carnage, the Sunnis and Shi’ites on a vicious cycle of violence, and the Kurds relatively independent, “there is nothing much left of Iraqi nationality” as Abdi points out (Abdi, 31).


From Iraq to the rest of the world: Today, Penjweny seldom shows his work in
Iraq: he considers his it to be something personal, or something to share with the rest of the world, in order to project his hope for Iraq. Asked why he presently does not want to show his work within Iraq, he emphasizes that “now is not the.


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right time to show my work in Iraq. It’s a bit like for music – you don’t want to be too close to the stage to appreciate the music – you need to be at some distance from the orchestra – showing my pictures in Iraq would be too close to home.” To avoid stirring more conflict within Iraq, Penjweny purposely chooses to distance his work from his subject, presenting it solely abroad to avoid damaging the good relations he entertains with Iraqis. Penjweny stopped his career in photojournalism to dedicate himself to his artwork. He has expressed frustration at the recent focus of media on Iraq: “it has been largely negative and focused on Iraq as a war country” he explains. Penjweny’s fundamental desire was to show another side of Iraq – to show the life and future of Iraq rather than focusing on war. Though Jamal focuses on photography as mean of expression, his training as a sculptor continues to influence him to this day: “I almost objectify the people I photograph, placing them at the center of my work, and capturing them like I would for sculptures through my lens.” Notably started in the peak of the civil war, “Iraq is flying” was one of his first art projects. Through it, Penjweny attempts to present a more optimistic view of Iraq. This project helped him to gain considerable international attention since and became the first of many projects.


Though he wants to portray Iraq in a positive light, Penjweny remains rather
pessimistic about the future of the country. The problems that have plagued the
country for decades – religion, ethnic divides – remain, and the country seem
unable to move beyond these question. Politicians continue to manipulate these issues to their advantage, further pushing the country downhill. Though the everyday reality of Kurdistan is much better than the rest of the country,
Penjweny predicts that Iraq is headed for a difficult journey.
Sources:

The Monument: Art and Vulgarity in Saddam Hussein's Iraq

By Kanan Makiya
From Pan-Arabism to Saddam Hussein’s cult of personality: Ancient
Mesopotamia and Iraqi national ideology
By KAMYAR ABDI
CNN: Meet the man who sculpted Saddam Hussein
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/01/world/meast/iraqi-sculptor-saddam-hussein/
The Guardian Photography: putting Saddam Hussein back in the frame – in
pictures
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2013/may/18/photographysaddam-
hussein-jamal-penjweny#/?picture=408982195&index=0
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NYTimes: Iraq Restores Monument Symbolizing Hussein Era
https://courses.marlboro.edu/pluginfile.php/45112/mod_page/content/16/Iraq%20
Restores%20Monument%20That%20Symbolized%20Hussein%20Era%20-
%20NYTimes.pdf
Jamal Penjweny’s official Website:
http://www.jamalpenjweny.com/