After Hiwa K completed his traditional studies in secondary school, he received his artistic and intellectual training in Iraq’s self-educated circles during the 1980s and ’90s. After seeking political asylum in Germany, in 2002 he was accepted into art school using the portfolio of a friend who had appropriated Hiwa K’s painterly style. Inspired by his earlier experiences of communal learning, the artist began to criticize the idea of individual genius. He has since worked to scrutinize received conceptions about the figure of the artist and the formalization of artistic practice. His projects often come about through collaborations and draw on the informal knowledge of the artist and his associates.
A persistent point of reference for Hiwa K is the recent history of his native Iraq. For The Bell (2015), which is installed at the Biennale di Venezia, he melted down war waste found on Iraqi soil to produce a large bell. In so doing, he reversed the usual process by which church bells are melted down to produce weapons. Positioned silently close to the ground, this bell can neither call to prayer nor warn of imminent danger. In the accompanying videos we meet Nazhad, the man who helped to melt the war waste. Nazhad recycles metal in his foundry on the outskirts of Sulaymaniyah. Through the years he has been able to determine the origins of the weapons that are brought in for recycling. To date he has identified more than thirty countries that have supplied weapons to different parties in Iraq’s violent conflicts. Two videos accompanying the installation recount those wars and show the history of the bell’s metal from its origins around the world to the European foundry where the bell was cast, thus imbuing the bell with a collective memory.