Art exhibit showcases modern face of Kurdistan’s women

A unique visual arts project showcasing the modern face of femininity and women who call the Kurdistan Region home was launched online Thursday evening. reBirth, the culmination of two years of work, is a series of choreographed photographs of twelve diverse, unconventional women who live in the Kurdistan Region. 

Among them are Kurds, Iraqis, Assyrians, Pakistani, Chaldean, and Zimbabwean. “We were too ethnic for the West, but too West for the East. But we exist. How do you find that platform when it doesn’t exist? You create it!” said project co-founder and photographer Raz Xaidan. 

Xaidan is a British-Kurdish photographer and multidisciplinary artist known as ‘The Darling Beast’. She was born in Sweden and raised in south London. In 2014, she spread her wings and let the wind carry her to her motherland, moving to the Kurdistan Region. 

In the reBirth project, she embraces her own mixed identity and rich heritage, and set out to narrate the stories of inspiring women. The portfolio mimics the four seasons, each representing a chapter of a woman’s life as she navigates her place in the world, reinventing herself over time. 

Xoshink Bazaz, one of the women photographed, said she was honoured to be a part of a project that embodies strength, inclusion, and resilience, and one she hopes will teach women and girls there is no “predetermined social mold” they need to fit into. 

“This project is more than a visual display of women, it is a display of how dynamic females are with all that we represent and do. There is more to us than what meets the eye and this project delivers that,” she explained. 

Co-founder Khadija Abdul Nabi described the project to Rudaw English as “a deeper visual catalog” of how females look in the region. She is an Iraqi-Tunisian creative director who grew up outside Iraq, but later moved to Erbil where she owns the first women-led creative studio in the Kurdistan capital. 

“We wanted to feature confident and unapologetic faces,” Abdul Nabi said of the twelve women spotlighted in the project. Bilia Nabaz, a student and entrepreneur who owns a small business in Erbil, is one of the faces of reBirth. 

“There is no certain ladder for beauty. There is no certain spectrum that I can’t be part of,” she said. When first approached to take part in the project, she thought it was interesting. After her photo shoot, she said that because of the project, she felt “the coolest.” 

Xaidan and Abdul Nabi started discussing the project shortly after they met through a mutual friend in a café, brought together by their creativeness. They thrifted outfits from vintage shops and styled the women with fierce makeup looks and bold outfits. The photographs were shot in dramatic locations ranging from demolished homes, bazaars, and riverbeds. 

Drawing on their own experiences and understanding how women are objectified, Xaidan said it was important that the women felt comfortable being photographed. “What mattered the most to us was the safety and comfort of the women,” she said. 

The women of reBirth are part of a new generation of poets, artists, and musicians determined to pave a new path for their future. Through their photography, they want to show women and girls that they can be authentically themselves and resilient, standing against gender expectations in a society where women are silenced by violence, oppression, and discrimination. 

by Layal Shakir

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