Un-Working the Icon: Kurdish "Warrior-Divas"

curated by Shawna Vesco and Anne Wheeler

Still from Het Front, 2016
Screenplay by Beri Shalmashi; directed by Floris Parlevliet
Western media is fascinated by the Kurdish women fighters who risk their lives in the fight against ISIS. Yet the hundreds of headlines and photos reveal little other than a homogenous conception of these women as glamorous gun-toting divas who are the harbingers of an "eastern feminism." In imagining this iconic figure, the gaze of Western media has co-opted the fluidity of identity of Kurdish womanhood, and has subsumed a multiplicity of ideologies, experiences, and subjectivities into a static and totalizing signifier.

The icon of the peshmerga fighter cloaks the terror of war and violence in a romanticized narrative, reduces the complex and multiple realities of women bearing arms to a unified brand of "eastern feminism," and discourages western spectators from learning more about the historical and political contexts that have shaped contemporary Kurdish issues. Rather than furnish its own representations to combat those of the media, Un-Working the Icon: Kurdish "Warrior-Divas" instead draws into sharp relief the space that exists between representation and that which is represented. By playing with absence, anonymity, and non-figural renderings of womanhood, domesticity, and femininity, the exhibition"s featured artists trouble the operations that result in the iconization of Kurdish women across global media.

Sited in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin "home to the largest Kurdish population in the diaspora" Un-Working the Icon: Kurdish "Warrior-Divas" opens generative conversations about the political, social, and epistemological realities bound up in the mechanisms of identity formation for everyone.

  • artists:
    Bryndís Björnsdóttir
    Nilbar Güreş
    Nadine Hattom
    Floris Parlevliet
    Greta Rusttt
    Beri Shalmashi
Shawna Vesco is a San Francisco-based writer and cultural theorist. Her current project traces the themes of community and technology across contemporary global literary contexts.

Anne Wheeler is a New York-based artist, curator, writer, and historian specializing in postmodern literature and conceptual art.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.