Shorsh Saleh, a Kurdish mixed-media artist, carpet designer and weaver
Shorsh Saleh, a Kurdish mixed-media artist, carpet designer and weaver, was in residency in the art studio in the Room to Breathe exhibition at The Migration Museum from 4 – 28April 2019.
Having travelled to the UK as a refugee 17 years ago, Saleh deals with the subjects of migration, borders and identity through his work – with a particular focus on the Kurdish people, who have been stateless and subject to persecution for the past 100 years.
“As someone who was born and raised in a war zone, art has always been a form of therapy, a magical tool to escape from suffering and trauma since I was a child. As a Kurdish artist my works relate to my experience as a stateless person, becoming a refugee and witnessing the deaths of hundreds of people. Art kept my soul alive during the process of leaving my homeland, the two years of travelling across borders illegally and the eight years of waiting for asylum in the UK,”Saleh explains.
Saleh includes the traditional techniques of miniature painting in a contemporary context, using handmade natural pigments, dyes and papers. Saleh is also an experienced Persian carpet maker and many of his works are inspired by the symbolic motifs used in traditional carpets, combined with contemporary imagery.
His current series of works are based on the subject of migrant journeys by sea and the imaginary notion of flying carpets being used to cross borders.
Saleh studied MA Traditional Arts at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London, where he has been teaching carpet weaving since 2015. He has also been teaching at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha since 2017.
Saleh has exhibited both nationally and internationally. His works are held in the Royal Collection Trust, the British Museum, the Bagri Foundation and The Islamic Art Museum, Malaysia.
During Saleh’s open studio, participants will have access to geometric designs and biomorphic carpet motifs to copy and colour. These will be exhibited in his studio alongside his artwork throughout his residency.
For more information on Shorsh’s work visit www.shorshsaleh.com
Or follow him on Instagram @shorshart
Assunta Nicolini (AN), Migration Museum Gallery Supervisor, interview with Shorsh Saleh:
Assunta Nicolini (AN):Shorsh, welcome to the art studio inside Room to Breathe. As an artist who is Kurdish and migrant –how do you express and reconcile the complexity of multiple identifiers?
Shorsh Saleh (SS):For me these aspects of my identity work in perfect harmony and enrich my life. All of these areas of my identity are expressed through my art.
AN:Your journey as artist starts at home, by which I mean not only the Middle East and Iraqi Kurdistan but also your family. Could you tell us about your early artistic formative years?
SS:There was no formal art education during my school years but I come from an educated family and I was introduced to art at an early age by my older brother. I continued to educate myself through books, teaching myself weaving, carving, painting and drawing. I also taught myself philosophy, art history and art theory. I participated in many exhibitions in Kurdistan before coming to the UK.
AN:Your experience of arrival and settlement in the UK is shaped both by a lengthy, bureaucratic process to gain refugee status (eight years in total) and by accessing educational institutions where you could develop and expand your art techniques. How would you describe such an experience?
SS:The experience of waiting for eight years for my asylum case to be granted was very challenging. During that time I continued to develop my art and I worked as a volunteer, leading art workshops for refugees.
Once my asylum status was accepted, I began an MA in Traditional Arts at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London. The MA involved learning twelve techniques of traditional art such as geometry, icon painting, stained glass, ceramics, miniature painting, gilding, wood parquetry, etc. I focused on carpet weaving and design for my final degree show and was lucky enough to sell my degree-show carpet to HRH Prince Charles, and it is now at Balmoral Castle. I now teach at the school.
AN:Miniature paintings and carpet weaving are two of your principal art forms. Why do you particularly connect with these? And how do you expect to connect to the public through these?
SS: In the Middle East carpets have always been seen as the highest of art forms. Miniature painting is also imbedded in Middle Eastern culture, having originated in Iraq and Iran as a form of decoration to illustrate texts. Both carpet weaving and miniature painting are ancient forms of communication and artistic expression which are widely appreciated in both the Middle East and the Western world. I often use carpet motifs in my miniature paintings to express my identity through my own language and to connect and communicate with viewers, both Middle Eastern and Western. My works combine these traditional techniques with contemporary issues relating to migration, identity and Kurdish politics.
AN:What are you expecting from your residency at the Migration Museum?
SS:I hope to give visitors to the museum an insight into my working practices and culture. I look forward to sharing and discussing my work with the public and to creating some new work.