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Jala Wahid

Conflagration

22 October 2022 - 30 April 2023

Jala Wahid makes work that touches on urgent issues in relation to identity, nationhood, diasporic living and intergenerational legacies. She considers how politics and poetic expression interweave. Wahid looks to embody this intertwining in her work by exploring its urgency, defiance, euphoria and violence to suggest ways of being that challenge fixed definitions of identity.

Conflagration is Wahid’s first institutional solo exhibition and presents a new body of work exploring the relationship between Britain and Kurdistan, through the lens of oil. The installation approaches oil as the symbolic material through which nationalism, statelessness, colonialism and Kurdish identity are explored.

Detailed Information

Jala Wahid works with sculpture, film, sound, writing and installation. Her work touches on urgent issues in relation to identity, nationhood, diasporic living in the UK, intergenerational connections and cultural traditions. She is interested in the emotive potential of archives, music, literature, dance, theatre and fashion to reveal the poetics and performativity of politics. Her work articulates the global and interregional politics that shape Kurdish identity and considers how politics and poetic expression interweave. Wahid looks to embody this intertwining in her work by exploring its urgency, defiance, euphoria and violence to suggest ways of being that challenge fixed definitions of identity.

Conflagration is Wahid’s first institutional solo exhibition and presents a new body of work exploring the relationship between Britain and Kurdistan, through the lens of oil. The installation approaches oil as the symbolic material through which nationalism, statelessness, colonialism and Kurdish identity are explored. It is grounded in the discovery of the Baba Gurgur oil well, following a time during which Britain and France politically occupied Mesopotamia, culminating in the formation of new nation states in the region’s oil resources.

In Conflagration, Wahid invites us to step into a landscape conceived as an inferno. It is unclear whether we’re beneath the ground in an oil well, amidst the burning refineries, or within columns of smoke resulting from gushers or oil fires during conflict and war.

The light sculpture titled Sick Pink Sun (03:00 14.10.1927 - ) commemorates the precise moment the first well in the Baba Gurgur field was struck and points to an unknowable future in the wake of the oil industry. Until 1948, Baba Gurgur was considered the largest oil field in the world. It is situated in the Kirkuk province, a region disputed between Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. This history and current politics are explored through Naphtha Maqam, a sound work created from archival material found in the National Archives and the British Petroleum archives. Wahid has collaborated with sound producer Owen Pratt and Amal Saeed Kurda, a well-known contemporary Kurdish singer/composer, to produce a funereal maqam, melodically Kurdish but lyrically English. Naphtha Maqam includes other elements such as recordings of oil drilling rigs, as well as Wahid’s own voice.

Prior to drilling, Baba Gurgur has been naturally burning for 4,000 years; its mythological and symbolic cultural history is also explored in the exhibition. The Salvia spinosa flower, endemic to the region, is central to the exhibition and Wahid presents it as the embodiment of the Baba Gurgur gusher. In producing a single sculpture, Wahid aims to play into the idea of monument. The Salvia spinosa flower exists in abundance and is the only species of flora to be specifically described as growing on shale rocks in-between oil wells at Baba Gurgur. A new-to-science species of the Salvia plant was recently discovered in Kurdistan. The parallel discovery of oil, flora and identity is important for Wahid. She asks what makes a discovery symbolic, what are its implications, and at what or whose expense?

Accessibility

We are committed to making our exhibitions as accessible and inclusive as possible. Below are resources and alternative ways to explore Jala Wahid: Conflagration. You can find out more about accessibility at Baltic here. If you need any help while visiting the exhibition, please talk to one of our friendly and knowledgeable Crew team. They will be present in the exhibition room near the entrance.

Website

You can use Recite Me, a web accessibility and language toolbar, across BALTIC's website to make web pages, text and documents more accessible for you. The Recite Me toolbar includes text read aloud or translated into 35 different languages. You can find Recite Me on the top left corner of the page, click the 'Accessibility Tools' button.

Visual Story

Find out what to expect when visiting this exhibition with a Visual Story guide - a guide with words and pictures. It is sometimes called a Social Narrative.


Conflagration has been co-commissioned by Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead and Tramway, Glasgow. Curated by Irene Aristizábal, Head of Curatorial and Public Practice.

Supported by

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with additional support from Niru Ratnam Gallery and Sophie Tappeiner Gallery