ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - A professional photographer from Canada opened his new exhibition at a historical prison-turned-museum in the Kurdistan Region’s city of Sulaimani on Saturday. In the gallery show, he proudly displays portraits of those who fought the Islamic State in Syria and are now again fighting for their lives since Turkey began its military incursion into northern Syria.
“We are at Amna Suraka Prison for a photography exhibition. At the same time, we are doing fundraising for [the Kurdish Red Crescent] for aid workers on the frontlines in Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan],” Joey Lawrence told Kurdistan 24.
“I am a photographer, we do everything we can to raise awareness, as well to build solidarity with the civilians and people of Rojava.”
The photo show, organized in cooperation with Metrography photo agency, runs until November 11 and displays 50 large prints from Lawrence’s book published in July, entitled, “We Came From Fire: Photographs of Kurdistan’s Armed Struggle Against ISIS.” The book contains pictures of Kurdish and Arabic fighters in both northeastern Syria and the Kurdistan Region taken before the military defeat of the Islamic State.
Originally, Lawrence planned to hold the exhibition in Syrian Kurdistan, but due to the Turkish attack that began on Oct. 9, this was not possible, he explained. “We earlier had one in New York, in Italy, and now we are in Kurdistan, which is the best location to have it - in this former prison.”
Amna Suraka, or the “Red Security” Museum, used to be the northern headquarters of the Baath regime’s notorious Iraqi Intelligence Service, which used the facility to imprison, torture, and kill thousands of civilians until the Kurdistan Region was liberated in 1991.
“This prison had a history of torturing Kurdish and Iraqi civilians, and now these fighters that are displayed on the wall are fighting other dictators such as Erdogan in Rojava,” he said.
Lawrence added that he doesn't see himself as a photojournalist whose duty it is to be neutral and reports a conflict from two sides, but a portrait photographer who is making a cultural study of the Kurdish struggle and of historical resistance against genocide. “I am here because it affects me personally. I am not someone who can walk around and pretend to be a neutral journalist.”
“The fact is that Turkey is invading Syria and they [Kurdish fighters] are defending their homes. I am not that neutral about that. I feel very personal [feelings] about these people.”
Lawrence underlined that these fighters he portrayed earlier defeated the Islamic State in Tal Abyad and Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain in Arabic), saying, “They don’t need to be fighting again exactly the same brand of jihadists.”
Ahmad Najm, Metrography’s managing director, told Kurdistan 24 that the agency held the first World Press photo series in Erbil in June with the support of the Dutch consulate, but hadn’t included any photographs from Rojava.
“When we found about Joey Lawrence’s book and project, we tried to contact him to bring this exhibition to Sulaimani.”
Najm said they choose the Red Security Museum because it reminds people of the current warzones over the Syrian border in cities like Kobani and Qamishli.
“The damage that happened to this building, and also the experiences from when we were refugees, are related to each other. The story of warzone and portrait photography. As we heard from guests, it was really beautiful. We hope we can do it in Erbil as well.”
On Friday, top officials from the Kurdistan Region congratulated the people of Sulaimani for having been included by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) among its list of “Creative Cities.”
Editing by John J. Catherine