Student Spotlight: Huner Ali

Rachael Eyler and Manfid Duran

Paul Capoccia, Community Editor

Name: Huner Ali
Year: Third-Year Graduate Student
Major: Master of Fine Arts in Painting
Hometown: Duhok, Northern Iraq (Kurdistan)

Huner Ali is a third-year graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts in Painting Program. Ali creates artwork aimed at helping women and other minorities gain rights in his homeland of Northern Iraq. His most recent work to be displayed on campus is centered around honor killings.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue the Master of Fine Arts in Painting?
A: I graduated in Erbil [from Sallahadin University], which is another city in Kurdistan, with art painting. I was teaching art in high school, and then I wanted to pursue my studies [further]. There was an opportunity with my government to send out Kurdistan students to be professionals in different areas. I got the opportunity. I got the scholarship and that’s how I started to study my master’s.

Q: Why did you choose to come to the United States versus another country or staying in Northern Iraq?
A: Of course, being a progressive person, being a person who wants freedom and who always looks for freedom, I knew the United States was my first choice. I did think about the U.K. or Australia, but of course the United States is the land of freedom and the land of opportunity. English… I love the language, I started to learn the language in a short time, and it’s a whole bottle of new culture and language.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the project you’re working on.
A: After I graduated from college in Kurdistan (Northern Iraq), I was always interested in doing political art; political art was my passion. I started to do some controversial subjects like demonstrations, being active, asking for more freedom, more rights for minorities and all of that. It is a necessity for my society to discuss these topics that I am depicting in my artwork. It’s a necessity for a society like mine, which is a more conservative society, to have this kind of art. I thought, and I still think, it pushes them to be [a] more progressive, more open-minded society. That’s why I chose to do political art.

Q: When you do this kind of artwork, what do you hope people get out of it?
A: Again, to ask a question is the main concern. Also, it’s pleasing to play with the idea of different materials, different areas, different subjects; it’s open-ended. All different reasons that I’m interested in it.

Q: For your work with honor killings, what was some of the motivation to specifically choose what you focused on for the artwork?
A: My motivation to do honor killings is that when I was in Kurdistan and I was young, I used to date this girl. She was my neighbor, and we would go out. We couldn’t go out, but we would sneak out and get somewhere and kiss each other. Once, her brother saw us, and I was threatened. I thought that could be the end of my life and hers as well. And then we had to move from the area, and I was beaten by her brother, of course, and she as well. This is one of the reasons, but also there are other levels of reasons that I deal with. It’s not only just that specific part of my life. … Another reason that pushed me to work on [honor killing] is that I would hear about somebody who killed their sister or mother or wife because of sex outside of marriage, and it’s something that happens and nobody talks about it because it’s against the norms. It’s against the [societal] norms. Everybody keeps it shut, leaves it behind … Yes, it’s controversial. Yes, it’s a problem and we need to address it.

Q: Are you nervous about the consequences of your artwork? I know you had mentioned to me you have been in prison before for it. Is that something you worry about now?
A: It’s far behind [me] to be worried. But, yes, of course. If I push it a lot farther, be vulgar about it, of course I would have to be worried. I was arrested for doing an art [demonstration] in Kurdistan in 2011 during the uprising. People were demonstrating against the government, and I was in the mosque demonstrating against religion because I thought the overpowerment of religion is more than any overpower of politics, and then I got in trouble and I was arrested for two hours and investigated. Then, they told me, if any demonstration or anything happens in my hometown, then the first person they would go after is me.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about when you stood for 50 hours straight as part of an art demonstration piece here on campus last year to honor the victims who died in the Kurdish genocide?
A: … I was thinking about how to do something about the Kurdish genocide that occurred in 1987 to 1988. … The idea was that in the [genocide] there were around 180,000 people … buried alive. 5,000 villages were demolished. And, many, many others were relocated from northern village countrysides and mountainous areas to [the] desert in Southern Iraq. … I was young, but I went to see the places where torturing and killing happened. I also would hear from my grandfather and my father about it. … Children, women, men, all together, and we are still finding these large graves of them. I was thinking that it takes only 10 minutes to do this, to just bury them alive. I was thinking [how] to give my life to them, to each individual one second … and I thought to stand for each individual one second of my life, and that would collectively be 50 hours. I was thinking more beyond [too], not only in a Kurdish nationalistic way. If we look at all these wars and problems around the globe, and we see how many people died, and if for each one of them we stand for one second, how long we would stand? We would stand for our life.

Q: What are your plans for after graduation now that you’re going to be wrapping some of these projects up?
A: That’s a good question. My plan for after graduation is to live [an] art life … in New York City or any big cities that is/are active in art and make art. Do something. Maybe if I cannot live off my art I would do anything else so I could live. But, then, make my art [still]. That’s the nearest plan because I only can … I am an international student, I cannot stay here more than one year. If I couldn’t find a job that would keep me here, I would have to return to Kurdistan and teach art there. That is also something I would like to do.

Q: When and where will people be able to see this art displayed?
A: This art will be displayed on May 6 in Maslow’s Gallery and the Mahady Gallery.

Contact the writer: [email protected]
Twitter: @PaulCapocciaTWW