Znara Ahmed is a young Kurdish artist and entrepreneur who is enthusiastic about supporting children and youth through creative practices and exploration. She earned her degree in ceramics from the Institute of Applied Arts in Syria, and she now uses this education to support the energy of children and youth through a broad variety of artistic formats. Working mostly with groups, Znara prefers to influence the practice of her projects through collective expression in order to achieve more impact within individual pieces. She is enthusiastic about the cultural industry and entrepreneurship, particularly in the Kurdistan region of Iraq where she has lived since 2013. Earlier in the summer Sarah sat down to talk with Znara about her life as an artist and entrepreneur as well as her initiative ‘Save Gallery Project’ which she began in 2018 in Erbil.
As an artist and entrepreneur how do you structure your daily routine?
When discussing the management and organization of time, the process seems to be exceedingly difficult for me. It is well known that working in the artistic field is definitely fun and beautiful, but in the East, it can become tiring and difficult when it takes a double effort to attract people and present effective artistic content in the community. Most of the time it is work, sometimes not good, but perhaps for the refugee person it is good. The issue of thinking can be tiring, especially when there is free time, so I am very interested in attracting young Syrian artists who are in Erbil to our creative space.
In the life of any artist, there is no routine. With every idea we work as a team with the participants, and we create a new day. The fun looks different when I present an idea which can then turn into a product. I have always wanted to emphasize that art is also work but, for example, when an artist works on a painting and sells it at a price this does not decrease its value. There can be stereotypical ideas in our society about artists and the commodification of art in this sense. With our work we try to change these perceptions.
What are three priorities that you want to have in your projects?
Our focus in our work is creating good content, then we strive to follow up with how the work has been received before finally ensuring a level of flexibility with the marketing and our clients.
You live in Erbil, what is life like there?
Life in Erbil is beautiful and the most special part about it for me is the feeling of belonging, where I can also speak my language. This sense of freedom is especially important for those working in an artistic field. Furthermore, Erbil’s beauty is in its nature, culture, customs, and traditions. There are so many versions of Dolma across the Middle East and I love them all.
As Znara speaks, I remember the Dolma delicious stuffing typically made up of short or medium grain rice mixed with ground lamb (or beef), finely diced vegetables, tomato paste, pomegranate molasses and a few spices. This Dolma is served with salad or cacik (kurdish tzatziki).
I have friends here who come together in their passion for businesses start-up. There is also a focus on the idea of integration which is particularly important here for us.
How do you describe creativity?
Creativity is being able to innovate at different times. In my perspective, presenting ideas is easy to abstain from, but it is important to create research that enhances and contributes to this process whilst incorporating visual language and memory.
Which of your projects was your favorite?
The Save Gallery Project means a lot to me, and I love it to my heart as through this project many people from the local community had the opportunity to come together and meet. This included displaced people, refugees, and foreigners all with different nationalities who were able to share their individual cultures together. It is a very beautiful and colorful project in every workshop and training, whether it is for children or young people.
Why are the arts important for children?
Arts are important for children in general. This can be seen in relation to how children manage new things that are unfamiliar, such as developing skills and self-expression. It is important for individual children to strengthen their flexibility and willingness to understand each other through the activities that they do with their peers. Art can support children by giving them an album of pictures in their mind which will then help them to become a successful person. This type of image memory is important especially when we work with it from childhood as the experience will go on to mean more for the individual later.
In five years where do you see Erbil?
Erbil is a country known for its process of urbanization. I imagine that in the coming years Erbil will be beautiful and full of art. Furthermore, through some creative projects, people have become and will continue to become aware of the importance of arts in our lives.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an artist, an entrepreneur, and as a woman?
This question is difficult. There are challenges, but today I see that we can overcome these challenges if we have the tools, through which we can be immune. Good work is one of these tools. Man’s knowledge of his goals is also a powerful tool.
In the end, any woman in the East has challenges, but they remain uneven. Perhaps if I mention that there are no challenges, it will be unfair to many women.
In 5 years, what would you like to have achieved with your work?
My desire for the next five years is to see Save Gallery as a cultural institution in which many workers, both women and men, are creating successful exhibitions, contributing to the promotion of the cultural movement, and understanding the impact of arts for children.
Do you think that your location and history has impacted the work that you create?
The environment definitely has an impact on the work I do, for example, the home environment that supports me permanently through years of continuous work enables me to create the ability to plan work and execute it well.
What advice would you give to someone starting on a similar career path?
My advice to everyone is give people what you like to be given; the value and content of the work are both very important clarify what is the problem that you are trying to solve through your work; know your budget, your clients and your goals. Don’t forget the importance of working as a team, and if you don’t have anything at all, use your simple tools in your hands.
Znara shines with her warm smile as we wave from each other computer’s screen. Conversing with this remarkable young woman in a time of lockdown brings hope and humanity.
Znara Ahmed is a Kurdish artist and entrepreneur who is enthusiastic about supporting children and youth through creative practices and exploration. She earned her degree in ceramics from the Institute of Applied Arts in Syria, and she now uses this education to support the energy of children and youth through a broad variety of artistic formats.