IHME Helsinki Commission 2023

Hiwa K, photo: Veikko Somerpuro.

Hiwa K to make IHME Helsinki commission 2023

IHME Helsinki is happy to announce that the Kurdish artist Hiwa K is to make IHME Helsinki Commission 2023. This will be a Helsinki version of Chicago Boys – While We Were Singing, They Were Dreaming – which was first carried out in 2010 at London’s Serpentine Gallery and has since been experienced in numerous key international art institutions. This brings together people from different backgrounds, everyday experiences of neoliberalism, the environmental crisis, and popular music. An open call for participants will be announced in January 2023.

“The idea of Chicago Boys as a 1970s Middle-East pop-music revival band and neoliberal study group developed over a period of months while I was researching on YouTube for documentaries about the Iraq War and its connection to neoliberalism and, during the same period, listening to the music of my childhood. The simultaneity of these events created a kind of connectivity between them that was important for me when trying to trace the reasons for the Second Gulf War and the recent harsh effects of the rapid implementation of both democracy and a neoliberal economy in Iraq. I found the lectures on the history of neoliberal economy by David Harvey and The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein to be crucial resources. They put me on the path to looking at previous models. The most significant being the way neoliberal reform was implemented after the coup in Chile under the dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1973 and the situation in Iraq under the US-appointed administrator Paul Bremer, who had vast power after 2003. The successful transformation of economies through political turmoil was clearly connected to the confusion caused by the war, dictatorship, and revolution,” Hiwa K outlines his thoughts at the start of the project.

“The name Chicago Boys refers to a group of young Chilean economists who, after having studied with economist and “grandmaster” of free-market economic theory Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, drove a neoliberal economic policy in Chile under the dictatorial regime of Pinochet in the 1970s. Chicago Boys – While We Were Singing, They Were Dreaming traces back the possible “affairs” (as Hiwa K puts it) between this first implementation of liberal economics and a number of parallel events happening at the time, such as the oil crisis and the US threat to attack Saudi Arabia. But one could also think of the Iraq War, a neoliberal project of more recent date. In addition, Chicago Boys tries to understand the weakening of the left that manifested at the turn of the 1970s into the 1980s in different parts of the globe; a political tendency one can currently witness. All these developments are reflected upon through the lens of cultural dynamics, particularly those in the popular music genre. Chicago Boys – While We Were Singing, They Were Dreaming is an ongoing, collective and transnational project that attempts to practice an alternative model for exploring the globalization process and its impact on our daily culture.” (Quote from Casco Art Institute)

Helsinki version of Chicago Boys emphasizes the issues of ecological sustainability linked to neoliberalism. Hiwa K’s IHME Helsinki 2023 work will be realized almost simultaneously in Helsinki and Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan in April-May 2023. The partner in Helsinki is the Cultural Center Stoa in Itäkeskus.


Introduction to Hiwa K

Hiwa K is an artist and musician living in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, to which he returned three years ago, after living in Germany for almost twenty years. There, he has acquired a farm and, together with local people, studies how to promote permaculture, i.e. how to live in harmony with the environment. Permaculture is a design method based on ecology, aimed at developing sustainable systems by imitating natural processes and utilizing them to meet the needs of the individual, of human communities and of the Earth equally, in the short and long term. These systems can, for example, be related to the production of food and energy, housing, or the organization of economic activities.

Hiwa K graduated from High School in Iraq and continued his self-education by meeting various intellectuals, visual artists, musicians and theatre artists. The major topics of these informal, non-systematic studies were European literature and philosophy, which he learned from available books translated into Arabic. After moving to Germany at the age of 25, he studied music; specifically, he was a pupil of the Flamenco master Paco Peña.

Hiwa K’s works challenge normative ways of doing art by creating a possibility for vernacular forms and oral histories (Chicago Boys, 2011), modes of encounter (Cooking with Mama, 2006) and political situations (This lemon tastes of apple, 2011). The storehouse of his references consists of stories told by family members and friends, found situations, as well as everyday events.

His self-education has left a strong impression on his works, which are the result of a continual critique of the art-education system and the professionalization of art practice, as well as of the myth of the individual artist.

Consequently, many of his works are characterized by a strong collective, participatory dimension, and have to do with the process of teaching and with learning systems, and an insistence on the idea of obtaining knowledge from everyday experience rather than doctrine

Hiwa K has been involved in various collective exhibitions, such as La Triennale in Paris and the “Edgware Road Project” at the Serpentine Gallery in London. His Chicago Boys: While We Were Singing They Were Dreaming project is continually being hosted by important international institutions, such as: Alternativa Festival in Gdansk; CASCO, Utrecht; the Serpentine Gallery, London; New Museum, New York; MACRO, Rome; MuHKA, Antwerp; and MUSAC, León. He participated in Manifesta 7 curated by Raqs Media Collective, New Museum in NY, and the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Read more about Hiwa K: hiwak.net


Why Hiwa K?

“We chose Hiwa K to be the artist of the next commissioned work because the starting point for his art is the values he shares with IHME Helsinki: ecological and social sustainability; experiencing and doing things together; encouraging change; and creating change. After adapting to the pandemic, in our crisis-saturated world, many of us feel the need to get together, to get to know each other, and to listen to each other’s stories. Chicago Boys offers an opportunity for this by bringing people together to play the music of their choice in a small or large group: in addition to the core band, the audience, too, gets to join in band rehearsals,” says Paula Toppila, Executive Director of IHME Helsinki, who also plans to dig her own guitar out of its case after a decades-long hiatus.

“In this cooperation with Hiwa, we are now experimenting for the second time with collaboration not only in Finland, but also locally in the artist’s home country. The first time, we decided to do this with the creator of IHME Helsinki 2022, the Indian artist Amar Kanwar. With Kanwar’s The Sovereign Forest art project, we are making it possible to carry it on in the province of Odisha, India, in 2023, after a two-year delay due to the pandemic. Together with Hiwa, we are realizing Chicago Boys for the first time in the artist’s homeland, in the city of Sulaymaniyah, thus also making this a significant event for Hiwa himself. Both projects are being implemented as local productions, but we are also considering opportunities to introduce local communities to each other and to learn, for example, how the climate crisis affects these places and how to mitigate and prepare for it,” Toppila continues.

The artists of IHME Helsinki Commissions are selected by the IHME Helsinki Advisory Board, which, at the time of Hiwa K’s selection, included, besides Toppila in the chair, Professor Ute Meta Bauer (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), researcher and artist Antti Majava (BIOS research unit, Helsinki), Professor Jussi Parikka (Aarhus University, Denmark) and Dean Hanna Johansson (Uniarts Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts). In June 2022, Hanna Johansson’s term ended and Senior Researcher Hanna Guttorm (University of Helsinki) was invited to replace her.