Artist Ben Hodson shared this video with us documenting how he made an Amna Suraka photomontage. (HINT: While you're waiting for the video to load, check out the short interview with Ben below!)
PLC: Start with a little background. What influenced you toward becoming an artist?
Ben: I was born in Brighton, UK into a family with a painter for a mother and a creative entrepreneur for a father. They inspired me to creatively look for solutions to the world's issues. I moved around a fair bit as a child and even lived in India for a couple of years. These experiences greatly influenced my outlook on life and how I appreciate and view other cultures.
PLC: So where did your interest in Iraq come from? Were you previously interested in Kurdistan before traveling there?
Ben: I have an interest in people--especially people who have a story to tell. The Kurdish and Iraqi stories are surely some of the most defining stories of the 20th and 21st centuries. I have always had an interest in travel and new cultures, and the Middle East has a very hospitable and family-oriented culture, which I like. I also love Kebabs!
PLC: What kind of response have you had to this Amna Suraka piece from Kurds and Brits? Did the exhibit get a good turnout?
Ben: Initially, Kurdish people didn't respond well to anything with the word "Iraq" in it, but as soon as I spoke to them and explained the relevance and how this draws Brits and Europeans in, they were very positive. It’s a story that most of the West has not heard. The response [at the exhibit] was very good, hundreds of visitors came to the show, we got numerous feedback comments, we had local and regional press coverage and the curator of the gallery said to me that it was the best show they had ever put on.
PLC: Lastly, would you tell us a little about your work in general and what visual peacemaking means to you?
Ben: I'm interested in ideas of storytelling, narrative, place and location. This is why I went to Iraq. I went looking to explore the story of the Iraq still unseen, to engage with the lives, questions and challenges the media has been ignoring. Though I wanted to tell their story, I soon realized that I could not do this as well as the Iraqi people themselves. I am not a photojournalist, I do not hunt down the headlines or stop myself getting involved. I am interested in the people, their lives and their stories. I cannot expect people to be affected by what I show them without first allowing my own heart to be broken by what I experienced. For me, visual peacemaking is about using our creativity to bring about positive change in the world. Specifically bringing peace through all visual means, not just photography. I am an artist, the photography and filmmaking is only part of what I do. Visual Peacemaking could be done through actually showing art; maybe a documentary, an exhibition of art by a misunderstood community, a series of photographs or even a piece of sculpture or installation art. This of course embraces the beauty and common humanity of other cultures, but it also may be in finding healing/understanding in our differences and past hurts.
You can check out more of Ben's work on his personal website HERE. Thanks for reading!