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This Lemon Tastes of Apple

009_05 / 30 November 2015


Hiwa K.

This Lemon Tastes of Apple, 2011.

6 mins 15 secs



Iraq, 17 April 2011


Kurdistan – Northern Iraq was called by Sadam, Allah's paradise on earth. I started to understand the irony after 1988 when I was told by some of our relatives who survived the chemical attack in Halabja, that the chemicals smelled like apple.


The video documents an intervention undertaken by the artist on 17 April 2011 in Sulaimany, during one of the last days of the civil protest that consisted of two months of struggle. The international media never properly covered the protest, which was finally brutally smashed by the armed forces of the local government. The matter has been somewhat swept under the carpet: as if this protest is an unwanted one, as if happening not as a revolution against officially annoited tyrants, like in the other Middle East countries, but as a surge against theoretically democratically elected politicians. This unfitting protest  a strong claim for transparency, participation and equal access to the country's wealth  spreads across generations, professions and cities so it can be assumed that it is producing an entirely new basis for the further development of a civil society in Kurdistan. The wave of protests started on 17 February 2011 in the Kurdish region of Iraq and continued for eight weeks at the cost of a minimum of ten deaths and 400 injured in clashes between citizens and militia.


The harmonica motif by Ennio Morricone, from the movie Once upon a time in the West (1968), which the artist previously used in his performance, With Jim White: Once upon a time in the West (2010ongoing), was transformed here into a signal of protest, a call to go forth, and a song for the unexpressed. Hiwa K played harmonica, with Daroon Othman playing the guitar utilizing megaphones. The day of performance was the last day of legal demonstration, which was subsequently prohibited and the stage from which the activists were addressing the people was burnt. The artist came twice with the protesters from the Sarai Azadi (Freedom Square) towards the frontier, before and after gas attacks. The inhalation of the teargas through the harmonica internalizes again why the protest broke out. The work occurred within the protest and is not a work about the protest.


The title, This Lemon Tastes of Apple, refers to the use of gas against Kurdish people in a genocide attempt. When, in 1988, Saddam's forces were pouring suffocating gas into Halabja and other Kurdish settlements, the gas had a smell of apple. The smell has since had a strong association in the political memory of the country. During the recent months of demonstrations, the people of Kurdistan were attacked by teargas deployed by their own Kurdish regional government. To relieve the impact of the gas the protesters used lemon as an immediate detoxifying agent. The fruity smells connect the two ends of this 23-year-long history.


The work has intentionally not been translated into English. The words of protest remain in their own language and are not adapted to the rhetorical frames of protest elsewhere. The particular is not translated here; the work brings through the image and the music the atmosphere of the momentum. The assumption is that the content of the protest is often the same but the event of participation is always singular. It operates in a communicational gap but does not expose a lack of communication. It rather remains within the omitted, the overlooked and the abandoned.


Written with Aneta Szylak.


Read Hiwa K in conversation with Anthony Downey and Amal Khalaf here.

About the author

Hiwa K.

Hiwa K graduated from High School in Iraq and continued his self-education meeting different intellectuals, visual artists, musicians and theatre artists. The major fields of these informal and non-systematic studies were European literature and philosophy, learnt 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, escape normative aesthetics but give a possibility of another vibration to vernacular forms, oral histories (Chicago boys, 2011), modes of encounter (Cooking with Mama, 2006) and political situations (This lemon tastes of apple, 2011). The repository of his references consists of stories told by family members and friends, found situations as well as everyday forms that are the products of pragmatics and necessity.


His own education leaves a strong impression within his works, which are the result of a continuous critique of the art education system and the professionalization of art practice, as well as the myth of the individual artist.


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


Hiwa K was 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 continuously hosted by important international institutions, such as Alternativa Festival in Gdansk,the CASCO in Utrecht, the Serpentine Gallery in London, New Museum/ NYC, MACRO/Rome, MuHKA and MUSAC in León. , he participated in the VII edition of Manifesta curated by Raqs Media Collective, New Museum in NY and Venice Biennale 2015.