Jala Wahid - Conflagration

Jala Wahid - Conflagration
Date 24th Jun - 10th Sep 2023 Price Free - Drop-in - no ticket required Location Tramway

Wednesday - Friday 12 to 5pm
Saturday 12 to 6pm
Sunday 12 to 5pm

A new body of work exploring the relationship between Britain and Kurdistan, through the lens of oil. The installation approaches oil as the symbolic material through which nationalism, statelessness, colonialism and Kurdish identity are explored.

Jala Wahid makes work that touches on urgent issues in relation to identity, nationhood, diasporic living and intergenerational legacies. She considers how politics and poetic expression interweave. Wahid looks to embody this intertwining in her work by exploring its urgency, defiance, euphoria and violence to suggest ways of being that challenge fixed definitions of identity.

In Conflagration, Wahid invites us to step into a landscape conceived as an inferno. It is unclear whether we’re beneath the ground in an oil well, amidst the burning refineries, or within columns of smoke resulting from gushers or oil fires during conflict and war. The installation comprises a light sculpture, a monumental sculpture of a Salvia spinosa flower- endemic to Kurdistan - and an audio work which includes a funereal maqma melody, recordings of oil drilling rigs, and Wahid’s own voice.

Conflagration is Wahid’s first institutional solo exhibition and her first in Scotland. It is a co-commission with Baltic, Gateshead and has previously been exhibited there.

More information about the work

The light sculpture titled Sick Pink Sun (03:00 14.10.1927 - ) commemorates the precise moment the first well in the Baba Gurgur field was struck and points to an unknowable future in the wake of the oil industry. Until 1948, Baba Gurgur was considered the largest oil field in the world. It is situated in the Kirkuk province, a region disputed between Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

This history and current politics are explored through Naphtha Maqam, a sound work created from archival material found in the National Archives and the British Petroleum archives. Wahid has collaborated with sound producer Owen Pratt and Amal Saeed Kurda, a well-known contemporary Kurdish singer/composer, to produce a funereal maqam, melodically Kurdish but lyrically English. Naphtha Maqam includes other elements such as recordings of oil drilling rigs, as well as Wahid’s own voice.

Prior to drilling, Baba Gurgur has been naturally burning for 4,000 years; its mythological and symbolic cultural history is also explored in the exhibition. The Salvia spinosa flower, endemic to the region, is central to the exhibition and Wahid presents it as the embodiment of the Baba Gurgur gusher. In producing a single sculpture, Wahid aims to play into the idea of monument. The Salvia spinosa flower exists in abundance and is the only species of flora to be specifically described as growing on shale rocks in-between oil wells at Baba Gurgur. A new-to-science species of the Salvia plant was recently discovered in Kurdistan. The parallel discovery of oil, flora and identity is important for Wahid. She asks what makes a discovery symbolic, what are its implications, and at what or whose expense?


Image: Jala Wahid, Conflagration (installation view), BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. Photo: Rob Harris © 2022 BALTIC