A guitar, a resting dog. A sea of swimming fish, birds flying out from the barrel of a gun. All painted in fluorescent pink, on top of photographs in black and white. The latest work of Iraqi-born photographer and artist Jamal Penjweny, Pink Dream, is a collection of pictures taken across Iraq, portraying brief moments of everyday life for Iraqis. While the original photos speak silently about sadness and loss, Jamal Penjweny, through scribbling bright drawings on their surface, elevates them; tells us to read the photos as a message of hope.
Hello Jamal, would you tell us a little bit about your photos, how you selected them and why?
I talked to the people portrayed in the photos, even interviewed them. When I take photos, I meet real people and interpret their dreams; dreams which they don’t even dare to express sometimes. They are common people, living in the midst of war.
What kind of stories do you want to share through this work?
The stories they share are of unhappiness and conflict, but through my art I want to give them hope instead. I don’t want to let them remain sad because this is their everyday existence. I want to leave some sparks of happiness, hope for a better future.
Our destiny is not to kill or hate, but to nurture happiness, peace and beauty. You can find happiness even if you are in a prison. War can destroy things, but when you believe in yourself, it cannot take your dreams.
To photograph in black and white and then work with pink, how did you come to make that choice?
Black and white are colours to me, they are colours of hope. When I thought of a colour to represent dreams of peace and happiness, I could only see one and that was pink. Hoping and dreaming are the driving forces behind everything.
When you have hope, when you dream, what seems impossible becomes possible. It’s all about believing in that which you cannot see with your eyes but indeed is there. When I was a little boy in the Penjwen mountains, no one believed that I could reach places like the U.S., Italy, France and all the world. Hope and dreams are what brought me there.
This is a photo of marshlands in Iraqi, which were ruined by a drought. All the fish died and the fishermen could no longer go fishing or get something to eat.
These are the feet of refugee schoolboys and schoolgirls, who instead would like to walk in a garden full of flowers.
The hand of a mother who lost her son; he was about to get married, now she will never see his wedding.
A boy who lost his eyes and one hand when a mine exploded on him. He now imagines the world through his empty eyes, just like in the photo.
This is the image of a woman who lost all her family members. Now, she’s imagining them dancing around her.
What if, instead of a gun the soldier had a guitar.
This is the former bedroom of Saddam Hussein. The image asks, what if he had been just a normal person.
A Peshmerga, fighting against ISIS. Still, what we see is not black and white. And war does not mean the opposite of peace.
We have featured Jamal Penjweny’s work before: here’s our article Iraqi lessons in flying, from 2014.