The Resnick Gallery in Brooklyn is currently hosting Alice Hendrickson’s art exhibition entitled “Kurds: The Struggle,” running November 3-December 5, 2014.
Even though Kurds are prominently featured in the media these days, their struggles have been ongoing for decades, stretching over the past century.
Alice has spent much time over the years living amongst the Kurds in Turkey, and she shares her intimate knowledge of their way of life through 34 woodcuts and 17 watercolors.
Alice was born in Frederick Maryland in 1949. She studied at the University of New Mexico, Corcoran School of Art, finishing her studies with an MFA from Utah State University.
She has travelled the world to gain inspiration for her art work. We spoke with Alice about art, travel, Kurds and the Islamic Sate.
ARNETT: How and when did you become involved in art?
HENDRICKSON: I began drawing and painting as a child and never stopped. I was able to go with my family to the museums in Washington D.C. and wander the National Gallery. My summers as a teenager were spent working as a city park instructor. I chose to work in the black parks because the children had more liveliness, however, the parks were not the same as in my white neighborhood. We had pavilions and shade trees, plenty of equipment. The black park had no pavilions or trees, little equipment, splintering see-saws, and shaky swings. This disparity was accepted by the family as the way it was, denying that this was the result of racism. The impact of the denied racism led to my later choices.
ARNETT: Who are your artistic influences?
HENDRICKSON: The technique of woodcutting I could develop for myself, but I learned much from looking at the German Expressionists Heckel, Kirchner and also the exuberant Japanese Munakata. Awed by the watercolors of Turner and Nolde, I strove to achieve their luminosity and freedom of stroke.
Goya and Rembrandt are for me the greatest masters of art portraying the depth of human experiences. Hopefully, my woodcuts can be seen as an expression of the common bond of life all groups share. Desire for home, family, jobs and enjoyment is universal.
ARNETT: You obviously travel a lot. Your landscapes are all based in exotic locals such as Vietnam, Ecuador, Tanzania, and Cappadocia.
HENDRICKSON: My husband Glen Lawrence is a professor of biochemistry, therefore, we have had the privilege of four sabbatical leave years. These were spent in foreign countries; Tanzania, Philippines, Turkey and Malaysia, then traveling in South East Asia while there.
I am not much of a tourist, preferring to live and gain understanding while in a country. My involvement with Kurds arose naturally with no prior political agenda. It has become important for me to present the work as a witness to lives of Kurds.
ARNETT: Tell me how your current show “Kurds: The Struggle,” came about.
HENDRICKSON: I travelled to Dogubeyazit, Turkey for the 1st time in 2000. I went to paint the surrounding mountains which are strangely formed and colored with various mineral deposits. Dogubeyazit is an ugly town of Soviet style apartment buildings and a military base. Prior to 1980 -1990, the citizens lived in mountain villages but they had been forcibly removed by the Turkish government. Approximately 5,000 villages along the borders of Iran and Iraq were destroyed. Employment was low, few industries in the Kurdish region, smuggling a way of life for many.
I listened to tales of horror and hardships of the Kurds I met and came to know. I recognized there the denied racism I’d witnessed in Maryland. Turks I knew questioned my visiting the Kurdish region saying they would never venture there, accusing Kurds of acts of violence and laziness.
I have returned yearly with the challenge to paint the incredible mountains of Dogubeyazit and of Hakkari. I go the the mountains to work in the mornings then wander about the towns, drawing people as I walked or sit. Returning to New York I began work on woodcuts depicting the lives I’d seen and imagining the lives and events as told by Kurds.
ARNETT: You have had your art exhibited in Turkey as well.
HENDRICKSON: I have had two exhibitions in Turkey; Istanbul and Diyarbekir, of the woodcuts of Kurdish life. It has been rewarding to have Kurds come to say they felt they knew the people in the woodcuts. I knew that if I, an outsider, made prints documenting their lives, others might begin to appreciate who they were as well. Their pride at being Kurdish was celebrated. To be a Kurd had been in itself a hardship. For 100 years in Turkey, the language was forbidden to be spoken or written. They as a group were feared and distrusted.
ARNETT: Having become so intimate with the Kurdish culture and its people, you must have strong feelings regarding current hostilities by the group ISIS, along the Syrian/Turkish border.
HENDRICKSON: Unfortunately, the only belief I hold is that the seven deadly sins will always be. A group such as Islamic State has gained strength through attracting disenfranchised, angry youths from many nations. Their form of expression is violence. That Islamic State has succeeded in making profit through illegal oil sale is also an attraction for recruitment.
I know I surprised many of my peace activist friends asking them to sign a petition requesting arms to be shipped to the Kurdish fighters in Syria. The town of Kobane has been resisting the onslaught of Islamic State for over two months. I can not idly watch the slaughter of humans.
Art can not stop the spread of such violence however, it can depict the irrational horrors and also portray the life of common man. When people are introduced to another way of life through film, literature, and art, the recognition of our mutual existence might bring understanding and perhaps acceptance.
“Kurds: The Struggle” will be held in Brooklyn, NY between Nov. 3- Dec. 5, 2014.
Venue: Resnick Gallery, Long Island University Brooklyn, Third Floor, Library Learning Center, 1 University Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11201–5372
This story by Andrew Arnett was first published November 21, 2014 @ Medium