Ninety two young artists entered SEED Foundation’s first ‘Art of Equality’ competition to mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and support the promotion of gender equality and positive portrayal of women and girls in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The 13 national and international judges including diplomats, governmental and non-governmental leaders and activists, renowned artists, selected Jin, Jiyan, Azadi by Mariam Adamat as the winner.

“I made this artwork recently to symbolize the power of women and how they are the backbone of our country. This piece shows a woman holding the citadel on top of her head instead of a fruit basket, to symbolize that women are life and give life to us, and nurture us. It also relates to the words ‘Mother Nature,’ ” Adamat described her vibrant and colorful piece whose title translates to “Women, Life, Freedom” — a powerful sentence, she added.

Kurdo Omer, a competition judge and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Directorate to Combat Violence Against Women and Family (DCVAW) Director General, said initiatives like the art competition are a good way to protect society and help it take steps forward.

“Choosing one painting was not easy for me or the other judges. We liked all the submitted paintings, but we had to decide on one painting,” she said. “The painting by Mariam [focused] on the difficulties that women face and she also portrayed that women can live their lives freely, continue improving, and developing their livelihoods.”

The winner, Adamat, is receiving a $1,000 prize, while the runner-up is getting $500, and the second runner-up $250. Submissions from 20 artists were shortlisted and are displayed on SEED’s website. Only original and unpublished artwork were accepted in the competition that ran to November 29, 2020.

“The art should portray women and girls in a dignified and positive manner, but may also be related to the cause of equality and empowerment, and can be used to challenge social norms and stigma,” guidelines outlined to participants aged 15-35 years. Submissions could include mediums such as crayon, water, oil, pastels, paper collage, computer graphic, canvas, clay, and installation.

The competition culminated with the end of 16 Days of Activism on December 10 with an announcement of the Top 3 by some of the judges via video. The United States Consul General in Erbil, Robert Waller, said the US government supports events like this because “…it’s important to increase dialogues on positive representations of women and girls. What we see in our daily lives influences our daily thoughts and actions. To achieve equality, we need to ensure that women and girls are shown in positive ways in the arts and in the media…”

Waller announced that second place went to Soniya Ahmed for creating Us and We because “it illustrated the complex issues and challenges to achieving equality — and it was beautifully executed.”

Ahmed purposefully made her abstract work “awkward” and “in a land of confusion” with women of different backgrounds performing different tasks and in various poses. The focus draws the eye to “two figures in front of the painting carrying an angel which describe honor killing by family members and social stigma this painting also looks at male rights in society and their workplaces, at the left side of the painting there’s a boat with a family and the father’s role in society and the pressure they face in our community.”

“This painting enables people to walk in the shoes of others, it validates the experiences of people who might not have been heard or who have been marginalized,” she explained, adding the painting’s purpose was to “ challenge social stigma and to promote gender equality in a Kurdish community.”

Singer and humanitarian activist Dashni Morad expressed how wonderful it was to see so many young people enter the competition and “engaging with the issue and encouraging a better, positive, and positive portrayal of women and girls.” Known for supporting and encouraging young artists on her social media platforms, Morad added: “I enjoyed studying all of the beautiful pieces, but it was incredibly difficult to judge.”

Morad said the third-place artwork, Let Equality Bloom, by Zinah Jamal “really captured the spirit of the competition by really showing women in different roles…” which included depictions of a female boxer, female police officer, female lawyer, entrepreneur and the brightest-clothed figure, a woman in a wheelchair.

“There are still many people who believe it is unacceptable for a woman to have a paid job outside the home, they still think that some professions are not for women, I tried to include in this painting how a job doesn’t depend on gender,” Jamal said.

With a total of 92 submissions, all of which showcased and promoted gender equality in their own unique way, shortlisting the submissions to 20 was a very difficult task. The shortlisted artworks were sent anonymously to the judges and each of the 13 judges were given the challenging task of evaluating the excellent artwork, independently by the following criteria: positive and dignified portrayal of women and girls; promotes equality and empowerment, challenges harmful social norms and stigmas, shows originality, creativity, and is of high quality. 

SEED’s Vice President Tanya Gilly Khailany summarized the unique event that proved to be more than just an art competition and instead a promotion of gender equality and positive portrayal of women and girls in Kurdistan.

“We try to deliver messages on combating violence in different ways,” she said of SEED Foundation. “ This is why we included this art competition, the Art of Equality, as part of our activities for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence…”

The 13 judges, each with equal weight in their judgments, were (in no particular order): Rob Waller, the US Consul General to Erbil; Dashni Morad, music artist and humanitarian activist; Hans Akerboom, the Netherlands’ Consul General to Erbil; James Thornton, the United Kingdom’s Consul General to Erbil; Ava Nadir, an Iraqi feminist artist based in Erbil; Kwestan Mohamad Abdulla Maarouf, the KRG’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs; Klemens Semtner, Germany’s Consul General to Erbil; Sherri Kraham Talabany, SEED’s President and Executive Director; Kurdo Omer, the KRG’s DCVAW Director General; Pakshan Kakawais, the Country Director for Internews in Iraq; Khanzad Ahmad, the KRG’s High Council of Women’s Affairs Secretary General; Sherizaan Minwalla, a human rights lawyer who has represented survivors of GBV in Kurdistan; and Raz Xaidan (also known as “The Darling Beast”), a multi-disciplinary artist and photographer.