ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Shorsh Saleh as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Shorsh Saleh is a Kurdish mixed media artist, carpet designer and weaver. His works focus on the subject of migration, borders and identity. Based in the UK, he has exhibited both nationally and internationally. Saleh received his M.A. in Traditional Arts from The Prince’s Foundation, School of Traditional Arts, London, where he has taught carpet weaving since 2015. His works are in the collections of The Royal Collection Trust, The Prince’s Foundation, British Museum, Bagri Foundation and The Islamic Art Museum, Malaysia.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Shorsh Saleh: I am a mixed media artist, carpet designer and carpet weaver. I employ the traditional techniques of Persian miniature painting in a contemporary context. My works focus on the subject of migration, borders and identity primarily informed by my childhood in the 1980s and 90s, growing up in Iraqi Kurdistan while struggling against the oppressive Iraqi regime and surviving the violence of the Iran-Iraq war.
AE: What is the role of storytelling within your practice? Why do you believe sharing your own experiences is important for your viewers?
SS: Each image in my miniature paintings carries a story behind it. After fleeing my homeland and settling in the U.K., I felt that it was my responsibility to raise public awareness about Kurdish issues and to tell the stories of my people through my artwork. Viewers connect to individual experiences and stories so I have used elements of my personal story to illustrate the struggles of my people.
AE: How did you begin creating carpets and how has your use of the carpet evolved in your practice?
SS: My connection with carpets goes back to my childhood, where like most Kurdish people, I grew up playing and sleeping on carpets at home. I still have a magical feeling when I see oriental carpets, the motifs and colors resonate in my soul.
I received my M.A. in Traditional Arts from The Princes Foundation of Traditional Arts in London. My thesis focused on the hidden and symbolic language used in carpets. I designed and produced my first carpet as a student there, which was then purchased by HRH King Charles and now hangs in Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Many of my paintings are inspired by the symbolic motifs used in traditional carpets, combined with contemporary imagery. I now design and produce carpets for private clients around the world.
AE: Tell us about your project Refugees: Forced to Flee. What was the process of communicating and working with weavers in Iraqi Kurdistan? Why was it important to include them in this project?
SS: In 2020, I was invited to create a series of new works on the theme of identity for the Refugees Forced to Flee exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. I created five miniature paintings and designed two carpets that illustrate my personal journey as a refugee. The carpets were woven by women weavers from my home town in Kurdistan as part of my project Chenin. Sadly, the ancient tradition of carpet weaving has largely been lost in Iraqi-Kurdistan due to decades of conflict and displacement. Prior to the conflict, most houses had a loom for weaving. Carpet weaving was predominantly done in mountainous areas where people lived in harmony with nature, surrounded by all the necessary materials for weaving, wool and plants for natural dyes. Chenin aims to revive the lost tradition of carpet weaving in Iraqi Kurdistan and provide a source of income for locals struggling due to conflict and the climate emergency, affecting farmers’ livelihoods.
AE: What or who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
SS: My main influences are the Persian miniature painter Behzad and contemporary artists Anselm Kiefer and Maya Ramsay.
AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2023-2024?
SS: I am currently working on a series of paintings for an upcoming exhibition in London on the impact of the climate emergency on mass migration in the near future, a subject that is already highly relevant to the communities in my homeland.
SHORSH SALEH ONLINE: