19 Jan Ehmedo Khalil, the Kurdish existential painter By Christiane Waked
From selling cigarettes in the streets, to thriving as an existential painter, the 35 years old, Ehmedo Khalil is, since his youth, trapped between his day to day struggle to survive and his true vocation.
Behind his strong prominent facial features lies the story of a man who worked real hard for a living but always dreamed big to escape the small town of Hassakeh where he is originally from.
At 15, he left school to help financially his parents, his long endeavour took many forms while slowly his pain shaped the man he is today and the artist he always wanted to be.
His jobs list is long, selling cigarettes, waiting tables, painting houses, working in the construction field, etc. His hands are the bare witness of his harsh hard life and they are different from any painter hands I have seen.
Life only gave him a break when he joined the army at 19, few months before that, he worked for free in a calligraphist office where he learned how to write slogans in Arabic calligraphy.
Ehmedo had a plan, in order to escape his fate as a holding arms soldier, he wanted his military service to be about painting with brushes and writing with calligraphy pencils.
So when he was called on duty, he presented himself as a painter and started to paint portraits of the president in place and write the repeated slogans such as :” One Arabic Nation with an immortal vocation ” or “One free Socialist Arab Nation” or” The Syrian Arab Republic” etc.
Ehmedo seized the opportunity to finish his high school diploma during his military service. Later, once his time was served, he travelled to Abu Dhabi where he worked as a construction contractor. There and for the first time, he was finally able to visit art galleries and museums and Ehmedo was more and more convinced that painting was his true mission in life.
He started to buy books and learn more and more about painting techniques, as he was eager to learn and grow in that field.
He then left the UAE and landed in Lebanon in 2010. He sips his coffee and explains to me: “before I had the conviction that the art and painting in particular were a philosophy by themselves but I realized that I was mistaken and that they are purely aesthetic. You see Christiane, you don’t need a philosophy to paint, you just need a pure soul”.
Ehmedo insists that his art is not limited to his Kurdish identity but holds a more universal message, a humanitarian one.
He explains that his transition went from painting only colors then adding characters and now he is more into an abstract expressionism artistic mode as he feels that this is what represents him the most at this particular phase of his life.
He shows me some of his paintings as he starts to talk about the spirits and how the soul unifies the animals, the nature and human beings. “We are all one and that is what the core of existentialism of life is all about”.
As I compliment his paintings, he sighs and tells me how cursed for an artist to be born in that region where there is no help that allows him to grow in this field.
He looks at me and tells me with a clear tone as to convince both of us that if he didn’t have a strong will and a real passion for his arts, he would have left painting long time ago.
Concluding:” How can I not paint? This is the core of my persona, it is who I am and who I want to become. It is like my name, my real identity”.
Christiane Waked is a columnist, Risk and political analyst, Arts & Culture contributor. She is the former Press Attaché of the French Embassy to the UAE and former analyst and linguist of the French Interior Ministry