Interview: The story behind 60 Glasses of Tea

07 July of 2017 by

Erbil Lifestyle had the opportunity to meet with the two artists who just opened their dual art exhibition under the title of ‘60 Glasses of Tea, which opened on July 4, 2017, for 5 days. We had an exclusive interview with both artists Asuda Rwandzi & Lone Bendixen Goulani.

Lone Bendixen Goulani

EL: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your art?
Lone: I’m originally from Denmark and have a background in Modern Culture and Cultural Communication. I’m an autodidact painter and my style is rather naivistic.

EL: What brings you to Erbil?
Lone: Love. My husband is Kurdish.

EL: What inspired you to go to the old Mahata prison venue?
Lone: Back in 2004, I visited the prison and talked to the prisoners, and it had a huge impact on me. Over the past 6 years, I have been working at the University of Kurdistan, and my office was for a couple of years facing the prison, so I have always been able to follow the daily activities in the prison. Some of my students and friends have shared stories about people they knew in the prison, so this place has always interested me. In this exhibition, the prison represents the suffering of the Kurds as it is unfortunately a part of Kurdistan’s history. The walls in the room where we are exhibiting are full of colorful layers of wallpaper and there are a lot of personal leftovers on the walls in the form of prayers, love poems and bits and pieces that has been used as decoration by the prisoners. It is a very atmospheric place and when you make an art exhibition, you want people to feel something. We want people to have an aesthetic experience. When Hawkar from Shanidar Art Expo/Hawkar Group showed us the place and suggested we exhibited in this place, we did not hesitate.

EL: Can you tell us about the exhibition?
Lone: In this exhibition, we are drawing on the inspiration and colours of Kurdistan, the mosaics of the mosques, the glittering dresses in the bazar, the patterns of the Kurdish carpets, favourite places around Kurdistan, and the people that play a role in their lives. The exhibition is called 60 Glasses of Tea as each of the 60 pieces of work is like a glass of tea served to enjoy in the humble setting of an old prison. 

EL: And how was the crowd and how did people react to your artwork?
Lone: Despite people’s initial skepticism regarding having an art exhibition in an old prison, people have responded with wonder, awe and very positive remarks. Some were confused about what was art and what was prison. A lot of people showed up for the opening, and we probably sold 1/3 of the 60 paintings in less than an hour. The interest from the media and people in general has been overwhelming. We never imagined this would happen, so we are of course very pleased with the feedback.

EL: How did you feel about the exhibition? Lone: As a typical Kurdish thing, we just decided last Saturday to put up the exhibition in the prison. Sunday the room was cleaned and Monday, with the help of good people, we only spend 5 hours to put all our work up. While we were decorating the walls, we noticed the prisoners’ words and decided to add this to our exhibition by translating it to English. For me, the exhibition summarises the feelings I have about Kurdistan. I feel very fortunate to be a bride of Kurdistan, who loves the peshmerga, the mountains, and all the stories, and I see that and a lot more when I look at the exhibition.

EL: Have you been in Kurdistan before, and when did you visit for the first time?
Lone: I live here. I came to Kurdistan right after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

EL: Did you sell any artworks?
Lone: Yes, surprisingly Asuda and I have sold 34 pieces in total. The proceeds from the sale will go to support Yezidi women. We are very grateful for people’s interest and support.

EL: What was your motivation to open 60 Glasses of Tea art exhibition with Asuda Rwandzi?
Lone: I have known Asuda since 2004 and her entire family has always meant a lot to me. We discussed the idea of opening an art exhibition 5 years ago and started to work on the exhibition back then. My initial motivation was to support Asuda to get her more involved in the art scene and encourage her to exhibit more as I believe she is very talented. With my background in museology, I have organized many exhibitions before with other people’s work, and I really enjoy working with concepts of exhibitions and cultural heritage. Preservation of as well as adding to the cultural heritage is important especially in Kurdistan where the culture has been so suppressed and destroyed. It was Asuda’s condition that I should join with my art work, too, and I am happy about this today as the result is a combination of very personal styles and different use of colors.

EL: What are your last words about the exhibition and overall feeling?
Lone: After all these rich and inspiring years in Kurdistan, for me, this exhibition is celebration of what Kurdistan has given me for which I am very grateful. I am now returning to Denmark and will cherish this event as something very special, and I hope our exhibition will only be the beginning of many other exhibitions in the old prison. I also hope that new doors will open for Asuda and that she feels encouraged to exhibit her work again.

EL: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. 
Lone: Thanks for asking sharing our story.

Lone Bendixen Goulani

EL: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your art history?
Asuda: I live and grow up in Erbil in a big family but originally I’m from Rwandiz. After finishing high school I went to the college of fine arts, got my bachelor and master degree in the same college. I have more than 30 joined exhibition inside and outside Kurdistan, and my first solo Exhibition was in March 2017.

EL: What was your motivation to work open 60 Glasses of Tea art exhibition with Lone?Asuda: When Me and Lone discussed the idea of opening an art exhibition and we start working on it I was Master student and my MA theses was on Kurdish culture I did a lot of research about our culture and Lone was living in Kurdistan for a long time and she was and still she is more that a sister for me she was very supportive of me, she had background on Art I saw her art before we work on our exhibition and I always was thinking to do some artwork together, hopefully we did it in a right place and right time before she goes back to Denmark.

EL: What inspired you to go to this particular venue?
Asuda: Me and Lone are working in the same place and Mahata prison was right behind our building we were seen the prison every day through the windows and we saw when the family of prisoners was visiting them but the most important thing in this place is it was the oldest and first train station in the region.

EL: As a female artist how hard is it to get out there and exhibit your work to locals and expats in Erbil? Asuda: Actually everything becomes easy with a great support from family, friends and colleague also Hawkar group is our sponsor and helped us a lot with preparing the place.

EL: How was the crowd and how did people react to the artwork?
Asuda: The opening day was very crowded until now everyday people are coming and today is the fourth day of the exhibition I’m still getting a lot of messages asking about location. All feedbacks were very good everyone liked the exhibition a lot.

EL: How did you feel about the exhibition?Asuda: I feel so blessed we opened the exhibition in the place that we wanted and we could turn the prison with all sad stories to a gallery to exhibit our artworks there.

EL: Do you think Kurdistan is now more open to art?
Asuda: Yes, Kurdistan is more open now to art and people nowadays people like to see different and new things.

EL: Did you sell any artwork?
Asuda: Yes, I think a quarter of our works were sold in the first five minutes.

EL: Do you have any pieces of advice for Kurdish young women? Asuda: Put a strategy to your life, belief in yourself, stay strong, never give up, be simple and be yourself.

EL: What are your future plans?
Asuda: Any beautiful idea cross my mind and deserve to bring it out and share it, I will have a new work. I hope I could open more exhibitions in other countries.

EL: Your last words about the exhibition and overall feeling?
Asuda: This exhibition was one of most beautiful things that happened in 2017 for me, I’m so pleased that I opened an exhibition with my sister, my friend and a member of our family Lone.

EL: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. 
Asuda: It’s my pleasures, and thank you for sharing our story. 


Photo Credit: Rebaz Zedbagi


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