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‘Women in Action’ Cultural Conference



Founded in 2004 by Adalet R. Garmiany, a British artist of Kurdish-Iraqi origin, ArtRole is a UK- and Iraq-based contemporary arts organisation dedicated to developing cultural exchanges within the Middle East, and between the Middle East and other regions.

As one of the few arts organisations in the region, ArtRole works to promote human rights, freedom of speech and dialogue between genders and diverse communities to support the building of a modern, democratic, creative and multicultural Iraq.

Since its inception, it has produced a series of international artist residencies, exhibitions, performances, presentations, conferences and workshops in the UK, USA and Iraq.

ArtRole’s primary achievements include: developing a 2007 cultural exchange programme that brought four Iraqi Kurdish artists to the UK and nine British and American artists and academics to Iraqi Kurdistan; providing two Iraqi artists with fellowships to work in the UK in 2008; hosting the “Contemporary Art from Iraq” exhibition with Cornerhouse Gallery, Manchester in 2010; and organising the “Post-War Art & Culture Festival” in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq from Nov. 7-9, 2009.

The first-of-its-kind “Post-War Art & Culture Festival,” produced in a former jail run by the ousted Saddam Hussein regime, incorporated artists’ projects, exhibitions, events and tours. The three-day event included UK, US and Iraqi Kurdish artists, academics, curators, politicians and students. Guests and delegates from the Middle East and around the world attended. It received wide coverage in the local and international media and ArtRole was shortlisted for the Arab-British Culture and Society Award in 2009.

Most recently, ArtRole organized “Women in Action” conferences in 2011 and 2012 that brought together Iraqi and international female artists, activists and academics from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds to discuss how culture and art can strengthen the position of women in Iraqi society and their role in rebuilding the country.

Before the 1991 Gulf War Iraqi women were some of the most liberated in the Middle East. However years of war, sectarian violence, and a struggling economy took their toll on the situation of women in the country.  Women and girls were disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of U.N. sanctions and lacked access to food, health care, and education. These effects were compounded by changes in the law that restricted women’s mobility and access to the formal sector, in an effort to ensure jobs for men and appease conservative religious and tribal groups.

The international women’s conferences in Erbil in 2011 exposed Iraqi women to works of fellow Iraqi female artists and artists from around the world. These conferences included symposiums, workshops, theatre presentations, photo exhibitions, film screenings, music and contemporary art shows by female Iraqi artists. The exhibitions also featured handicrafts made by women living in shelters, prisons and centres for the disabled.

In 2012, the program took place over six days in the cities of Erbil, Sulaymania and Halabja. Local participants were joined by international artists and arts directors who explored further possibilities for international art and cultural organizations and agencies to working closely with Iraq and the Kurdish region. They also discussed the possibility of holding conferences in 2013 and 14.

As the first conferences in the region to explore issues of women’s rights in Iraq through arts, culture and education, “Women in Action” was a vital way to raise awareness of women’s roles in establishing a secure and stable country. Receiving wide media attention and large support from local and international organisations, ArtRole set the foundation for long-term women’s engagement in building cultural bridges between Iraq with the rest of the Middle East and the world.

Future plans

Over the long term ArtRole hopes to host future ‘Women in Action’ conferences in the city of Kirkuk and other part of Iraq such as Baghdad, engaging with the diverse ethnic and cultural communities in the country. It hopes to find wider opportunities for working with arts organisations, universities and government agencies like the ministries of environment, cultures and education across Iraq to establish long term relationships. ArtRole has also been discussing bringing to Iraq exhibitions by Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian women artists in order to further build links across the region.

The aims of future conferences are to: complete works started during pervious conferences; build a network of art institutions and government agencies linking Iraq with the rest of the world; expand education programmes; encourage charitable giving; and involving our group more deeply with the Iraqi public, academics, artists and curators.

Project Publicity

Iraqi Media: Al Hora TV, Somarea TV, Al Iraqi TV, Al Sarqia TV, KurdSat TV, Kurdistan TV, KNN TV, Zagroz TV, GaliKurdistan TV, Azadi TV, Hayfa TV, Backpacking Iraqi Kurdistan – Travel Guide, Radio Nawa, follow up newspapers, Magazines & radios.

Middle East Media: United TV, Al Jazeear Arabic, Al Arabia, Sahar Iranian TV,

USA Media: TCG, Theatre Communications Group, Theatre Without Border,

UK Media: BBC World Service,

Funders and Supporters

Hivos, Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries, Netherlands
Goethe, Institut/Verbindungsbüro Erbil-Irak, Germany
ETTC, European Technology & Training Centre, Europe
United States of America Embassy in Iraq
United Kingdom, British Council in Iraq
Women’s Union of Kurdistan, Kurdistan Regional, Iraq
Kurdistan Regional Government, Ministry of Culture, Erbil Department
Chwar Chra Hotel, Erbil, Kurdistan Regional, Iraq

related links

For the programme of ‘Women in Action’ 2011, please click here

For the programme of ‘Women in Action’ 2012, please click here

For further information and to find out more about ArtRole and its mission please contact and visit the website