Art and Activism in Iraqi Kurdistan: Feminist Fault Lines, Body Politics and the Struggle for Space

Hosted by the Middle East Centre

Wolfson Theatre, Lower Ground Floor, Cheng Kin Ku Building (formerly New Academic Building), 54 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3LJ.


Isabel Käser

Isabel Käser

LSE Middle East Centre

Houzan Mahmoud

Houzan Mahmoud

Culture Project

Müjge Küçükkeleş

Müjge Küçükkeleş



Polly Withers

Polly Withers

LSE Middle East Centre


This event will launch the paper Art and Activism in Iraqi Kurdistan: Feminist Fault Lines, Body Politics and the Struggle for Space by Dr Isabel Käser and Houzan Mahmoud. This paper is the outcome of a project run under the LSE Middle East Centre's Academic Collaboration with Arab Universities Programme

The KRI is currently in a ‘would be’ state; a moment of transition, in which a better future hinges on the aspirations for an independent Kurdish state. In this context, a new generation of young artists and women’s activists have emerged in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), who through their work and artistic production address issues around body politics, (religious) conservatism and intimacy. 

Particularly since 2014 and the onslaught of ISIS, violations and injustices are chronicled, and complaints are registered about the ways in which women’s bodies are being used as a battlefields. Rather than organised resistance against the ‘here and now’, in which many of the artists and activists feel stuck, the authors depict a more subtle shift: a gradual reimagining of space, body, and sexuality; projected into spaces where women are safe, autonomous, and equal. The authors argue that this is done by a new generation that is no longer convinced by partypolitics, women’s NGOs or foreign donor agendas, but is actively seeking to build alternative ways of engagement. These initiatives to date remain small, local, self-funded and transient, yet they mark a major shift towards a diversification of spaces for critical engagement.

Download the paper here.

This event is part of the LSE Middle East Centre's Kurdish Studies Series.

Meet the speakers

Isabel Käser is a Visiting Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern. She gained her PhD at SOAS, University of London, and is the author of The Kurdish Women’s Freedom Movement: Gender, Body Politics and Militant Femininities (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

Houzan Mahmoud is a Kurdish feminist writer, public lecturer, activist and the editor of Kurdish Women’s Stories (Pluto Press, 2021). For over 25 years, she has been an advocate for women’s rights in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. She holds an MA in Gender Studies from SOAS, and is the co-founder of the Culture Project, a platform dedicated to raising awareness about feminism, art and gender in both Kurdistan and the diaspora.

Müjge Küçükkeleş is a teaching fellow at SOAS and a research associate at Global Partners Governance (GPG). She is currently working on her book manuscript entitled Governing Iraqi Kurdistan: Self-rule, Political Order and the International. Her research interests include humanitarianism, development, neoliberalism, sovereignty and political imaginaries beyond the state.

Polly Withers is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre, where she leads the project “Neoliberal Visions: Gendering Consumer Culture and its Resistances in the Levant”. Polly’s interdisciplinary work questions and explores how gender, sexuality, race, and class intersect in popular culture and commercial media in the global south.

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Image: ©Sonia Basheer, Unnamed, oil on canvas, 2022.

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