Baban Principality founded Slemani as the capital of their rule in 1784, and since then great attention has been paid to culture, literature, fine arts, and the role of women. Historically, mosques and churches acted as pre-modern cultural institutions, providing great multi-lingual libraries for scholars, and giving birth to prolific poets.
The Kurdistan Regional Government together with the city has restored and repurposed a 26-hectare former cigarette factory in downtown Slemani. The Tobacco Factory worked with a wide range of stakeholders empowering creators to pursue their own inventive projects and facilitating short-term events like the graphic novel workshop that took place in fall 2018. The Tobacco Factory was designed specifically for synergistic collaboration, as well as concerts and performance art events. It also houses galleries that publish regular exhibition catalogues, commissioning new essays and criticism by young writers.
Slemani has been linked with the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York since 2019. Archeologically the first domesticated chicken in Mesopotamia was found at a site one mile away from the city. The oldest fishing net was found at a site thirty miles away from the city, and a Neanderthal skeleton was found in Hazar-Merd caves fifteen miles from the city.
Major streets in the city have been named after local poets such as Salim, Mawlawi and Piramerd.
In collaboration with other cities, Slemani will create a cookbook presenting Kurdish recipes in three forms: traditional, health-conscious, and literary. We will work with Slemani’s culinary institutions, half of which are run and staffed by women. Partnering with these businesses, we will document their processes and formalize their recipes. We will share these recipes with medical and dietary professionals who will work with the original chefs to find potential modifications that offer a healthier approach to these traditional tastes. We will also hire Slemani’s poets to render these recipes as literature. Finally, we will hire photographers from the city to produce artwork for the book that will double as a rough anthropological record. The book, translated into English and Arabic, will be a landmark preservation of Kurdish cuisine and a signpost to a healthier future.
We will invite musicians from Iraq and its immediate neighbors: Iran, Turkey, and Syria. These musicians will be both virtuosic and willing to dive into collaboration. Since many instruments in today’s Middle East have sacred origins, we will seek out musicians (Yazidis, Yarzans, Sufis) to whom these instruments remain devotional. The musicians will first meet and perform for one another in a closed workshop that will prompt musical, literary fusion and improvisation. As the musicians develop ideas, write new songs, or conceive adaptations of poems, we will bring them into a state-of-the-art studio to record. We will conclude with a public performance that will also be recorded. The album, a blend of studio and live material, a showcase of contemporary, regional music both secular and sacred, will be available for download through various online platforms.
POETRY AND TRANSLATION AS HEALING AND RECONCILIATION
Slemani was founded to resolve differences and honor all languages as literary. In that spirit, Slemani City of Literature will identify and invite emerging poets from all over Iraq to Slemani for a month-long artist residency. These poets from cities such as Duhok, Zakho, Erbil, Slemani, Halabja, Mosul, Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad, and Basra will, in their own languages, spend a week writing and revising poems on the experiences they come from, which for many will situate the beautiful and joyful next to the traumatic and disruptive.
Kashkul translators will work alongside the poets, bringing their verses into languages that will allow other poets from the workshop to write poems in response. In this way, over the course of four weeks, we will create a trans-linguistic poetic conversation about the rising generation’s experience of Iraq, of peace and its absence, of recovery.