Jamal Penjweny and his work at the Pavilion of Iraq. Photo: Enrico Bottoni.

Jamal Penjweny and his work at the Pavilion of Iraq. Photo: Enrico Bottoni.

Which artist has influenced your work?
When I was young I discovered a book about Michelangelo. I grew up in Kurdistan and never really went to school. I looked at Michelangelo’s work and made my own sculptures. As I grew older, I realised that art was personal and had to come from within. I don’t want to copy anything. Everybody has a lot of power inside them, or tomouh (ambition), which art can express. Now, my own experiences are what motivate me.

How does your work in the Pavilion reflect everyday life in Iraq?
Saddam is Here explores the psychology of the Iraqi people after the fall of Saddam. As a child, my classroom, books and school program all had pictures of Saddam. He was like a godfather and his fall was not enough to build a democracy. After 2003, I went to Baghdad and felt Saddam’s presence everywhere. He was still affecting the way people lived. I made this series to show that you cannot take away the idea of Saddam just by killing him.

What drew you to photography?
I began as a sculptor and painter. When I was taking pictures of my sculptures, I got into photography. I covered the Iraq war for Reuters and international agencies. Soon, I realised that covering wars wouldn’t help me express myself. Tomouh was pushing me to try something new, so I enrolled at the London Institute of Photography, graduating in 2008. They still use examples of my work on their course program.

Why is it important to represent Iraq at the Venice Biennale?
This is one of the many steps the Ruya Foundation is taking to support Iraqi art. I was happy to share our work with the world. People think of Iraq as no more than a war zone. But in these places you can find a lot of art and a lot of hope.

What are your upcoming projects?I am working on a movie now called God’s Animals. A lot of my work goes back to my childhood. This movie is about fathers and sons, and the gaps between generations: fathers typically want their sons to follow a similar path, whilst sons have their own dreams and desires. I’m also working on a photography series, Imagination, about dreams and their contrast to reality.