Jala Wahid: Exposing imperialism’s coverups

Sarah Jilani, Art Review Asia, November 16, 2022

An eternal flame burns in a field near the city of Kirkuk, an area disputed by Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Known as Baba Gurgur, or the ‘Fiery Father’, in Kurdish, the field yielded its black gold to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at 3am on 15 October 1927, when its drilling unleashed a 42m fountain of oil into the air. Bringing this historic moment to life acoustically in Jala Wahid’s new exhibi- tion Conflagration, at the Baltic in Gateshead, is a series of spoken and sung exchanges. “I do not care under what system we keep it, whether it is by perpetual lease or whatever it may be, but I am quite clear that it is all-important for us that this oil should be available,” proclaims Wahid’s disembodied voice, quoting a self-assured letter written by a British colonial ocer of the time. “Mercurial land / Trembling beyond reach / Doesn’t care what you mean / When you use words like sovereignty,” answers another voice in an elongated, funereal melody: it seems, almost, like the Fiery Father’s chastisement of the British.