Spend enough time in Kurdistan, and you’ll eventually spot him: a white-haired, paint-covered man sitting roadside, surrounded by brushes and cans of acrylic.
His name is Mohammed, but he’s better known by his artist name: Khalaki.
“I’ve been painting for a long time, all over the world—across Europe, Jordan, Baghdad. Eventually I got the idea: why not take the painting out, into the city, so people can enjoy it?”
So he began painting public spaces like lamp posts, walls, and overpasses in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. At first, his work didn’t receive much attention, but over the years he’s become very popular in the city.
“People like the art,” he says. “Some, they don’t notice it, but a lot of people stop and thank me, some even take photos with me! Nobody really tries to stop me because they know art is important.”
“I want our children to grow up in beautiful places.”
And Khalaki is a firm believer in the power of beauty to serve a community. Already a veteran painter and exibitionist, his street work is all over, it’s diverse, and he does it for free.
“Money isn’t important for me. It’s the work I care about. I especially like to paint around parks and playgrounds because I want our children to grow up in beautiful places—we need more color in Kurdistan, many buildings are so drab! I want to bring color and beauty to this place.”
Sitting curbside next to his latest creation, Khalaki is constantly greeting friends as they walk pass. “Hello teacher,” and, “How are you, master?” are common greetings from locals who know him.
Khalaki’s people, the Kurds of Iraq, are currently at war with ISIS. They are facing massive economic depression and political unrest. That, he believes, makes his work even more important.
“People are beautiful,” he says. “So they should make beautiful things. When the world around us is beautiful, we will respect it more and be happier. Life will be better.”