Shwan Dler Qaradaki: The tattooed Sun
The documentary The Tattooed Sun is a close portrait of Shwan Dler Qaradaki`s deceased mother. This is an aesthetic and touching personal story, told through watercolour and ink-drawings, with a subjective narrative voice. «This is my version of the story of my mother. My siblings’ story would probably be different. » - Qaradaki. The film is also a call to viewers to reassess stereotyped images of Middle Eastern women as weak and oppressed. Qaradaki's portrait of his mother shows a quite different picture.
Script, drawings and direction: Shwan Dler Qaradaki
Genre: Documentary, pictorial narrative, mixed media
Length: about 20 minutes
Clip: Inger Lise Langfeldt
Narrative: Jan gunnar Røyse (Norwegian) Alland H. Rashid (English) and Shwan Dler Qaradaki (Kurdish)
Sound: Sigrun Merete Mongstad
Music: Nils Økland, Foad Karim, HOC music, Ibrahim Najmadin and Abdulla Karimi
Producers: Vibeke Christensen, Kulturbyrået Mesén AS
About the film «The tattooed sun»
In the film we meet a Kurdish woman who was everything but weak. My mom was the family chief with a shawl on her head and a cigarette in her hand, covered in tattoos. She did not have education, but had acquired a masterful ability to deal with life's challenges in one conflict-affected region. To her children she was a source to safety and guidance and a role model who accepted all, regardless of their nationality, religion or other differences.In September 2015 my mother passed away and I have in retrospect felt that the attachment to my home country is weaker. The recognition of how much she has meant for my relationship with Kurdistan (I am original a Kurdish male from Iraqi Kurdistan) also comes out early in the storytelling.
I look at the film as a story about my mother, a mother with personal strength like acceptance and compassion. Still, I hope that "The Tattooed Sun" will encourage spectators to reassess widespread ideas about women in the Middle East. When people have preconceived notions of those who are weak and oppressed, they are usually completely wrong. - Shwan Dler Qaradaki
The history Shwan Dler Qaradaki is telling about his mother is characterized with contrasts, physical and psychological: the longing after my mother is big after two years on the run and twelve years as a «Muffer» (temporary stay without the right to family reunion, for one year at a time) in Norway from year 2000 – 2012. Bad conscience for leaving a sick mother in Kurdistan, the relief and joy of having a return opportunity to a safe family in Norway. Love of lost ancestors and the idea of Kurdistan.
In 1997 I left my mother and my family because of the war, and I did not get the oppurtunity to see her again before the end of 2011 – because I lacked a residence permit the years I lived in Norway and therefore could not leave the country. Even if we could not be together for so many years it still felt like she always was there with me – her sharp, encouraging and safe voice was always in my mind when I met difficulties in my life, and especially when I fled. Qaradaki`s main work in this film is with watercolours and ink-drawings in black and white. The poetic expression in the watercolour, in contrast to his ink-drawings works well for his artistic projects: to convey the story about his mother, but also about his two years on the run and twelve years of wait in Norway.
The story about his mother and Kurdistan is portrayed tenderly, but also brutally where moms strong likeness is prominent through the many beautiful watercolours, but also the history about war, death and fear portrayed through black and white ink-drawings. Oslo is produced as urban and fresh with colourful pictures of parks, trams og cafes with outdoor seating. There is a huge contrast to the motives and atmosphere in scenes from Kurdistan as prefaced with references to mothes death and the wars presence and memories about the escape. The film The tattooed sun is a story about my mothes, but also about womens challenges in the Middleeast, in a male dominated society with patriarchal attitudes where women are seen as the property of men. The film portrays a hard life with many children, but also a rich life where mother becomes an important role model for the children, with a strong and wise voice that follows Qaradaki even when he comes to safe Norway. The longing for mother is great when you are alone in a foreign country.
I'm going to hear your voice like an echo as I stroll the streets of Oslo, on the tram, at work, in my sleep, and in the face of the new world.
The film is mainly a drawed picture story, a narrative story where a male voice tells Qaradaki`s history and as amplified of the drawed imagery. The soundscape and music enhance the contrasts and emphasize the Western cityscapes, summer and lightness, to Kurdistan with memories of a good childhood through Kurdish music and the contrast to the sound of the crying women during the mother's funeral.
Script and narration
Shwan Dler Qaradaki stands for the script, drawings and direction. We will use Axel Hellstenius as an advisor / playwright on the submitted script for this application. The script is written in Norwegian, which is translated into English by Kate Pendry, while Tarza Noori will translate the Kurdish version.The voiceover is used with the imagery. The imagery consists of both drawings, video and photographs. Playwright Kate Pendry is in charge of the audio recordings.The film exists in three voice versions to reach several audiences, one with Norwegian voice, as well as one version with English voice and one with Kurdish voice and English subtitles. Jan Gunnar Røyse has the Norwegian voice, Allan Hama Rashid the English and Shwan Dler Qaradaki has the Kurdish version.
The painterly expression in combination with video recording
Based on the drawn material, we have in a film that largely cultivates the painterly expression of the film, created by watercolours and ink-drawings, in combination with some "live" video clips taken by among other things a drone. Qaradaki has painted and drawn all the drawings himself, both watercolour paintings and ink-drawings for the film. His drawings, watercolours and screenplays have become an aesthetic and narrative original work that brings to life the story of his mother, a universal theme. Through the choice of film as a medium, he wants to reach a wide audience.
Clips of the documentary were performed by Inge-Lise Langfeldt in close dialogue with Qaradaki. Shwan Dler Qaradaki's story ties the past together with the present and hope for the future and lets us travel back and forth in time. His memories are made alive both vocally and visually, reinforcing the expression in the film. In many of Qaradaki's paintings, it seems that people are frozen in the middle of a movement, and we want to add "movement" into these scenes. He has done this with various techniques such as zooming and cutting. Also, the inherent qualities of the artist's techniques - the contrasts in colour and translucent overlap and opaque shapes - invite movement and can be made even more evident in a clip. He has also worked with rhythm and clips in the film along with voice-over and music to optimize the story.
Shwan Dler Qaradaki
As a refugee and non-western immigrant, Shwan Dler Qaradaki is in a special position in the Norwegian art world. By virtue of his background, he is a typical player in the art field. He is also a representative of a group of people who are talked about far more often than they are allowed to speak even in the Norwegian public. This position makes Qaradaki's art a fundamental political art. He participates in the discourse on defining power and contributes with an important voice in the public conversation. The 20-minute short film will be a significant testimony and contribution to public discourse.
Earlier he made the short film «To My Children» that got support from among others NFI in 2017/18. Before that he made a trilogy «Salt Kiss (Salte kyss)» that he since 2012 have toured on schools all over Norway via DKS.
The Tattooed Sun
Twenty years ago Shwan Dler Qaradaki fled from Kurdistan. But not until his mother died, many years later, did he really feel the dread of being without a home. This is at the core of his new film, The Tattooed Sun.
Text: Oda Bhar
What is a home, if not an embrace? In The Tattooed Sun, Shwan Dler Qaradaki describes the time around his mother’s death in 2015, when he seriously started to question the nature of attachment. Why did his bond to Kurdistan feel so weakened after his mother passed away? What kind of a parent did he himself wish to be?
Warm and tough
The story is told in the filmmaker’s expressive watercolour paintings, accompanied by a subjective voiceover. His mother comes across as a strong Kurdish woman, who remained the centre of the family through difficult times of war and conflict. She grew up in poverty, was illiterate, and had ten children. One son disappeared at war, another one died of cancer, and the filmmaker himself feels guilty for having left the country.
In his drawings the mother is pictured as sturdy and tough, with a shimmering depth in her eyes that indicate both joy and reflection. She wears a dark shawl on her head, holding a cigarette nonchalantly in her tattooed hand. The title refers to another tattoo on her chin, a stylized sun, that may also be interpreted as a symbol of inner light and warmth. Only once do we get to see her in a live action scene, dancing with her adult children in an amateur video. Though her birth date is unknown, the family had suddenly decided it was time to celebrate her seventieth birthday. In this shot she is chubby and tall, her black hair falling softly on her shoulders, and her eyes moving happily from one relative to another.
Using personal memories to touch upon the universal, is something Shwan Dler Qaradaki has mastered through many films. Working with the refugee experience and post-traumatic stress may require the articulation of rage and despair, but also glimpses of comfort and hope. The watercolour paintings are seldom animated, but instead left quietly gliding across the screen, like frozen moments in time. Occasional movement comes from family videos and landscape shots, like the blue tramway of Oslo or a children’s playground. One drawing shows the mother carrying a heavy load, while a tiny aircraft is crossing the sky far above her head – a symbol of the distance between Norway and Kurdistan.
What impresses me the most is how easily relatable the protagonist’ yearning is, even for someone who has never had to leave their country of birth. Through subtle means we are made to empathize, not only with the son’s feelings, but with the distant call of a mother. The Tattooed Sun is a film about the bond between mother and child, and what happens when it is ultimately severed, not by geographical absence, but existentially, by death. To be orphaned as an adult may make homesickness seem less about geography or culture, and more about the reality of a human embrace. At the core of the story lies the shock of absence, but also a lost connection to home.
Grief and hope
Qaradaki is keen to emphasize that his mother was far from the stereotypically oppressed Muslim woman. Nevertheless, he seems upset on her behalf, because she had to live her entire life in a male-dominated society. He states that when a woman is considered the property of a man, he will get the credit for whatever she achieves. However strong, even his mother would have had to obey her husband. But was she a victim? The film portrays her as anything but. On the contrary, she is referred to as the family chief.
Towards the end of the film we accompany her son to Kurdistan, where he is sitting for days by her death bed. When the mother's heart stops, time holds its breath. The son is close to an anxiety attack, when he tries to feel her pulse, but only hears his own. His self-portrait stares at us from the screen, eyes rounded by horror. He cries at her funeral, not only from grief, but from a feeling of guilt. It is the simple, banal guilt of not having obeyed her wish to come home earlier. Her pain is only lately becoming clear to him, after he himself became a father. Finally, he cries for himself, and the new loneliness he feels.
But in the end life goes on. And there is still much to hope for.