School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Kaziwa Salih

PhD candidate, Cultural Studies

Kaziwa Salih

Kaziwa Salih

Translating Experience Through Research and Creativity

by Dinah Jansen, July 2017

“Think loudly, share broadly,” Kaziwa Salih beams as she reflects on her greatest passions-her love of learning, and her desire to give voices to the voiceless.

A second-year PhD candidate in Cultural Studies, Salih’s research combines cultural theory and genocide studies to explore interconnections between the everyday culture of ordinary people and state policies.  She also seeks to advance knowledge of power relations within the structures of human behaviour.

Salih’s inspirations are deeply personal.  Born in Iraqi Kurdistan, she witnessed violence during the Kurdish Genocide. She experienced further victimization when she moved to Toronto in 2003 because, as her research makes explicit, cultures of violence are transmitted between generations and across national boundaries.

Her experiences motivate her work ethic: “I’m an intensive worker,” Salih says, noting that her experience occupies most facets of her research and creative work.

Salih’s experiences and passion for research has also found outlets and accolades in creative culture and activism.  She has edited two Kurdish magazines, written 12 fiction and non-fiction books, and she won the Amita Festival Award for Literature in Italy and the Naguib Mahfouz Award for the Novel and Short Story from Egypt’s Nagham Institute.  In 2014, Salih was appointed PEN Writer-in-Residence at George Brown College.

Her interest in Yazidi women captured and enslaved by ISIS in Northern Iraq in 2014 has also found outlets in her numerous presentations, her work with Amnesty International and the Board of the United Nations Association in Canada.  Salih also founded and now chairs the Canada Anti-Genocide Project.

Soon, Salih’s work will take her abroad once more.  This summer, she will go to Paris, France to conduct further research thanks to the David Edney Research Travel Award, which she won through an annual Faculty of Arts and Science competition.

“I’m very busy with research,” Salih remarks, which she admits makes it difficult for her to finish several ongoing fictional works.  But she continues to cultivate that crucial graduate work-life balance.

“Finding a balance is key,” she says, but it’s a challenge Salih is ever keen to accept.

“Academic work can make things too realistic and disconnected from the fictional world.” In her view, experience is best expressed though imagination, not academic theories or methodology.

Salih’s graduate research brings a critical new analytical lens to the scholarship on genocide, but her creative work also give voices to the voiceless. She consistently casts Yazidi women, children, and everyday victimized peoples into her stories in ways that further illuminate Kurdish culture, society, politics, and violence more broadly.

Salih credits the Cultural Studies program for enabling interaction with diverse colleagues working on interdisciplinary topics.

“You learn so much from other people and their perspectives on culture, however one perceives it.”

Indeed, culture has no precise definition, as Salih explains.  “I would describe culture as an umbrella that addresses all the aspects of human life and human nature.”

In this regard, Salih believes we all have different views of culture and we all have unique things to contribute to it.  Culture, “is not only a broad field of study, it is everywhere.”

This is good news for anyone interested in doing research in the Cultural Studies program. “There is a space for you here,” Salih emphatically states, since “all topics and interests can be related to or traced back to culture in some way.”

“What is important,” she suggests, is that students “find their own perspectives, their own approaches, and eventually make their own mark.”

Kaziwa Salih standing in front of rows of tombstones, with a theme park visible in the background.