Hayv Kahraman is a leading contemporary artist from the Middle East who draws inspiration from many feminist ideologies. By focusing specifically on the female identity formed internally and externally, Kahraman explores women overburdened by their own culture from the context of her homeland of Iraq. The artist gracefully narrates stories through beautifully poetic paintings, portraying her protagonists with a technique that merges past and present, painterly and cultural traditions that hearken to a range of influences - from Persian and Chinese miniatures, Japanese prints and the Renaissance, to Art Nouveau’s symbolism and European Surrealism. Borrowing from the East and the West, the artist has created a unique and widely admired artistic style.
In the present work, a seemingly decorative and lyrical composition alludes to a wider reality in which the body takes centre stage performing the Kawliya, a form of dance that has been traditionally performed by the gypsy population of Iraq and consists of fast and rhythmic movements of the shoulder, head rolls, and hair flips. Since the Iraq War, this folk dance has progressively become more accepted into Iraqi society. The work's structure as a diptych and the mirrored forms of Kahraman’s subject conceives dualities with multi-layered significance - conceptual contrasts between illusion and reality, and conviviality and seeming dislocation.
The ideas of translation and journey are examined through the work’s aesthetics-- the movement and separation between the two women reflect the roles enacted when a person migrates between two or more languages and cultures and the movement from one place into a different context. These are themes central to Kahraman’s own preoccupations as part of the Iraqi diaspora, having fled Iraq at the age of eleven following the first Gulf War. Kahraman’s highly polished painting technique is emphasised by the juxtaposition of wooden board and painted patterns, which enhance a sense of spatial illusion. The figures here are mirrored, intertwined at the arm to their reflected selves, with inversions of patterned or plain ground in opposite areas. The notion of attachment to familiar space and dislocation is played with and Kahraman subtly questions the role occupied by women in societies worldwide. As if suspended in time, the figures float and yet support and are empowered by each other. While the underlying issues of gender and diaspora remain as catalysts in her work, Kahraman explores the body as a cultural construct and rethinks the bond between body and space. Her style is infused with rich cultural inheritance and her observation of the contemporary world.
Kahraman’s work is held in numerous international collections, including the Barjeel Art Foundation, UAE; MATHAF: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar; the British Museum, UK; San Diego Museum of Art, USA; The Rubell Family Collection, Miami, USA and the Birmingham Museum of Art, USA. Recent solo exhibitions include Hayv Kahraman: Superfluous Bodies, Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii, USA, 2019; Hayv Kahraman: Displaced Choreographies, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, UK, 2019, and group exhibitions include MASS Moca, Massachusetts, USA, 2019; the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2017, 2012 and the Thessaloniki Biennial 5, Greece, 2015. In 2011, the artist was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize at the Victoria & Albert Museum and has received the “Excellence in Cultural Creativity” award from the Global Thinkers Forum.