Hayv Kahraman is one of the leading feminist contemporary artists of the Middle East, focusing specifically on their identity formation that is both internally and externally overburdened within their own culture by a cycle of war and violence. The artist narrates these stories gracefully through her beautifully poetic paintings of women, with a technique that merges past and present painterly and cultural traditions that hearken to Persian and Chinese miniatures, Japanese prints, the Renaissance, Art Nouveau’s symbolism and European surrealism. Borrowing from the East and the West, the artist creates an indefinite yet precise painterly style.
The present piece, a ravishing example of Kahraman’s talent, portraying the elegant and melancholic women with a demure grace. With their delicate emotionless faces and fashionable looks, the women reveal the diversity of Kahraman's cultural inheritance. This is particularly seen in the fabrics that the artist re-creates in this piece, displaying both the traditional Islamic patterns and European motifs such as the fleur-de-lis. Her highly polished painting technique is emphasised by the juxtaposition of wooden board and the painted patterns, which enhance a sense of spatial illusion. Kahraman places her characters on a clear, empty background, emphasising on the attachment to her own familiar space. Through her delicate works, the artist subtly questions the role occupied by women in societies worldwide while she evokes her own preoccupations as an artist in diaspora.
The use of female subjects in her work are oftentimes depicted floating within an empty space in the composition, dislocated and depending on each other to carry themselves, as if they were puppets held up by strings and manipulated by their masters. Taking the main framework of the female body from her own, Kahraman poses in various positions in her studio, transposing these this into sketches, and ultimately paintings. These multi-layered, emotionally powerful women uphold a graceful demure, with swanlike bodily features that include milky-white skin tones, elongated black hair and red lips. Using the body as a vehicle to explore difficult, harsh and extremely violent subjects, Kahraman depicts these women’s faces and bodies as themselves erased, dislocated, and suspending in time and space — motionless and timeless —, a painful symbol of the loss and displacement she has felt since fleeing Iraq.
Yet in this piece, The Kawliya Dance, the women are surprisingly not only in motion, but displaying their bodies’ physical and expressive capacity through dance. Kawliya is a form of dance that has been traditionally been performed by the gypsy population of Iraq — at times associated with the lower socio-economic level of society — and consists of fast and rhythmic movements of the shoulder, head rolls, and hair flips. Since the Iraq War, this folk dance has, however, progressively become more accepted in Iraqi society. In the present lot, the four women are performing a different stage of the dance, displayed through their expressive body language and the movement of their long and black hair, making this piece becomes a statement vis-à-vis female empowerment at times of distress, and a calling for women to use their bodies as a vehicle for liberation. This intrepid work is a testament to the artist’s audaciousness in amalgamating numerous cultural references across time and socio-economic levels, resulting in riveting and enthralling works that are equally beautiful as sagacious.
Following the first Gulf War, the artist Hayv Kahraman fled Iraq with her family at the age of 11, immigrating to Sweden with her mother and sister and living in a refugee camp by the way of Ethiopia, Yemen and Germany. She then attended the Academy of Art and Design in Florence, studying traditional Renaissance techniques and later pursuing web design at Sweden’s University of Umeå. Upon moving to Arizona in 2006, Kahraman’s childhood memories of growing up during the Iran-Iraq war and the psychological problems of living in a diaspora poured out of her and onto her works on tightened linen. While the underlying questions of diaspora and gender have always been catalysts in her work, Kahraman's paintings are filled with an essence of feminism and grace. By doing so, Kahraman focuses on the controversies of semiotics, forcing the viewer to reflect upon aspects one otherwise would refuse to see. Kahraman has enjoyed a very successful career, having had solo shows in the UK, the UAE, Turkey, Qatar, Sweden, and across the US. In 2011, the artist was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize at the Victoria and Albert Museum and has received the “Excellence in Cultural Creativity” award from the Global Thinkers Forum.