Los Angeles-based artist Hayv Kahraman creates exquisite figurative paintings on large linen panels that depict a singular woman with iridescent pale skin and inky black hair. Frequently presented in a group of identical female figures, the woman often appears nude or clad in shawls decorated with Islamic geometric patterns. The artist borrows from a multiplicity of styles, including Persian miniatures, Japanese illustrations, and Italian Renaissance paintings in the composition of the woman’s poses and appearance, creating a discourse between Eastern “otherness” and Western concepts of beauty.
In her most recent work, Kahraman has incorporated a weaving technique drawn from the Iraqi hand-woven fans called mahaffa—one of her few family heirlooms. In the new series, she intentionally cuts into her canvases—her painted body—and then weaves in fragments of other shredded, or dismembered, paintings, creating newly “mended” representations of female bodies and “healed” memories of past trauma.
Kahraman’s paintings take on themes of violence and involuntary migration as she processes her childhood in the war-torn country of Iraq and her adolescence in Sweden as a refugee. While Kahraman’s work is intertwined with the histories of the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars, it is also invested in the idea of feminine collectivity, identity, belonging, and diasporic cultural memory. For Kahraman, the figure she paints represents herself as a colonized woman. Through the body of this woman, the repetitive nature of her work, and the act of shredding and mending, Kahraman grapples with a history of displacement, loss, memory, and trauma.