Hayv Kahraman Hayv Kahraman, photographic portrait, 2019.


ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hayv Kahraman as part of our Artist Spotlight.

Hayv Kahraman was born in Baghdad, Iraq 1981, now lives and works in Los Angeles. A vocabulary of narrative, memory and dynamics of non-fixity found in diasporic cultures are the essence of her visual language and the product of her experience as an Iraqi refugee/come émigré. The body as object and subject have a central role in her painting practice as she compositely embodies the artist herself and a collective.

ArteEast: What has your practice focused on during the past five years? 

Hayv Kahraman: I’ve been increasingly interested in ideas of embodied invisibilities related to and stemming from the modern colonial world. So questions like what does it mean to be culturally hypervisible through your skin yet publicly invisible? How is the marginalized body, whether it be racialized or gendered, produced, perceived and embodied? What does it mean to be an Other and how is this Other fetishized and made into a spectacle?       

AE: How have you evolved or changed your work with the challenges and/ or opportunities of the past few years in the contemporary global art world?

HK: It can be easy to get swept away by hot trends so I find that the best way to deal with the outside “art world” is to stay close to who I am. I am connected to the dialogue but I also like to stay out of the who’s who and what’s what and maintain that distance. 

AE: What are you currently working on or considering? 

HK: For the last 2 years I’ve been working on painting contorted bodies as an expression of Otherness and spectacle. When Covid 19 hit I needed to really think about what I wanted to say and how to respond to the current moment. My research developed into looking at biopolitical terms of immunitary defense. Ideas like what does it mean when a body is immune? Is the body a fortress, untouchable or impenetrable to foreign threat? Can the borders and boundaries of our epidermis be fixed and closed to outside enemies? And why is Trump declaring himself a wartime president? This new body of work is an attempt to shatter the boundaries of skin and to question the apparatus and semantics of immunity and “immune systems.” A calling to perhaps think about reframing the militaristic language in epidemiology and the notion of an immune system as a homogenous, fixed entity with delineated borders.     

And so if we lay a framework of migrant consciousness upon the rhetoric seen in immunology, in which the relationship of self and other is rigid and absolute, not only do we clearly see how this perpetuates divisions of marginalized and racialized people but it also sows the seeds in which dehumanization is accepted. I have personally felt this as a refugee in a foreign land. Like a virus to be expelled, tamed, colonized and ultimately eradicated. Can we perhaps acknowledge the porosity in our skins and reach towards what Cohen (2009) terms a “commune system” in which a radical shift of coexistence is enacted? 

Within this framework I’m also looking at our obsession with antibodies. Your body develops antibodies after you’re subjected to something “foreign” and so in a way Anti-bodies act as a bridge between the foreign and the self. They also have a very stoic molecular form of the Y shape which I’ve been introducing in the paintings as a shape that appears in the background as well as the foreground, in which the figure lays and in certain areas is disseminated into this colossal Y. 

AE: How, if at all, have you been making use of this time of self-isolation? Have there been any creative gains or challenges? 

HK: It’s been a rollercoaster for me. When the pandemic first erupted I was consumed by the numbers of deaths. I stopped working and was obsessed with checking the news every 10 minutes looking up the casualties. This persisted for the first 2 weeks until my body literally collapsed. It was all-consuming and I had to force myself to stop. I shifted gears and started heavily researching the history of pandemics and more specifically ideas surrounding immunity in biopolitical terms. I’ve since discovered a lot of inspiring writing that has led to the production of a new body of work as described above.   

AE: What have you given thought to doing or creating once the global pandemic subsides?

HK: I will most likely continue this line of thought taking into consideration that we are living in wavering times, in which hopefully marginalized voices will gain more importance and so it becomes essential to act in this very moment.


Website: https://hayvkahraman.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hayvkahraman

Kahraman’s recent solo exhibitions include; “Acts of Reparation“, CAM St Louis; “Audible Inaudible“, Joslyn Museum of Art, Omaha; “Sound Wounds“, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; “Gendering Memories of Iraq- a Collective Performance” which has been staged at CAM St Louis, Birmingham Museum of Art, Nelson-Atkins museum of art and Duke University; “Reweaving Migrant Inscriptions” Jack Shainman, New York; “Audible Inaudible“, The Third Line gallery, Dubai; “How Iraqi are you?“, Jack Shainman, New York. Recent group exhibitions include: “No Man’s Land: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection”, Miami; “UNREALISM: Presented by Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch”, Miami Design District; “June: A Painting Show”, Sadie Coles HQ, London. Hayv was shortlisted for the 2011 Jameel Prize at the Victoria and Albert Museum and has received the award “Excellence in Cultural Creativity”, Global Thinkers Forum.