Hayv Kahraman’s new works from her How Iraqi Are You? series explore her experiences as an Iraqi immigrant and reevaluate her current position in relation to her cultural heritage.
Hayv’s new body of work references the Maqamat Al-Hariri, a set of illuminated manuscripts from the 12th century that depicted daily life in Baghdad. She manipulates her own visual vocabulary – including the characteristic women with sharp features and voluminous hairstyles – into this historical technique to tell stories, real and fictive, formed from memories of her childhood in Iraq and her family’s flight to Sweden during the First Gulf War. They become a recording of her disassociation with her culture and a yearning to reconnect with it. The process of writing the text in the works adds an embodied, performative aspect to the work as she is actively relearning how to write her language and speak her mother tongue.
Derivative of the manuscripts’ formal aspects, its style and composition, the text is divided in colour – black to narrate the story and red as commentary. The texts in the works vary from personal memories from growing up in Baghdad, to tongue twisters, aphorisms, idiomatic Iraqi lexicon and stories of existing as a refugee in Sweden.
The title of the work Test Your Iraqiness, for instance, comes from a test Hayv found on social media and which actually formed the impetus for the series. Questions asked in the test included “You know you’re Iraqi when someone says the word Baghdad, everyone cries” and “You use words like Barboug, Zaknaboot etc.”, the latter referring to swear words in colloquial Iraqi Arabic. The content ranged from funny and sad to political, something the artist found interesting in terms of categorizing an identity.
The Translator, on a more personal note, is inspired from Hayv’s mother’s experience as a translator between incoming refugees and aid workers in Sweden. In the middle of trying to resolve a conflict one of the new migrants asked, are you with us or with them? – a difficult and unsettling question in the moment.
Hayv also draws on linguistic parallels of the languages that formed a major part of her life as an Iraqi and then as an immigrant. Her Name Is Gun is a play on words: Gun is obviously a weapon in the English language, but in the Swedish language it is a common name for a woman and in the Kurdish language it means testicles.
Hayv Kahraman was born in Baghdad, Iraq 1981. She lives and works in Los Angeles, USA and is a graduate of the Academy or Art and Design in Florence, Italy. The body as object and as subject has a central function within Hayv’s work. Kahraman is represented artist at The Third Line, a Dubai based art gallery that represents contemporary Middle Eastern artists locally, regionally and internationally. The Third Line also hosts non-profit, alternative programs to increase interest and dialogue in the region.
Images courtesy of the artist and The Third Line.