New York

Hayv Kahraman: How Iraqi Are You? at Jack Shainman

Hayv Kahraman’s current solo exhibition at Jack Shainman is captivating. A suite of large paintings, produced in 2014 and 2015, shows women in patterned garments interacting within simple architectural forms; Arabic script annotates the figures. The gallery text explains that the works depict “memories from Kahraman’s childhood in Baghdad and as a refugee in Sweden.”

Hayv Kahraman. Barboog, 2014; oil on linen; 108 x 72 in.©Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hayv Kahraman. Barboog, 2014; oil on linen; 108 x 72 in. © Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

The women are suggestive, and refer to other artworks as diverse as Persian miniatures, ukiyo-e prints from Japan, and John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. With their bare, rounded shoulders and graceful hands, they seem poised to seduce, and yet they are completely engaged in their own affairs and thus devoid of affectation and coyness. Most don’t acknowledge the viewer—or when they do, the gaze is direct and the expression is indifferent. Arguably, these figures are interchangeable (the artist photographs herself as a reference, so they all have the same lithe bodies, thick eyebrows, and lambent eyes), but rather than clones, they are like sisters; their expressions and postures are subtly different, from playful and wily to demure, serious, and fierce. Additionally, the intricately patterned clothing implies that the women are merely ornamental, meant for the viewer’s gaze alone, but this is belied by their total absorption in each other.

The scale of the paintings gives the women ample room to inhabit a universe of their own, and the rich colors work beautifully against the background of dull tan. Though the paint is applied to the rough surface of raw linen, each stroke is as crisp and sure as if it were painted on glass, even in the delicate lines that form the Arabic script. The artist’s marks are at their most confident at the perimeter of the women’s hair, where the paint is dry-brushed into airy swoops that give the figures a self-assured grace. Kahraman’s use of negative space in the patterning of the women’s garments is attractive in the original sense of the word; I found myself moving closer and closer to each painting in order to experience the play between flatness and dimensionality.

Hayv Kahraman. Kachakchi, 2015 oil on linen; 79 x 108 in. ©Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hayv Kahraman. Kachakchi, 2015; oil on linen; 79 x 108 in. © Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

The gallery texts include information about Kahraman’s motivations, citing “loss and displacement,” repression, and otherness as the psychological catalysts for this body of work. But the figures in these paintings are not abject. Though the women are visually disconnected—they inhabit a dreamlike space apart from the larger world—they also appear capable and self-sufficient, a feeling that is underscored by their confident and skillful rendering. These women are self-possessed, belonging to a citizenry that extends beyond any inscribed perimeter.

Hayv Kahraman. Person nummer, 2015; oil on linen; 96 x 73 in. ©Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hayv Kahraman. Person Nummer, 2015; oil on linen; 96 x 73 in. © Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hayv Kahraman: How Iraqi Are You? is on view at Jack Shainman through April 4, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

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