Contemporary Iraqi Art

In 2009 I came across the work of Hayv Kahraman at the Saatchi exhibition: Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East. Kahraman was born in Bagdhad in 1981 but now lives and works in Sweden.  She is unusual for a contemporary artist in that she finds a neat balance between the concept and the visual.  Furthermore, she uses beauty rather than ugliness to highlight the oppression, sorrow and tragedy of war which consumes the country of her birth.  Her paintings mostly concern the plight of women, whom she rarely portrays veiled, but instead depicts them dressed in gorgeous gowns with exaggerated heads of hair.  The emphasise placed on their hair, is, I feel, to do with it being such a taboo subject in Iraq.  It is their hair that women must cover at all costs, since traditionally it is said to be attractive to men and could, therefore, divert males from their journey towards paradise.  I greatly appreciate the strength and subtlety present in the messages Kahraman is conveying through her paintings.  Visually they are exquisite, unique in today’s world, but nevertheless connected to tradition.  They seem to have been inspired by Japanese, Persian and Renaissance art, and possibly even the work of artists such as Aubrey Beardsley and Edmund Dulac.

“I am a bird of the heavenly garden

I belong not to the earthly sphere,

They have made for two or three days

A cage of my body”

Jalalu’ddin Rumi

In this poignant image, three women spin in a devotional Sufi dance which they hope will lead them to God. Everything seems to be in order until we notice that they have bird feet. This painting illustrates Rumi’s poem, but takes on a different meaning. Kahraman appears to be suggesting that it is women who are caged on this earth.

The next two images are from a series illustrating the story of the sacrifice of the lamb from the scriptures, celebrated during the festival of Eid al-Adha. Here Kahraman has replaced the male figures with women, drawing attention to the domination of men in this patriarchal religion.

Kahraman explains that she portrays women with a swan-like grace and elegance in order to create a striking juxtaposition to the oppression and suffering that they must endure.

Have a look at Hayv Kahraman’s website:

~ by laxshmirose on May 12, 2010.

3 Responses to “Contemporary Iraqi Art”

  1. Oh, I loved this post, so beautiful and intense. It is nice to see comtemporary art with a deep spiritual content. which in my opinion is lacking so much these days. It touches me even more to see Iraqi art now when the name of this country is so much with a bad conotation in western minds. If art, and specially contemporary one is meant to cause changes of perception or behavior, Kahraman does it so gracefully that I am really impressed. It might be the trace of sweet and silent delicacy we can often see in Arab women.

  2. Very interesting to see what women from such different cultures are doing and express themselves in adverse situations. Like very much the way you describe it!!

  3. Thanks Claudia 🙂 She is a brave woman! If she was living in Iraq then she would not be able to produce those paintings because they would have to be heavily censored.

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