Skip to content

Hayv Kahraman

Hayv Kahraman

Ten pairs of brown eyes with black unibrows organized in two columns along a tree branch-like structure
Ten pairs of brown eyes with black unibrows organized in two columns along a tree branch-like structure

The ICA SF presents Hayv Kahraman’s (b. Baghdad, Iraq) largest museum solo exhibition to date, premiering new techniques and large-scale installations. Informed by her own experience as an Iraqi refugee in Sweden, pressured to assimilate quickly in order to prove herself “worthy” of staying, Kahraman exposes the links between human subjugation and botanical classification. While researching Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, she began to see the insidious colonial hierarchies he embedded into early understandings of plant species. The field of botany itself was propelled by the expansion of empire, and grew by extracting and erasing Indigenous knowledge systems, ultimately re-naming species according to nationalistic white European desires. Kahraman’s new body of work will address this history and propose a radical new relationship with the natural world.

Building on her engagement with land, Kahraman will incorporate marbling techniques as a fluid and anti-colonial gesture. Marbled compositions on linen pay homage to her nomadic Kurdish ancestors, their constant movement through and intimate knowledge of the mountains, and an expanded understanding of home. There is no way to reproduce marbled work – each one is unique. Through this singularity Kahraman’s work refuses to be stolen, appropriated, or claimed. For her, the work screams: “you cannot erase me, you cannot possess me, and even if you try, you can never remake me in your vision.”

Kahraman describes her female figures as extensions of her own body, but not quite self-portraits. They challenge white, Eurocentric ideals and embody a collective experience. Her figures are often twisted, contorted, or detached from their body parts as a metaphor for the sense of detachment refugees feel after leaving their homelands. This “army of fierce women” rejects commodification and eroticization to fight for true liberation and healing.

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. The body as object and subject have a central role in her painting practice as she compositely embodies the artist herself and a collective.

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. Kahraman 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.


Summer 2023


Artist Website & Instagram


Neurobust no 5, 2022 oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles