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  • Writer's pictureClaudio Fibonacci

Confronting the Shadows: A Deep Dive into Hayv Kahraman’s Breakthrough Show at ICA SF


In a Breakthrough Show at ICA SF, Hayv Kahraman Stares Down Her Demons

In a Breakthrough Show at ICA SF, Hayv Kahraman Stares Down Her Demons

Introduction to Hayv Kahraman’s “Look Me in the Eyes”

About a year ago, the artist Hayv Kahraman embarked on a journey with marbling, a technique ancient in origin but completely new to her. This exploration led to her largest solo museum show to date, “Look Me in the Eyes,” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in San Francisco.

The Fascination with Marbling

Kahraman’s deep dive into marbling’s history and methods revealed a process that demands relinquishing control. This lack of control is mirrored in the spontaneity of her work, marking a departure from her usually meticulously rendered paintings.

Exploring Themes of Identity and Resistance

Beyond marbling, Kahraman delves into colonial botany and its oppressive classifications, drawing parallels to the unjust taxonomies imposed on humans, especially migrants and minorities. These themes of identity, resistance, and the quest for autonomy are vividly woven into her exhibition.

Main Attractions of the Exhibition

Signature Pieces

  1. Love Me Love Me Not: A provocative piece featuring women interacting with a flower-like object in a manner that challenges traditional representations of femininity.

  2. Eyeris: A stormy scene where a figure is about to insert an eyeball, symbolizing the desire to see and be seen on one’s own terms.

Symbolism and Technique

Kahraman’s use of disembodied eyes and the removal of irises serves as a powerful metaphor for resistance against being categorized or controlled. This symbolism extends to her technique of layering marbled backgrounds with hand-painted figures, blurring the lines between background and foreground, self and other.

Addressing the Past and Present

The exhibition is not only a visual feast but also a profound commentary on identity, migration, and resistance. Kahraman’s personal history as a refugee and her reflections on biology, racism, and the human desire for control enrich the narrative woven through her artworks.

Highlight: Oppressed Plants

In a poignant gesture towards reclaiming identity, Kahraman focuses on “oppressed plants” native to Iraq, challenging the hierarchies imposed by colonial botany. These plants are not only featured in her paintings but also in an immersive wallpaper design, enveloping viewers in her narrative.

Connecting with Personal History

A deeply moving element of the show is the inclusion of a 1997 recording of Kahraman’s late mother, underscoring the exhibition’s themes of identity, recognition, and the human struggle for autonomy.

Conclusion: A Journey Towards Acceptance

Hayv Kahraman’s “Look Me in the Eyes” is more than an art exhibition; it’s a manifesto of resistance, a reclamation of identity, and a profound exploration of the human condition. Through the medium of marbling, Kahraman teaches us the beauty of surrendering control, embracing imperfection, and the continuous journey towards self-acceptance.

Visit “Look Me in the Eyes” at ICA SF, 901 Minnesota Street in San Francisco, through May 19, 2024, to witness this groundbreaking exhibition for yourself.

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