As a refugee who fled Iraq when she was only a child, Hayv Kahraman raises questions about her identity and origins in her work. Being very young when she left her native country, she was abruptly cut off from her own language and culture. Her paintings are a recording of this separation from her origins, the sense of alienation from one’s roots
and the yearning to reconnect with them. In the exhibition, Kahraman presents paintings from a series titled How Iraqi are You? (2014-2015). These oil on linen works include figurative elements but also texts that are based on personal memories from growing up in Baghdad as well as tongue twisters, aphorisms, typical Iraqi words and stories of existing as a refugee in Sweden. The Arabic script appears in two colours: black to narrate the story and red as commentary, a practice directly derived from the Maqamat al Hariri, a 12th century Arabic illuminated manuscript containing stories about ordinary Iraqis in the Diaspora. In these works, Kahraman has adopted some of the formal qualities of the old Maqamat illustrations, such as colour, structure and composition. Like the Maqamat illustrations, most of her works don’t show a background, as the artist doesn’t want to define a context. She wants her figures to be in constant flux, floating, neither here nor there, not unlike her own position in the Diaspora. Language also plays an important part in her paintings. In Her Name is Gun (2015), for example, the title has several linguistic associations. “Gun”, refers to a firearm in English,
in Swedish it is a common name for a woman while in Kurdish it means testicles, leaving us with the question how to relate the different readings. For the texts that accompany the images, Kahraman
had to re-learn how to write, read and speak what she calls her “amputated mother tongue.” In making these works she had to search for her 9 year old self, who spoke and wrote fluent Arabic. Her paintings are thus highly personal narratives that recall a stolen past. They reflect her experience of being expelled from her homeland and the necessity
to integrate into a new culture. They form a way to restore the history one is afraid to forget. At the same time, they poignantly reflect the constant feeling of otherness, of neither being “here” nor “there”, of ultimately belonging nowhere, that are part and parcel of the migratory condition.