x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hayv Kahraman takes new direction in latest show

In an exhibition at The Third Line gallery, the painter appears more at ease with her brush.

You can always spot a work by Hayv Kahraman: ethereal, long-necked women dominate the world she presents in her painted pieces - often precisely painted onto panels of polished wood.

In her latest show, Extimacy, at The Third Line, however, Kahraman darts off in a different direction. There's an installation piece, lightboxes and work inked directly on to rawhide skins in among the painted panels of those familiar, bewitching ladies.

Yet her painterly style has moved on significantly. Where once these women held austere, marionette-like poses, here Kahraman appears a lot more at ease with her brush. "I think transition is inevitable for an artist, but I feel almost formally looser with paint," says Kahraman, who was nominated for the Victoria and Albert Museum's Jameel Prize last year. "I'm always attracted to composition, details and keeping the form tight. But I'm now interested in playing with the opposite of that, or at least mixing the two aesthetics."

Her characters sport unibrows of almost Qajar-era ferocity; their expressions are beatific rather than morose and there's a greater languidness to their lilt.

At the heart of this new body of work is a penetrative look at the uncomfortable, material fact of our bodies. "I woke up one day, looked at myself in the mirror and thought how does it actually look inside there," says Kahraman. She had her entire body digitally scanned into a 3D render and then cross-sectioned that render into 542 individual slices.

The subjects now hold these slices across their bodies, concealing its outer form yet revealing its innards. One figure holds a heart-shaped form across her collarbone, another holds two oval muscles shaped over her thighs.

The effect is made all the more visceral by the rawhide material that Kahraman has worked into her paintings to shape the internal slices. "I contacted a place in Texas where they skin the animal, wash and dehair it, and then freeze it. So when it first arrives it's very graphic and really looks like skin."

The skin itself, she suggests, carries its former owner's brutal end in its surface. "All the little imperfections, scars and bumps of the skin can still be seen. What most interests me is the violent aspect of what had happened to this material before it came to my studio."

With this in mind, Kahraman explains that Extimacy is an examination of the experience of a refugee. "If you were to look at these images online, you might just look at these body sections as flesh, you don't go further or ask who does this body belong to. That idea resonates with me as a refugee," says the artist, who left Iraq at age 11 and now lives and works in the US. "It makes me think of a diasporic people - those who have lost a territorial location." Disembodying the self into 542 individual parts strips the body of its collective unity, its life and its cultural signifiers - it becomes, in some sense, like rawhide rather than parts of a living body.

This idea extends on to the lightboxes that Kahraman has made, in which she's stretched hide like canvas and painted a grisly cross-section of the cranium on to its surface. It's the interior of the body laid bare. We see the softened two halves of the brain, the gaping eye sockets.

It's tough, visceral work by Kahraman, that bears flashes of influence from the exactitude of detail found in old anatomical drawings of the sort she pored over in preparation for this uncomfortable look at herself.

Until November 29 at The Third Line, Dubai. Visit www.thethirdline.com or call 04 341 1367