Rawhide is not necessarily a material we see used often in art. Yet it has become the centrepiece of Iraqi-Swedish artist Hayv Kahraman’s latest exhibition, ‘Extimacy’. Though the 31-year-old describes herself as a ‘clean’ artist, who needs to have ordered space around her in which to work, her content matter is somewhat messier.
She explores women’s identity in societies through a technique that sees her detach body parts in her paintings and then replace them with rawhide inlay. ‘What is expected to be seen as the inside of the body in the work, such as organs, bones and tissue, is exchanged with skin or, in this case, rawhide,’ says the California-based artist.
The works, however, are anything but grotesque. But that’s not for lack of research: Kahraman examined scans and MRIs before taking a three-dimensional scan of her body and cross-sectioning it into quarter horizontal slices, all in the name of her work. Even so, each painting embodies a delicate femininity and the gaping holes act as a subtle, yet beautiful focal point. ‘The inside transforms into the outside, where the skin, a protective shell that once engulfed a living species, is now in the forefront. In reversing these roles I want to blur the boundaries of dichotomous thought of mind/body, self/other, public/private and masculine/feminine.’
Kahraman attributes these interests to her love of social and feminist theory, and says her current inspiration is Australian feminist and academic Elisabeth Grosz’s writing about the body. But her works also comment on the violent aspect of war and what happens to women, both physically and mentally, when they are affected by colonialism or unrest. Here, she explains more about three of her stand-out pieces.
‘These are light boxes made from rawhide – each section represents an individual. The lines protruding outwards end in numbers that represent physical locations on maps; longitude and latitude points. By focusing on these instead of names, I erase linguistic connotations. Behind the skin, a faint structure is drawn based on a system of Islamic medieval tessellation called “Girih”. These geometric lines resemble veins of a living species. Ultimately, these works function as historic infographics of individuals and their lives.’
Exhibition: ‘Extimacy’, until Thursday November 29 at The Third Line, Al Quoz 3 (04 341 1367).
Artist: Hayv Kahraman.
Price of work: Price on request.