Look Me in the Eyes
ICA San Francisco
Installation photo credit: Glen Cheriton, Impart Photography
Vielmetter Los Angeles congratulates Hayv Kahraman on the opening of her solo exhibition Look Me in the Eyes at the ICA San Francisco on view January 16 – May 19, 2024.
Look Me in the Eyes is Hayv Kahraman’s largest solo museum exhibition to date. Featuring all new work, the exhibition continues the powerful visual and conceptual elements that have been tenets of Kahraman’s practice, while also marking a momentous new phase of the artist’s career. Alongside new paintings and never-before-seen large-scale sculptures constructed in layers of marbled brick with painted eyes, Kahraman is introducing her first ever audio installation—a deeply personal work about her family’s refugee experience.
Kahraman’s work is a nuanced balance of autobiographical and collective experiences informed by her own upbringing as an Iraqi/Kurdish refugee in Sweden. Through representations of a woman figure (a near, but not quite self-portrait), Kahraman examines conditions of migration and immigration in the West, exposing the simultaneous hypervisibility and invisibility of othered bodies. Look Me in the Eyes contends with the colonial gaze, pushing against erasure and insisting that we see both these insidious histories and one another.
Three visual elements weave continually throughout Look Me in the Eyes: Kahraman’s signature heavily browed and lidded eyes; botanical imagery; and a newly explored marbling technique. Eyes follow the viewer throughout the exhibition. They hauntingly appear without irises in figures’ faces, speaking to the horrors of government tracking through iris recognition technology and allowing these women a chance of escaping surveillance. Elsewhere, eyes appear fragmented from their bodies on plants or sculptures, meeting the viewer’s gaze and implicating us into the work, and thus into these systems of social and political power structures.
Botanical studies and forms figure throughout Kahraman’s work as a quiet but powerful cipher for colonialism. As foliate imagery crosses the paintings, entwining at times with anatomical forms, Kahraman highlights how Western academics have reclassified indigenous plants, entirely eradicating native knowledge systems in the process. Finally, she ties all of this together through a recently adopted technique of marbling—an artistic mode that has traveled across cultures and eras. This technique for Kahraman is a way of relinquishing control, as she cannot determine the patterns that will emerge from paint and water. Marbling an object or surface renders each one entirely unique, a potential metaphor for resisting assimilation and its insistence on sameness.
Just as the marbled pattern swirls and pools across this exhibition, seemingly disparate themes and artistic approaches entwine to create a profound and cohesive meaning. Look Me in the Eyes weaves intricate layers of Kahraman’s personal explorations and historical research into subjects that connect and overlap, demanding our attention and challenging assumptions of the “other.”
Read more about it here