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Moody’s new exhibit examines ‘The Foreign in Us’

Kahraman’s exhibit features a variety of paintings evoking vulnerability and the human body. Ahitagni Das / Thresher

By Thomas Pickell     1/16/24 9:34pm

Hayv Kahraman’s solo exhibit, “The Foreign in Us,” debuted at the Moody Center for the Arts Jan. 12. Consisting of over 40 drawings and paintings, the newest exhibit tackles themes of identity and belonging, framed through Kahraman’s personal experience as a refugee grappling with themes of isolation, migration, colonization and fear.

Kahraman, an Iraqi-Kurdish artist, has been featured in numerous American and European museums. Forced to flee from her home at a young age due to the Gulf War, Kahraman became intimately familiar with the struggles of isolation and non-belonging that populate her works. These themes permeate over two decades of works using paintings, drawings and various other media through which she spreads her message.

Frauke Josenhans, a curator at the Moody, said that acquisition and organization of the collection began several years ago. Pieces have been borrowed from numerous collections in an effort to convey Kahraman’s message of overcoming cultural isolation and adaptation.

“She went through … trying to assimilate, to adapt. It was a very violent experience for her that stayed with her,” Josenhans said. “That experience of displacement [is] certainly something a lot of people can relate to.” 

In the central gallery, four large paintings are prominently displayed. Within them, human figures are depicted in vulnerable positions. Layered atop these figures are smatterings of Ebru, a Turkish marbling technique, and the backgrounds are enhanced with intricate geometric patterns.

Entering the Brown Foundation gallery reveals a few dozen more paintings and drawings. Figures sprawled over canvas hang across from walls of paneled mirrors, inviting observers to identify with the vulnerability of the paintings.

“I was thinking about what it means to bend so violently, yet not break and not feel pain,” Kahraman said. 

Josenhans believes that despite the artist’s exceptional life story, the exhibit is grounded through Kahraman’s frequent use of the human form.

“Although her experience is extremely personal and it’s hard for someone to understand who didn’t go through the same experience of being a refugee, she presents this experience through the human body,” Josenhans said. “She shows human bodies … in ways that are extremely powerful.”

Various texts around the collection explain the themes conveyed, in addition to QR codes than scan to audio files, allowing guests to listen to Kahraman’s own explanations of her work. Maddie Garrity, president of the Moody Student collaborative, said she hopes that students will connect with themes and sentiments that Kahraman aims to capture. 

“She talks about her experiences … experiencing otherness and cultural isolation,” Garrity, a Hanszen College junior, said. “I think that’s something probably a lot of Rice students can connect with. Just being able to see her reflections and her experience will help you feel maybe less alone … and kind of help people figure things out.”

Garrity said she also appreciates the degree of dedication and academic experience that Kahraman puts into her pieces.

“She’s done a lot of research in microbiology and immunology, and she … pulls from that when creating some of her pieces to look at how your experiences inform your microbiology,” Garrity explained. “I think it’s really cool how science and art interact [in her work].”

Josenhans said she hopes that students will be able to use “The Foreign in Us” as a looking-glass through which to evaluate their struggles, and that they may each see it through the lens of their own cultures and frames of reference.

“Someone from Italy will see some Renaissance postures in the paintings, someone who comes from Japan may see some calligraphy or Japanese wood cuts, someone from the United States may see some abstract expressionist brush strokes,” Josenhans said. “I think people will really find different ways to connect with these paintings and drawings.”

Hayv Kahraman’s solo exhibit, titled “The Foreign in Us,” debuted at the Moody Center for the Arts Jan. 12. Kahraman’s art is centered in her refugee identity and explores themes of isolation and migration. Ahitagni Das / Thresher

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