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Kawliya 1 (work of art)

Artwork Info

Hayv Kahraman
96 x 48 in.
(243.8 x 121.9 cm)
Oil on linen


Purchased with funds from the bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie, by exchange.


Key Ideas

  • The figures in Hayv Kahraman’s paintings are influenced by women in Japanese scroll paintings and Renaissance masterpieces. The textile patterns reveal her familiarity with Persian miniatures, Arabic calligraphy, and Islamic mosaics.
  • Kahraman’s work reflects upon issues of gender, identity, and her cultural experiences and traditions. 
  • Kahraman photographs herself in different poses and costumes, then uses these photographs as inspiration for the figures in her paintings. 
  • Kawliya is a traditional Iraqi dance that originated with the nomadic people of the same name, who are known throughout the Middle East for their talents in music and dance.

Learn More

Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman’s personal history—her family life, memories, and experiences as a Middle Eastern woman—inform her paintings. Her work focuses on the female body and its political and social significance. Born in Baghdad in 1981, her family fled Iraq during the Gulf War and found refuge in Sweden, where she grew up and learned to paint. Kahraman moved to Florence, Italy to study graphic design and now lives in the United States. Due to her worldwide movement and displacement, a variety of artistic influences can be seen in her work. Many figures in her art are portrayed with thick, dark hair, showing her interest in the women in Japanese scroll paintings. The exaggerated long necks of her figures reveal her time in Italy studying Renaissance and Mannerist masterpieces (e.g. Madonna of the Long Neck). The textile patterns in her paintings show her familiarity with Persian illustrations, Arabic calligraphy, and Islamic mosaic work. The combination of these traditions in her art show Kahraman’s interest in her personal history and identity. In the artist’s words, “When I went [back] to Iraq, I felt like a tourist. In Sweden, I’m a tourist and here [in the USA] I am definitely a tourist. The merging of cultures in my art is a search for identity. I’ve never had a home.”

The female figures in Kahraman’s work have a biographical starting point as well: each figure is based on photographs that the artist takes of herself in various poses and costumes, which are later translated into painting. “I use my body as the primary tool,” she notes. Each woman in her final works has, then, a similar appearance—fleshy and graceful, with striking features, almost translucent or glowing skin, and elegant stances, all with a serene yet distant look on their faces.  

Kawliya is a traditional Iraqi dance that originated with the nomadic people of the same name, throughout the Middle East for their talents in music and dance. Having experienced this dance as a young girl, Kahraman has long celebrated this memory as a touchstone to her childhood.

Additional Resources

Hayv Kahraman

Hayv Kahraman’s artist website with a biography, images of her work, and interviews.


National Public Radio (NPR)

NPR article about Hayv Kahraman and the influences of semi-autobiographical artworks.



  • Kawliya 1