The trigger was this sonic memory I have of growing up in Baghdad… the sound of the sirens. Whenever we’d be hit by air raids and bombs, etcetera, the siren would start. This was during the Gulf War in Iraq, so in 1991. Come to think of it, I’ve heard that sound throughout my life and childhood… starting when I was four. (Hayv Kahraman)
It’s all a game.
To play, to bring into play, to play with: there is a violence to play, a form of force which destabilizes, engenders new forms of opposition, destabilizes old regimes, gives way to new meaning, or none at all. Foul play: play in the first step in an operation of entropy, a procession of the unexpected, a force set into motion.
The same thrust of metaphysical displacement which might produce joy or adrenaline in the child’s stammering feet, the call of the red rover, or the flag to capture, is rendered the site of terrorizing displacement for the young refugee of war with no home to run to, with bullets to dodge instead of balls, with sirens instead of school bells beaconing them indoors, undercover, or out of sight.
“I think I have always been looking for my nine-year-old self; trying to recall her experience,” states artist Hayv Kahraman, born in Iraq in 1981, exiled from her native country at the tender age of ten years old due to war and persecution, and now resident in Los Angeles. Negotiating the holes in memory which are sites of trauma, Sound Wounds, composed of two graphic ‘game’ boards of moveable pieces, instrumental accompaniments, as well as a video element, invites the viewer to deeply engage these disturbing effects of play, as a reflection of the artist’s visceral recollection of the amoral sonic experience of war from the position of an innocent bystander, victim to the unintended consequences of a traumatic soundscape.
Conceived with both personal and geo-political consequences in mind, the octagonal game pieces portray the artist’s signature, reiterated, pale, raven-haired female figure—blindfolded, hands behind her back, or alternately, grasping the negative space of absent artillery—beside bold geometric textile design, blood-red paint splattering, and icons of explosives or car bombs, which like the poses of the represented women themselves, are lifted directly from US Army issued ‘Cultural Smart cards’, themselves intended as infantry ‘cliff notes’ to Iraqi domination, search, and seizure. As each image on Kahraman’s interactive game boards is moved by the spectator/participant, the screeching echo of the wartime air raid siren, performed by musicians and culled from the artist’s damaged memory, undulates, raises, lowers: growing louder, quieter, harsher, softer, slower, or faster depending on the juxtaposition of each moveable graphic fragment.
War, they say, is a game. The refugee asks: would you like to play?
Brooke Lynn McGowan (New York, August 2016)