Kayla Gifford, a third-year in sculpture, and her husband, Ronnie Khoder, at their house on Jan. 13. Credit: Ethan Clewell | Senior Reporter.

Kayla Gifford has interpreted multiple issues from western interference in Iraq in her art by drawing inspiration from her relationship with her husband, Ronnie Khoder, who hails from Mosul, Iraq.

Gifford, a third-year in sculpture at Ohio State, said she doesn’t consider herself an expert on the topics she interprets — everything she creates is influenced by her personal experience of the marriage of American and Iraqi culture.

“I’m so ignorant. I have been born into middle-class privilege,” Gifford said. “The work is coming from a place in me that’s just desperately needing to understand and learn.”

Gifford currently is showing her series called “Memory Boxes,” a visual and auditory representation comparing the couple’s life experiences, at the Urban Arts Space as a part of the 27th Annual Ferguson Scholarship Award, a competition open to all design and studio-based visual art majors at Ohio State.

Gifford said the differences were stark, mainly in their experience with death. For Khoder, growing up surrounded by war, he said death was a normal part of society.

Gifford’s first time encountering death wasn’t until her grandfather’s funeral.  

“It was a way of me trying to understand [Khoder’s] experiences and connect them to something that I understood,” Gifford said.

Another project based on Gifford’s marriage, “Cultural Capitals,” consists of two plastered domes connected by red threads and interiors modeled after her and Khoder’s hometowns. One is shaped like the Columbia Capital building in Columbia, South Carolina, near Gifford’s hometown, and the other is modeled after the inside of Baghdad’s capital building.

Gifford’s sculpture “Cultural Capitals” hangs in the air at the Sherman Studio Art Center in Columbus. Credit: Courtesy of Kayla Gifford

Gifford said she wanted to make the two domes look like they were moments from colliding into each other, and she focused on the spaces between the collisions.

She said the red strings represent their relationship, and how they successfully maintain it although their backgrounds are so different.

In another project for a digital printing class, she was inspired by the biblical tale of Judah, a man who was told by God to save the city of Nineveh, which was located near current-day Mosul.

Gifford’s take depicts Judah on a tank with the American flag in the background, surrounded by people weeping for their city.

“The whole work is just connected to what’s going on in Nineveh now,” Khoder said.

Gifford said their relationship, despite their different upbringings, is stronger together through the artwork.

“We are not talking about this concept of peace in the Middle East. It’s peace in the Middle East at our dinner table,” Gifford said.