The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Visual artist and UI lecturer aims to share self-expression of femininity

Ali Hval paints to please and sculpts to express, creating a hot pink Barbie world of femininity with her work.
Grace Smith
Artist and University of Iowa lecturer in painting and drawing Ali Hval works in her studio at the UI Visual Arts Building in Iowa City on Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. Hval earned her MFA from the University of Iowa in Painting and Drawing and her BFA in Painting from the University of Alabama. Hval’s work —inspired by jewelry and artists like Polly Apfelbaum and Rose Nestler—combines fabrics, painting, and ceramic to create what comes to mind and to reflect on political messages about one’s body. Hval said people will look at her work and say “‘Oh it’s just a charm bracelet,’ and then they look closer and it’s like ‘Oh, there’s something else there.’”

From sculptures to murals to installations, Iowa City is a hub of diverse public art. One of the creators behind some of the most iconic local murals is Ali Hval.

She started creating art to express her femininity.

“I was always [told] you should dress this way, you should behave this way, and you shouldn’t do this or this service until you’re married,” Hval said. Her sculpture work is influenced by the patriarchy she experienced while growing up in Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.

Hval began her artistry with painting, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Alabama. Afterward, Hval pursued her Master of Fine Arts in painting at the University of Iowa.

Hval only started painting murals during graduate school as a summer job, but the wall art soon became what she’s known for.

Most notably, she is the artist behind the mural and light installation adorning the entrance to local bar Studio 13 as well as the “Live Music” mural on the side of Elray’s Live & Dive. In 2022, Hval created the “Scribble Lights” exhibit of multi-colored lights wrapped around the tree trunks lining the Pedestrian Mall, and painted the temporary “Konnexion Blue Flames Mural,” on South Linn Street in 2020.

While Hval loves creating public art, her interdisciplinary sculpture work is where her heart lies.

“A lot of my art is based around this idea of what you should be as a woman,” Hval said. “[Compared to] the South, what I’m experiencing now in Iowa City is a much more open definition of who you can be.”

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Hval’s sculptures take the form of bedazzled, traditionally feminine objects, but most of her pieces are more ambiguous than discernible feminine items. Her abstract approach to the theme challenges the viewer to think about all feminine experiences, including those of a sex worker or a stay-at-home mother.

“Matchmaker,” one of Hval’s sculptures, displays a hot-pink fringe sleeping mask with a glittery fabric chain hanging from the sides and black candles sitting atop the mask bent to look like horns.

“I want my art to look beautiful, like a sparkly Barbie Dream House, but, up close, feel a little more sinister,” Hval said. “They’re commenting on something more serious.”

Furthermore, Hval aims to comment on larger issues with her art, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. She said she considers herself a figurative artist, even though she often creates abstract sculptures, they still have a “relationship to the body.”

Throughout her career, Hval has noticed a shift in her style and technique with her biggest artistic shift having been in her color palette.

“My art’s gotten much brighter, more saturated, and I’ve been less fearful with materials that I’m using,” Hval said. She hopes to inspire other artists to be fearless in experimenting with their craft.

“I’m delving into everything — people’s reactions toward these things — and manifesting that in my work,” Hval said.

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About the Contributors
Zhenya Loughney
Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter
Zhenya is a fourth year theatre design and journalism double major at UI. They are passionate about artistry and creativity. They are from Lebanon, KY.
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.