Artist Statement

 Artist Statement

In my work, I focus on and critique the visual stereotypes and performative aspects that shape female gender identity and Iranian ethnic identity. My perspective is that of a Canadian-Iranian exilic and diasporic artist who is questioning while also trying to assert gender and cultural identity. In particular, I focus on the performances through which individuals express such identities and I critique the value and legitimacy of identity and cultural expression. Moreover, I am interested in how race and gender are performed from multiple layered perspectives: exilic, decolonial and diasporic. While performing stereotypes, I focus on fantasy, whether it is the viewer’s fantasy or my own.

I started as an identity-based photo artist and moved into performance and experimental performative video. I am always using my body and image, whether it be multi-media and multi-character work that is interspersed with cinematic elements like b-films and film noir or are relational performances that rely on participatory engagement. I situate my work and practice on an international level as my work speaks to the experiences of multiple communities. My pursuit of international residencies and commitment to engaging an international audience is paramount to the cross-cultural nature of my practice.

I have three characters that explore issues of race, gender, ethnicity, language, technology and spatiality. My neo-orientalist character Fatimeh, crosses ethical boundaries as I perform a caricature of the other. In Tea Ceremony (2012), Fatimeh stands outside the Iranian Embassy, shortly after the Canadian government suspended diplomatic relations with Iran, closed the Canadian embassy in Iran and expelled all the diplomats. During this performance, Fatimeh offers Persian tea to passersby. The performance was an offer of access and demonstrated the generous hospitality performed in Persian culture.

A year later, I developed Oriental Tutorial (2013), which is a Youtube tutorial parody that instructs the viewer how to dress like an “exotic other.” In Oriental Tutorial, Fatimeh performs in a clothing store and dresses in clothes that are no longer worn in Iranian contemporary society. Fatimeh is presented as frozen in time, a historical and romantic figure that has been untouched by modernity. Several years later, I performed the Oriental Dance Workshop (2015), which was a relational performance. Fatimeh instructed a Persian dance class while challenging the viewer with a comedic script. The script focuses on the problematic misrepresentation of Iranians in visual culture and western cultural institutions. My intention with this character is to critically highlight self-exoticization and challenge both western orientalist fantasy and Iranian nationalists self-romanticizing tendencies. However, it can easily be read as though I am masquerading around as the other. It is not my intention to perpetuate the romanticization and fetishization of my culture, rather my objective is to demonstrate the opposing cultural axiology that causes feelings of ambivalence. Fatimeh is performing a caricature of her ethnic identity and brings attention to the persistent construct of Orientalist imagery in contemporary culture by artists and writers, “native informants” (Spivak, 1999) and Iranian nationalists who continue to perform an essentialist and singular narrative of their ethnic identity.

My character Oreo emerged out of the prior development of Fatimeh. Oreo is a culmination of a two-month artist residency in Paris and the Parisian context informed some of the development of the piece. Oreo is a “Youtube sensation” who performs in racial drag and the work is dedicated to an investigation of contemporary and gendered whiteness. In the format of DIY videos, Oreo instructs women of colour how to “pass” as white females. Oreo is obnoxious and gives allegiance to the dominant racial group. Her high-pitched voice, which I have digitally manipulated, and face whitening makeup, addresses the infantilization and whitewashing of women of colour. Moreover, Oreo’s performance explores the Aryan race myth, its relationship to Iran and its continuing role in the national discourse of identity in a diasporic context. Oreo highlights issues of passing, racial purity and authenticity. Through this character, I speculate on the following questions: who can claim whiteness, how does race shift cross-culturally and what does a performance of white-femininity look like? My extensive travels, research and life experiences in Canada and abroad, makes clear that the experience of whiteness and identifications of women of colour are nuanced and complex.

Most recently, I have developed a multi-faceted character, Coco, who is a post-human, non-binary character that refuses to participate in colonial language. Rather, Coco communicates through movement. The movements consist of “waacking” (a diasporic and hybrid dance that emerged in Los Angeles amongst queer and racialized diasporic communities during the 1970s) and Iranian dancing. Coco introduces new geographical landscapes, sites of resistance, and creates a counter-language through movement. Coco intervenes in the liminal and introduces different dimensions that become available to diasporic subjects in the margins. This character reclaims the alien and betwixt position and there is great agency in this gesture. Through this character, I want to foster and encourage identification with diasporic subjects like myself. Further, Coco has been created as a hologram, used in projection mapping projects and was one the primary characters in my 2018 video installation, SuperNova.

SuperNova is the first video in which all these characters simultaneously engage and coexist. SuperNova also serves as an entry into ethnofuturist discourse, scholarship and aesthetics. Presented as a game show parody that mimics the tropes of American Idol reality tv shows, SuperNova, re-contextualizes historical markers of identity and presents them in the future to be deconstructed, reevaluated and reconfigured.

The interdisciplinary nature of my practice appeals to a diverse audience. For example, I utilize humour as a subversive and pedagogical tool which can be seen in my works: Oreo and Ethnic Roots. I have done performances that are durational, relational, and in front of the camera such as Ululation, Tea Ceremony, Oriental Dance Workshops, Dress Up, and Oreo’s Guided Tour. My performances either push the psychological and physical boundaries of the body or give access to spectators and invite them to be visual anthropologists as they reflect on their relationship with the racialized female body. In SuperNova, I incorporate language, poetry and movement. My work and ideas offer insight that reaches beyond the singular narrative of oppression and victimization, rather, I focus on art’s dialogical, resistive and emancipatory potential.

 

KÜNSTLER-STATEMENT

Was bedeutet es eine Iranerin in der Diaspora zu sein?
Kulturell könnte man meinen, dass der Einzelne ein Gefühl der Vertreibung und des Verlustes verspürt. Es könnte jedoch auch bedeuten, dass man unterschiedliche Werte- und Lebensauffassungen annimmt und sich manchmal sogar dadurch sozialen Normen und Überzeugungen wiedersetzt. Ein, in der Diaspora lebendes, Individuum ist jemand, der entweder freiwillig beschlossen hat auszuwandern oder zur Umsiedelung gezwungen wurde.

In meiner Arbeit zentralisiere und kritisiere ich die visuellen Stereotype und performativen Aspekte, welche die Identität des weiblichen Geschlechts, sowie der iranischen Ethnie formen. Meine Perspektive ist die, einer Halb-Kanadierin, Halb-Iranerin, die sexuelle und kulturelle Identität hinterfragt und gleichzeitig versucht geltend zu machen. Insbesondere konzentriere ich mich auf die Äußerungen, durch die der Einzelne, eben solche Identitäten ausdrückt, wobei ich gleichzeitig den Wert und die Zulässigkeit von Identität und kultureller Zurschaustellung kritisiere.

Weiter reichend interessiere ich mich dafür, wie sich Abstammung und Geschlecht fortwährend veräußerlichen lassen – sowohl in der östlichen, als auch der westlichen Welt. Bei der Veranschaulichung dieser Stereotype, setze ich einen Akzent auf Fantasie – sei es die Fantasie der Betrachter oder meine eigene. Diese Merkmale konfrontieren den Betrachter und aktivieren ihn zugleich, aus einer Rolle als beobachtender Anthropologe, die eigenen Beziehungen zum rassifizierten weiblichen Körper zu reflektieren.

Darüber hinaus mache ich die Herausforderungen sichtbar, die auf Auswanderer zukommen können und thematisiere den Raum, welchen wir in einem diasporischen Kontext als zu Hause definieren. Ein Zuhause ist nicht auf einen rein physischen Raum zu beschränken; viel mehr ist es ein Raum, in dem kulturelle Werte vermittelt werden und man ein politisches, kulturelles und ebenso emotionales Zugehörigkeitsgefühl verspürt. In meiner Rolle als iranisch-kanadische Frau, die im Iran geboren, aber in Kanada (von politisch ausgewiesenen Eltern) aufgezogen wurde, bin ich zwei kulturellen Einflüssen ausgesetzt, die mich meine inneren Konflikte deutlich wahrnehmen lassen. In der westlichen Kultur bin ich in visueller Hinsicht nur von Bildern umgeben, die eine iranische Abstammung entweder romantisieren oder durch die Darstellung der Iraner als eine Art Bedrohung, dehumanisieren. In meine praktische Arbeit lasse ich einige kulturelle Motive einfließen, die kennzeichnend für den Osten sind, wobei ich den Anschein erwecken könnte, mich selbst als „Eine von den Anderen“ ausgeben zu wollen. Jedoch ist es nicht meine Intention das Romantisieren und Fetischisieren meiner Kultur aufrechtzuerhalten oder gar fortzusetzen. Meine Aufgabe ist es, kulturell gegensätzliche Wertephilosophien, welche diese zwiespältigen Gefühle erst verursachen, zu veranschaulichen und die Themen -Exotik und Dehumanisierung- kritisch zu beleuchten.
In vielen dieser Arbeiten beseitige und verberge ich aktiv Aspekte meiner Identität und versuche eine persönliche Kontaktaufnahme zum Besucher herzustellen. Mithilfe bestimmter Handlungen, wie sie üblicherweise nur in intimen Rahmen stattfinden, möchte ich ein Gefühl von Nähe und Vertrautheit erzeugen. So wird meine Performance zu einem Angebot der Intimität und des Zugangs.