PHILADELPHIA — A collaboration among innovative Iranian artists, Asian Arts Initiative’s multimedia exhibition That Person Who Is Your Creation: Iranian Women Exploring the Feminine Self (on view February 19-April 26) challenges both Eastern and Western preconceived ideas about female identity.
The exhibition, curated by Philadelphia arts event programmer Sara Zia Ebrahimi,takes its title from beloved Persian poet Forough Farrokhzad’s 1950s work Call to Arms, which advocates for women’s liberation. That Person Who Is Your Creation uses a mixture of mediums from artists Mona Shomali (New York) and Haleh Jamali (U.K.) to address the question of what the true self is for immigrant women worldwide.
Five paintings from Shomali’s “Naked Folklore” collection will be on display, featuring Iranian American women in colorful, nude portraits. The artist spent more than eight years creating the collection to radically represent the extremes of tradition and modernity in being Iranian American, and to explore what it takes to overcome that categorization and allow space for complexity.
That Person Who Is Your Creation also features two single-stream video installations by Jamali, who works in both painting and video to explore Iranian identity. In the three-minute-long Someone who is not anyone, a midshot of a woman’s striking direct stare continues with no change of expression while her hairstyles, clothing and accessories rotate by the second. In some shots she is veiled with a chador and in others, she wears big hair and hoop earrings. The title of the video is also taken from a line of another Farrokhzad poem. The installation considers the depth of women’s identity that is based on external appearances. The second video, Departure (2011), is a collaboration between Jamali and performer/arts educator Monica De loanni and explores the tense relationship between women and fabric, showing De Ioanni pushing and pulling against the veil that enshrouds her entire body.
“Our decision to present this exhibition of two contemporary Iranian artists aligns with Asian Arts Initiative’s view of art as a means of exploring the diverse communities that Asian Americans are a part of and connected to, including Iran and other Middle Eastern countries,” says executive director Gayle Isa. “The ways that Haleh Jamali and Mona Shomali’s work examines social forces that shape, constrain or liberate women will surely be relevant to audiences from all backgrounds.”
The exhibit is presented by From the Mouth of the Lion (mouthofthelion.com), promoting artists in the Iranian diaspora; and art clvb (artclvb.com), representing artists from the Middle East and North Africa.
Schedule of Events
That Person Who Is Your Creation
On view February 19-April 26, 2013
Opening Reception:Friday, March 1, 6 p.m.
Artists’ Conversation: Saturday, March 2, 1 p.m., in partnership with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ (PAFA) The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World
First Friday Open House: Friday, April 5, 6 p.m.
Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Friday, noon-6 p.m.
About Mona Shomali
Mona Shomali’s first “rush” as an artist was when she was 14 years old and was introduced by her art teacher to the live nude drawing group, a weekly collective that was organized by the Berkeley Artists Guild. She became a regular, experimenting with how to sketch and paint the human body in charcoal, watercolor and oil mediums. Overall, Mona’s art has been most influenced by the (California) Bay Area figurative movement (1950-1965), artists such as: Nathan Oliveira, Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Brown and Manuel Neri. As far as other figurative artists, European artists such as Matisse and Gauguin and Latino artists such as Kahlo and Riviera were also very influential. Lastly, she has been influenced by the flat style of the Qajar Epoch (1785-1925) of Iranian art as well as contemporary Iranian artists such as Marjane Satrapi, Ali Dadgar and Taraneh Hemami.
Mona was born in Los Angeles California in the year 1979, the same year of the Iranian Revolution. She was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in New York City with her husband. She speaks five languages and currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at New York University and The New School.
The women in Shomali’s “Naked Folklore” collection are nude because nudity can represent so many different extremes within the narrative of being Iranian American: freedom and shame, tradition and modernity, public and private, vulnerability and pride, ownership and selflessness, oppression and liberation. The live model subjects of the paintings have been various Iranian friends and relatives over the years. The contrasting images of the modern and traditional Iranian woman are juxtaposed together in the same woman, liberated from this intercultural and inter-societal dichotomy. The Iranian woman is not compromising her Iranian identity by challenging and defining her own image in the eyes of society. The women in these paintings are Iranian in how they see themselves, not how others see her. She is making choices within Iranian society on how to express herself, whether surreal, fictional or symbolic. All the paintings are oil on canvas. This collection took place over the course of eight years.
About Haleh Jamali
Haleh Jamali is an Iranian-born artist living and working in Glasgow. Haleh works with a wide range of media and techniques that have included painting, photography, installation, video and performance. Her interest in portraiture and narrative stems from a desire to address the social aspects of representation, particularly in relation to the female gender and with a concern for the hidden layers beneath that which is visible. Most recent exhibitions of her work include: Festival Les Instants Video (Marseille, France), Nuit Blanch Arta Gallery (Toronto, Canada), Facade Video Festival (Plovdiv, Bulgaria), The Venice Art Night (Venice, Italy).
Jamali’s video installation Someone who is not like anyone explores the issues of identity among female immigrants, as related to their appearance. During the process of assimilation to multi-cultural societies, their identities become fluid via choices in lifestyle and clothing. This work has been informed by Haleh’s experience as an immigrant and the ways in which immigrants’ identities are understood by others. By pushing these ideas to an extreme, she suggests a concept of a “dual-self.” Haleh emphasizes that the construction of an individual’s identity is a function of their relation to Others, and indicates that the inseparable Self and Other construct one’s social identity.
About Sara Zia Ebrahimi
Sara Zia Ebrahimi learned to talk in Iran and to press the record button in the U.S. She’s been attempting to convince people to listen to her stories from the perspective of a child of immigrant hippies ever since. Her adventures in cultural and social change work have ranged from hosting a radio show on a low-power FM radio station she co-founded to working as the director of development and communications at a community foundation. She’s been working for over a decade on trying to break the record for the most different ways to be affiliated with Temple University, first as an undergraduate student, then completing her MFA in Film and Media Arts and now as an adjunct instructor. She also works as a consultant with several arts and cultural groups and individual artists on outreach and engagement, and event planning. Her own films — primarily short personal documentaries exploring some element of the immigrant experience — have screened internationally and been awarded grants from Chicken & Egg Pictures, Rooftop Films and the Leeway Foundation. In 2012 she launched From The Mouth of the Lion, a project promoting and connecting artists of Iranian descent born on or near the cusps of the Islamic Revolution.