Iranian-Canadian artist examines feminist issues

Fariba Samsami’s “Memory of Body.”
Fariba Samsami’s “Memory of Body.”
Pablo Neiman

Exhibit Profile: Installations by Fariba Samsami @ Modern Fuel Art Gallery

Installations by Fariba Samsami is a monochromatic array of art by an Iranian woman who uses her art to explore issues relating to women in her native country.

Upon entering the gallery space, a work titled “Curtain” is directly in the path of the viewer. Five parallel floor-to-ceiling panels of fabric are hung with a single bare light bulb dangling by an electrical cord between each panel. All of the panels are made of sheer black fabric with the exception of the last, which is a solid black panel that is impenetrable to light; thus, the back of the gallery is not visible upon entrance.

According to the artist, the first panel represents Canada, while the last represents Iran. One might conclude that there is a transparency which exists in Canada and is not present in Iran, especially in relation the lifestyle of women, their choice of clothing and even the justice system. It is interesting that the viewer is faced with “Canada” before entering so as to allow the viewer to adjust to a more severe world.

To the right of the panels, “Wall,” is a large-scale work of art which incorporates foam bricks and a used chador, kerchief and manto. A chador is an outfit that covers women from head to toe and is completely closed down the front. Hanging on the north wall of the gallery, this work of art consists of row upon row of knotted material mounted on a frame. All of the fabric is black or charcoal, and there are several different types of fabric with varied patterns and textures.

The intent is once again hidden for most viewers in the Western world. In Iran women often tie knots in their clothing when they are experiencing a problem, untying them only once the problem is solved. The significance of so many knots tied into various garments worn by women is substantial. Samsami is effectively stating that women in Iran are deeply troubled—or should be deeply troubled—by the subjugation of their rights, and the wall of knots represents the deeply rooted problems with Iranian society in its treatment of women.

At the rear of the gallery, hidden behind “Curtain” are “Memory of Body,” and “Boghcheh.” “Memory of Body” is a simple visual of a used white bathrobe covered with black hairs.

The importance of this work lies in the fact that Iranian women are not allowed to show their hair. Above and beyond this issue, the discourse of the female body and body scent is considered taboo, and the robe represents a defiance of this belief.

“Boghcheh” is an oversized representation of a bundle used for carrying possessions—often clothing—during migration. Samsami’s boghcheh is made from squares of material from a used kerchief, veil, chador, manto and other cloth and is stuffed with foam squares to give the parcel shape. As with the other pieces, the fabrics are all black and shades of charcoal. The bundle where women’s clothing is stored is important to Samsami, because Iranian clothing restrictions for women is a hotly debated topic.

What was most refreshing about this exhibition was the cultural element; women’s issues are very much interwoven with cultural values, but often take a backseat to feminist discourse.

Samsami’s examination of cultural impact on womanhood is both provocative and powerful, and creates an opening in the fine art world for other artists examining similar issues.

—with files from State Library of New South Wales

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