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Keeping Up Appearances

The group exhibition ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ presents the work of three Iranian artists, Ramin Haerizadeh, Jinoos Taghizadeh and Shapari Sohaie who through different genres and media each transmit their own potent political view. All three artists started with taking a distance from the scenes and information they accumulate daily to reveal another paradoxical reality where the absurd and its appearances seem to take precedence. Although this group show has been planned for some time, its relevance is amplified by the current situation in Iran. The post election events and riots have demonstrated the profound, long-gestating discontent of younger generations of Iranians. This exhibition can be seen as a mirror and a microscope to some of the reasons for this discontent. The subject tackled in Ramin Haerizadeh’s ‘Bab Hejab’ series is that of personal freedom. Pictures of street scenes found in newspapers and on the internet are digitally manipulated and then painted to create a world in which all characters share the now ubiquitous figure of the artist’s painted face clad in chador robes. The origin of conflict seems to lie in their aesthetic similarities but the insurmountable dissonance in their individual intentions. In one work, we observe a chadori ‘woman’ aggressing another, identifying her improperly placed hejab for the police. Haerizadeh’s uniquely grating sense of humour and ‘ridiculous’ constructions emphasize the absurdity of these social inequities. Shahpari Sohaie‘s ‘Coca-Cola’ series highlight the hypocrisy of a deeply entrenched Western consumer culture in Tehran. A photo-journalist by training, she was recently commissioned by FORTUNE magazine to illustrate the presence of American consumer goods in Iran. The result finds traditional chadori women choosing amongst shop displays filled with forbidden American products. Sohaie’s ironic images uncover the fundamental contradictions of a repressive theocratic state populated by an increasingly modern, secular and globally integrated society. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Republic Revolution, Jinoos Taghizadeh’s 3D series ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ takes a hard look at the bold declarations made on the eve of the Revolution and the terrifying randomness that has dictated so much of Iran’s history since. Taghizadeh takes as her base contemporary Persian-language newspaper accounts of the overthrow of the Shah and the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, embedding images from western works of art – the nightmare world of Hieronymous Bosch, Pieter Breugel’s timeless Flemish peasants, the French revolutionary-era painter Jacques-Louis David – to emphasize the hellish conditions at the time. On some frames she has also superimposed outstretched hands, with open palms, fists clenched or fingers splayed wide – playing a deadly game of chance. One work, for example, features a matrix of butterflies against an image of Ayatollah’s Khomeini’s famous graveyard speech, whose words have so clearly been proven false by history that the video is now forbidden by the government. Through a layering of events and images according to her own imagination, Taghizadeh’s work provides a sardonic counter-narrative to official discourse, and visually reinforces the chasm between what has been promised by the leaders of the Revolution and the tragedy of what has actually transpired. Imbued with irony, sarcasm and humour, these three artists offer new perspectives on a complex society in which the game of keeping up appearances still threatens to overpower the reality of a changing world. This exhibition will be at B21 Gallery from 26 July - 10 September 2009.

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