Mark Harvey – 30 March, 2014
Despite the threats of punishment, persecution and denial of basic human rights. the Baha'i faith holds itself independent from the official religion, Shi'a Islam. In 'Fear Faith and Persian Pop' Asdollah-Zadeh perhaps reveals through his 'faith' signage that he waits in hope that things may change. But as he suggests, the sign is only a sign, an object we've grown used to over kebab takeaways, where we can have a taste of the fantasy but it is merely an optimistic dream.
Fear Faith and Persian Pop
26 October to 7 December, 2013
Fear Faith and Persian Pop by Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh consisted of two projected videos, one where he pushed the word Fear up a black sand dune again and again, the other where a metallic skull was set in front of flashing kebab signs with traditional Persian instrumentation mingled with blaring Persian pop music. Nearby within the space Asdollah-Zadeh had positioned two large text-based sculptures, one a horizontal, polystyrene Fear sled and the other a vertical blue neon sign, Faith.
At first entering the gallery space one could easily mistake the project for something quite ordinary due to the beautiful aesthetic choices and dominant material codes Asdollah-Zadeh has worked with. These are not unlike what we come to expect in dealer galleries across the world and dominant conventional public art institutions. There is after all nothing new about working with video projections and text-based sculpture. However, reading through the cracks of this reveals something all together intriguing and emotionally powerful.
Asdollah-Zadeh‘s video, Fear Performance: The Myth of Sisyphus played with metaphors of the Greek myth Sisyphus, where a king punished for being deceitful was made to push a giant boulder up a hill again and again. Situating the word Fear in real space iterated this metaphor, perhaps even inviting us to try out being a Sisyphus.
Nearby, the musical skull video Persepolis: What Lays in the Abyss it has created reminded us of the cultural and political tensions in some parts of the Islamic world. The title referred to the Persian/French animation film Persepolis that describes the experiences of a Persian girl during the Iranian Revolution. In one sense it glamorized the risks one can face in contexts like Iran if one sits outside the norm - with the silver-metallic skull alluding to death, perhaps even a glorious death in the name of the Almighty? In contrast the Faith sign offered us an opposite to hope, another side of the religious state where if we blindly believe and conform all will be well. Its blueness presented a sense of artificial life-giving, mothering even, connoting the pre-1930’s Western association of blue with femininity. So, this could all suggest, you can resist and suffer, or go with the Iranian Islamic state.
In entering these installation elements, we were invited into a window of Asdollah-Zadeh’s world. He is the son of a Persian Bahá’í and his relatives were executed in Iran due to their religious beliefs in the 1980’s. This was a direct consequence following the Islamic revolution of 1979, where the followers of the Bahá’í religion and many other minority groups were persecuted. (Under the new regime over 200 Bahá’í’s were executed for their religious beliefs from 1979. Their persecution continues till this day.)
Despite the threats of punishment, persecution and the denial of basic civil and human rights, the Bahá’í faith holds itself independent from the official religion, Shi’a Islam. In Fear Faith and Persian Pop Asdollah-Zadeh perhaps reveals through his faith signage that he waits in hope that things may change. But as he suggests, the sign is only a sign, an object we’ve grown used to over kebab takeaways, where we can have a taste of the fantasy but it is merely an optimistic dream. There’s no guarantee that equality and freedom will occur in Iran and that he will be able to freely visit the place of his ancestors.
The accounts of Iran Asdollah-Zadeh is familiar with he knows only through his family and the media. (He has previously stated that he has not been to Persia yet.) The sense of digital and material excess revealed through his poetic layering, such as the silver skull, doof-doof Persian pop music and the large scale words invited us to sense his second person, mass-media manipulated, memories of pleasure and trauma. The repetitive videos played out these feelings, for as many post-Freudian psychoanalysts remind us, trauma is often experienced through iteration and through substitutions for the object of the trauma.
Fear Faith and Persian Pop played with layers of othering. There’s what one may experience being Baha’i, there’s Asdollah-Zadeh’s position in being outside of Iran, and then there’s ours as witness on the outside of that. Through all of this pervades anxieties and a sense of hope that some may see this story. That this narrative was not spelt out explicitly is reminiscent of how in some Islamic contexts illustrations are banned. We are left to make up our own minds outside of the dominant thinking structures, which his iterative elements served as metaphors for.
Furthermore, the use of media here plays on conventional contemporary installation strategies to invite reflections on the sense of otherness when identifying Persian-yet-not-Persian. The glitziness of the text sculptures and videos - especially Persepolis - foregrounded a sense of artificial distance to the plight of Baha’i in Iran. It was like a shop window in which we can watch these belongers-non-belongers. We didn’t actually see the suffering, we saw instead the distancing stereotype of the kebab sign that cheekily flaunted the lack of depth through which many of us in the West view this political situation.