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Dancing in Silence: Representing Iranian Women Through Contemporary Art Practice

Dancing in Silence: Representing Iranian Women Through Contemporary Art Practice
Dancing in Silence: Representing Iranian Women Through Contemporary Art Practice
This practice-based research focuses on the production of and critical reflection upon contemporary art in Iran. Specifically, it works out of my own artistic practices which concern the public/private experiences of women in modern-day Iran, but which also offer a critical dialogue with the practices and aesthetics of modern art. As a woman who grew up in the Iranian community, I try to express women’s concerns and problems in Iran through the language of art. I use different art tools and styles to present the best and most complete picture of those issues to the audience. While artists and scholars have studied the formation of modern art in Iran in general, there has been less attention to specific styles of contemporary art. Furthermore, there have been limited studies of female artists with respect to both modern art and Iran.
This study starts by focusing on the position of Iranian women in society and how underlying social and political issues have impacted their art, both before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The thesis then goes on to explore the differences and similarities in the artistic expressions of Iranian modern artists’ work on similar subjects and the relationship between Iranian art and politics in regard to my own practice. Through my art, which for this thesis has been developed through four main artworks — namely, My Dreamland, The Stories (Barbie and a woman’s memories), Dancing in silence, and Banoonameh — I have critically examined issues of female representation in Iran by drawing upon the techniques of photomontage, mixed media, and video art. All of this is explored through the re-inhabitation of influences gained from growing up in the city of Isfahan. In working with both private memories but also referencing wider socio-political narratives, the works combine personal expression with the broader interests and attitudes of women in II contemporary Iran. To supplement this work, the development of my practice within a UK context (i.e. removed from my home country), has led to a critical encounter with art’s theoretical discourse, namely a realisation that my own practices can be read within the sensibilities of contemporary art, and furthermore that this genre of artistic practice is largely dominant within contemporary art practices in post-revolutionary Iran (i.e. from the 1980s onwards).
This dissertation and the accompanying art practices that make up this thesis combine to explore the interaction of contemporary art in Iran with global art trends (as well as their differences). Through both the critical readings presented here and my practical productions, my research evaluates the conditions and outputs of Iranian artists as a means of situating my own. The focus of my artistic practice has been on public political discourse, personal freedom, gender equality, and social gender issues in the Iranian context. My practice combines representational and conceptual modes, primarily through the media of photomontage, video, and performance. As an Iranian woman, my work has consistently offered an exploration of women’s social, political, and cultural experiences. While this has typically drawn upon and subverted formal Islamic iconographic elements from within the country, my interests have developed through this research to pertain increasingly to the everyday lives of women, i.e. questioning the heavier use of symbolic imagery still common in Iranian works today.
Taking a somewhat ‘homeopathic’ approach — both in the use of Iranian imagery in the context of Iranian censorship and also the meta-use of modern art to re-examine its own value — this project uses the subversion and re-use of masculine Islamic iconography and traditional fine art practices as a means of (re-)presenting a female Iranian perspective. Through this work, I seek to give voice to women’s everyday interests and desires, which in the context of the many restrictions on III women in public life often remain unspoken or hidden within the cultural fabric. In the accompanying artworks, the use of popular and everyday cultural forms and objects are re-composed to offer a new, progressive visual language that not simply challenges the current situation of women in Iran. Indeed, it also attempts to imagine alternative forms of identity and dialogue for and between Iranian women as well as their voice beyond their own cultural context. Overall, the artwork is understood in this research as a form of exchange and ‘environment’ that acts not simply within political discourse, but within a wider ‘political aesthetic’ — i.e. the everyday lived means by which we experience and mediate our political condition. While the thesis illustrates how contemporary Iranian artists are using fun and relatable everyday elements to engage with the public, to establish their audience as a community, and comment on larger social situations, there is also an ongoing critical question as to whether this work is complicit in or critical of the everyday context, or indeed both. This thesis marks a sustained examination of the ongoing double bind that the (female) Iranian artist is committed to.
Contemporary Arts, identity, Iranian art, Iranian women’s art, contestation, Feminism, politics, Religion, islam, participation, Social, Public art, community, Installation, contemporary art, Political art
University of Southampton
Sohrabi, Sarvenaz
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Sohrabi, Sarvenaz
5b54c2b1-20ca-498f-94d7-398de82893c2
Manghani, Sunil
75650a9a-458d-4e1a-9480-94491300e385
Davis, August J
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Sohrabi, Sarvenaz (2019) Dancing in Silence: Representing Iranian Women Through Contemporary Art Practice. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 122pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

This practice-based research focuses on the production of and critical reflection upon contemporary art in Iran. Specifically, it works out of my own artistic practices which concern the public/private experiences of women in modern-day Iran, but which also offer a critical dialogue with the practices and aesthetics of modern art. As a woman who grew up in the Iranian community, I try to express women’s concerns and problems in Iran through the language of art. I use different art tools and styles to present the best and most complete picture of those issues to the audience. While artists and scholars have studied the formation of modern art in Iran in general, there has been less attention to specific styles of contemporary art. Furthermore, there have been limited studies of female artists with respect to both modern art and Iran.
This study starts by focusing on the position of Iranian women in society and how underlying social and political issues have impacted their art, both before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The thesis then goes on to explore the differences and similarities in the artistic expressions of Iranian modern artists’ work on similar subjects and the relationship between Iranian art and politics in regard to my own practice. Through my art, which for this thesis has been developed through four main artworks — namely, My Dreamland, The Stories (Barbie and a woman’s memories), Dancing in silence, and Banoonameh — I have critically examined issues of female representation in Iran by drawing upon the techniques of photomontage, mixed media, and video art. All of this is explored through the re-inhabitation of influences gained from growing up in the city of Isfahan. In working with both private memories but also referencing wider socio-political narratives, the works combine personal expression with the broader interests and attitudes of women in II contemporary Iran. To supplement this work, the development of my practice within a UK context (i.e. removed from my home country), has led to a critical encounter with art’s theoretical discourse, namely a realisation that my own practices can be read within the sensibilities of contemporary art, and furthermore that this genre of artistic practice is largely dominant within contemporary art practices in post-revolutionary Iran (i.e. from the 1980s onwards).
This dissertation and the accompanying art practices that make up this thesis combine to explore the interaction of contemporary art in Iran with global art trends (as well as their differences). Through both the critical readings presented here and my practical productions, my research evaluates the conditions and outputs of Iranian artists as a means of situating my own. The focus of my artistic practice has been on public political discourse, personal freedom, gender equality, and social gender issues in the Iranian context. My practice combines representational and conceptual modes, primarily through the media of photomontage, video, and performance. As an Iranian woman, my work has consistently offered an exploration of women’s social, political, and cultural experiences. While this has typically drawn upon and subverted formal Islamic iconographic elements from within the country, my interests have developed through this research to pertain increasingly to the everyday lives of women, i.e. questioning the heavier use of symbolic imagery still common in Iranian works today.
Taking a somewhat ‘homeopathic’ approach — both in the use of Iranian imagery in the context of Iranian censorship and also the meta-use of modern art to re-examine its own value — this project uses the subversion and re-use of masculine Islamic iconography and traditional fine art practices as a means of (re-)presenting a female Iranian perspective. Through this work, I seek to give voice to women’s everyday interests and desires, which in the context of the many restrictions on III women in public life often remain unspoken or hidden within the cultural fabric. In the accompanying artworks, the use of popular and everyday cultural forms and objects are re-composed to offer a new, progressive visual language that not simply challenges the current situation of women in Iran. Indeed, it also attempts to imagine alternative forms of identity and dialogue for and between Iranian women as well as their voice beyond their own cultural context. Overall, the artwork is understood in this research as a form of exchange and ‘environment’ that acts not simply within political discourse, but within a wider ‘political aesthetic’ — i.e. the everyday lived means by which we experience and mediate our political condition. While the thesis illustrates how contemporary Iranian artists are using fun and relatable everyday elements to engage with the public, to establish their audience as a community, and comment on larger social situations, there is also an ongoing critical question as to whether this work is complicit in or critical of the everyday context, or indeed both. This thesis marks a sustained examination of the ongoing double bind that the (female) Iranian artist is committed to.

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More information

Published date: November 2019
Keywords: Contemporary Arts, identity, Iranian art, Iranian women’s art, contestation, Feminism, politics, Religion, islam, participation, Social, Public art, community, Installation, contemporary art, Political art

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 455786
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/455786
PURE UUID: ae0644cd-01e9-43ba-b828-fa695ff27338
ORCID for Sunil Manghani: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-6406-7456

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 04 Apr 2022 16:46
Last modified: 23 Jul 2022 02:06

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Contributors

Author: Sarvenaz Sohrabi
Thesis advisor: Sunil Manghani ORCID iD
Thesis advisor: August J Davis

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