Deconstructing the Iranian identity December 24th 2014

Recalling the Future is the latest exhibition at the Brunei Gallery at SOAS where Iranian artists challenge the conventional narrative on post-revolutionary Iran.

The legitimacy of the national identity as presented by the state is questioned by reimagining the nation outside of the official image. Across the exhibition, artists consider whether this identity was not essentially created by the state to supports its own political agenda. There is a broad reassessment of the ways in which such identities are formed and then propagated. These artists reject the state’s hold over the conceptualisation of a national identity by offering an alternative vision of the nation which breaks away from the official form.

Before delving into a critique of the states activities, certain artworks in the exhibition conveniently offer the opportunity to first recognise the processes through which the state constructs a national identity.  The bureaucratic activities which underlie the construction of an official vision of the national identity are unravelled by artists such as Shahab Fotouhi. In ‘Can I Speak to the Manager Please’, Fotouhi presents an elaborate multi-layered illustration of the national emblem which reveals the various stages of development that go into the making of the imagery of the state. This highly constructed piece challenges the authenticity of state imagery and exposes the artificial practices through which the state fashions the nation’s identity.

The state’s attempts to uphold its façade of the nation’s past is most prominently reflected through the constant stream of imagery of an idyllic pre-modern Iran plastered across various billboards and posters throughout the major cities. The artwork of Nazgol Ansarinia entitled ‘Fabrications’ contrasts this imagery with snapshots of Iranian cities in their present state to stress the friction between the constructed imagining and the reality of the national condition.  prostitutes artIn one unsettling painting called ‘Prostitute’, Khosrow Hassanzadeh boldly reveals the faces of sixteen women murdered on the harsh city streets. Here, he presents the excluded faces from the much hidden fringes of society and ridicules the idea that the nation can be controlled or that the lives of its inhabitants can be encapsulated into a single national ideal.

Ultimately, the official imagining of the nation is deconstructed to unveil a more extensive understanding of the nation. Recalling the Future offers an insight into a nation coming to terms with what it means to be Iranian outside of the valves of the official vision.

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