Clash of Ignorance (After Said)From the Catalogue for the exhibition: " Sara Rahbar - Love arrived and how red, recent works"
Hilger Contemporary, Vienna, Austria, February 2009
On October 4, 2001, Edward Said, the Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, wrote a scathing review entitled The Clash of Ignorance as a response to the much acclaimed article by Samuel Huntington entitled The Clash Of Civilization. It is important to recall such collision of theoretical positions, often and excitedly enacted in print media. The brunt of Huntington's inept argument, clumsily articulated was made threadbare by Said memorable words the personification of enormous entities called "the West" and "Islam" is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary."(1)
Said, writing one month after the attack on the twin towers in New York, purposefully continues this questioning of rudimentary thinking and the terms of its engagement and application to larger complicated configurations including histories, nations and belief systems. Huntington's use of monochromatic terminologies from a populist language, with its simplistic trappings of difference then applied to real life situations, was exactly the way that the eleven oddballs who attacked the Twin Towers came to represent 1.5 billion Muslims during this traumatic period of American history. In such a careless moments, like Huntington's article exemplified, it takes immense courage to pick up the loose strands left in the affray, that assist in affirming both distaste and otherness. Huntington's article's immense popularity helped to reveal a sensitivity to the application of knowledge, conversely Said's response encouraged a return to a deepening understanding of the generalizations, which abound our daily thinking, of queried subjects which are reduced to common parlance by seeping prejudice. By taking to task Huntington's bland and superficial categorization, Said allows us to deepen our understanding, rather than to allow contributions that inflame the complex which we have leaned to call globalisation. By careful scrutiny, of these terms of ridicule and in the unintelligent manner of their usage, Huntington's position becomes untenable, Said continued In fact, Huntington is an ideologist, someone who wants to make "civilizations" and "identities" into what they are not: shut-down, sealed-off entities that have been purged of the myriad currents and countercurrents that animate human history, and that over centuries have made it possible for that history not only to contain wars of religion and imperial conquest but also to be one of exchange, cross-fertilization and sharing."(2)
It is in looking at the differences that have been mediated in culture, including the cross-fertilization of ideas, the migration of philosophy and poetry, the movement that has articulated action and people, that we have now reached an immensely rich global stratus, where the palimpsest and bricollage forms ourselves, not the the basic paradigm of West versus the rest (the cold war opposition reformulated) remained untouched, and this is what has persisted, often insidiously and implicitly, in discussion since the terrible events of September 11." (3) New vexilloids amidst poetic renditions.
In her artist's statement, Sara Rahbar, comments on her family's flight from Iran to New York at the time of the Iran-Iraq war. The following essay is a reading of the artist's work in regard to the arguments outlined by Edward Said, of multi-centric narratives, in relation to the subjective nature of Rahbar's implosive biography. This reading reiterates the artist's arguments for the notion of the end of belonging- a nomadic-motionless-nationalism that rises out of the uncertainty of purity. As the hybrid performance, group La Pocha Nostra's manifesto states If there is a common denominator, it is our desire to cross and erase dangerous borders including those between art and politics, art practice and theory, artist and spectator - ultimately to dissolve borders and myths of purity whether they be specific to culture, ethnicity, gender, language or metier." (4)
One of the key images/objects that is repetitively used by Rahbar and which forms the main" body of her work has been an object that has been around for the last 4,000 years. The flag, one of the oldest recognizable symbols of nationalism and belonging in her spirited hands, becomes a foundation for woven paintings, a base upon which to place the accumulated denotations that she rummages through remnants of the exodus where once refined textile and embroideries end up- the flea markets and remote accessory depositories. She skillfully stitches these dishevelled, uneven collections, building upon this most pure form, the Flag, into a new version, creating a barrage of new meanings that dispel its authenticity. One of the oldest authentic flag design" of ancient peoples includes a metal flag from Iran, ca. 3000 BC, known as a vexilloid, which is also found on ancient Greek coins, Egyptian tomb carvings and other such reliquaries.
Vexillology is the scientific study of flags. This word comes from a Latin word, meaning to "guide". These early flags or vexilloids were made out of metal or carved wooden poles. Gradually, 2,000 years ago, pieces of fabric or material were added to some vexilloids for decoration, which gradually evolved into the flags we know today.
These coloured fabrics, geometric emblematic symbols, are readily used for sending signals and messages from a person or a group of people. The works by Rahbar are artworks, sending signals, even opening windows onto her subjectivity. (5) But since subjectivity is a complex reaction, it cannot be understood entirely separately from the material world in which it is based; as a result, the interaction finds itself placed between the viewer and the artist's intention.What are the intentions of these works?
Beautiful and significant, are two of the evident reactions to these series of works, imbued, as they are with selective, handcrafted remnants from traditional sources. The audience is fĂȘted with nostalgia, gleaned from patterns, which have been floating within the visual sphere for generations. Like with quilts, one starts to examine the richness of design, their magnificent, embroiled history blending to make calligraphic sense and abstractions drawn from nature; a whole universe of interpretations is made possible. Lush landscapes of birds, animals and fauna occupy and create a plethora of images within which the ocular resides. The rustic is interspersed with diverse repetitions; the flag works are made to shape our imagination, but also to violate our senses by articulating anxieties. We are unleashed into a museum that combines the seemingly sacred, the artisanal and (un)bracketed fragments of atrocities. The work uses tradition to recover a sense of history, implying questions by the use of indexed positions. A co-existence develops, which helps to configure the critical understanding of their narrative paradigms. These flags help to scrutinize dualities that are continuous for the artist, the duality of Iran and America.
In multiplying the number of possible readings by drawing on heritage, it provides a diachronic innovation within which interpoetic relations are realizable- both on the level of aesthetic inventions from multiple sources but in how styles and ideas illustrate certain realities- of geographies, of hope and of history. In routing the audience through the multiple spaces that one image can occupy, Rahbar manages to provide a matrix within which a cultural translation and contradiction is articulated. By curating tradition, as these beautiful flags do, they attract both the western gaze and allow for an aesthetic dynamism to be exemplified. We begin with attraction and end up being repulsed within the same moment of negotiating her works- in refusing the atrocious to be removed from the works, Rahbar creates a political power that imbues her statement of seeing and being.
Often, the stripes in the American flag are replaced by slithers of heavily embroidered fabrics, drooping like an ethnic and ethical compass, accompanying the blue background and white stars that symbolize the number of states in the USA. State authority remains a counter point in this negotiated hegemony, replaced by a counter public - represented by fragments often drawn from women's work-which then becomes the symbol of the nation. These adventures of inclusion are often titled with poetic lines, drawing on another level of alienation-confusion reigns, as we are bombarded with mixed messages of critical improvisation and protest of cited Islamic culture in the changed optics of infectious Americana. In her quest to create beauty, these works also destabilize our notion of distance, like magnets of cultural power; the flags create a critical vigilance but deny one territory.
These asymmetrical renderings are titled by what often seems to be derived from love tempered, of unmarked cases of silent suffering, of systems broken down, Those days are gone", As I step forward your promises dissolve and dissolve" and "unstable, you disappear in the distance" shifting again the paradigm of our reading.
In inventing a new sensibility to our reading of her work, through poetic references, she endows us with further knowledge. Rahbars aim and oblique references allow for a further archaeology of impressions to be unearthed. We become complicit in her gestural as well as her poetic references, located in her narrative, even resentful in our identification with beauty and grace. This proximity, this closeness, allows us to linger, to be part of the dense sense of the personal imagery, text and iconography. We reconcile our perceptions and aesthetic centric reading, even postponing the source of her protest. The combination of images and text as title makes us aware of her full intention, which becomes- one of unreleased inculcating anxiety in these isolated moments between us and 'her' and between the two phases of looking at her image and understanding it through the title.
This bewildering set of flags, vexilloids returned, with its orientalist coding and binded symbolism, allows the audience to be captivated by the multifarious information which structures the restricted field of its momentary vision, connecting the contemporaneous to a historical and cultural translation and the violated, cracked, conflictive ambivalence between the demand of living tradition and occluded modernities, mesmerizing us with the duality of belonging that consistently works within the vectors that modulate between the influence of signs of progress and her mission to play with all its registers.
Love arrived & how red
Similarly, in the accompanying photographic work, we encounter two hooded subjects, with slits for eyes and mouth; in part tribal, in part a guerrilla presence, rather than interned subjects- a conflictive aesthetics develops here. The work seems to stem partly as a reaction to the on-going psychiatric experiments carried out in the Middle East, with martyrdoms, Bagram Bases and enforced internal displacement (of values, goods and alliances). Her dramatic photographic work, Love arrived & how red, could be read, reasonably and by assumption, in the title's reference to traditional societies' horrific expectation of a virgin bride, but this would be a symbolic reading of such a rich, convoluted series of performed contacts between the two protagonists. The first few images, are of a woman, covered in a tribal, star shaped headdress-of a type usually used to decorate donkeys and horses, with exuberant textile pompoms and wearing an embroidered dress standing next to a guard in a full balaclava. Her neck appears bedecked by military braids, in the colours of the flags of the USA and Iran.
She is joined in this series by a man, dressed in fatigues and army boots also wearing a balaclava but resplendent in military braids, hanging from his shoulder in the colours of the flag of Iran. In the next set of images, we see the couple in a wedding pose, in which the female counterpart is dressed in a white bridal gown and a veil made from the American flag. In later images, the woman, now deceased, is held in a Christ-like pieta posture. Her sudden demise follows the path of the military braids, as they are initially present on both of the two protagonists, starting as a concentrated mass on the female, then gradually being transferred to the male in the purer nationalistic colours of Iran.
This bewildering set of works, with its nationalist coding and symbolism, allows the audience to be captivated by the dominance of the genre of information which structures the restricted field of patriotism. Connecting modernity to militaristic agency and the violated, cracked, conflictive ambivalence between the genders, it mesmerises us with the duality of belonging that consistently works within the vectors that modulate between the banality of evil and the erasure of life.
In one of her recent statements, she states, "Our foundations lay, but our houses have burned to the ground. Building castles in the sky, for a species that cannot fly, brick by limb we tear it down. Thinking that we are moving forwards, yet moving backwards all along. Gajar woman and golden toys, we wait for dawn." (6) Even within this contemporary evocation, across borders and palpitating with barbarism, her constant vigilance regarding the fallen past and an unrealized future remain the means of her economy and imagination. The global neighborhood, she inhabits, where disenfranchisement through plight and flight are becoming important, offer the fragments by which we understand the configurations of the US version of free trade and democracy.
Rahbar was born in Tehran yet was forced to leave with her family during the period of immense upheaval that followed the revolution in Iran and the start of the Iran-Iraq war, has created a maligned distance. A relational proximity has developed, based on memory, longing and inertia in inhabiting tensions of dual disjuncture. Rahbar's antagonisms were further exacerbated and encouraged during her studies in London and New York, and now she spends most of her productive life between Tehran and New York. In this going back and forth, an apocalyptic memory has been revised in her reworking of traditional materials into proto-contemporary textiles and textures of national belonging.
The symbol of ideological and nationalistic violence, the Flag, remains one of the main focuses of her collage conversations and contestations, but it is in these performative sites which are photographed, where her magisterial authority and assertion about order and culture remain poised on the brink of doubt and confrontation. As one of her aptly titled works suggests, "unstable, you disappear in the distance"
Subjectivity refers to a subject's perspective, particularly feelings, beliefs, and desires. It is often used casually to refer to unjustified personal opinions, in contrast to knowledge and justified belief. In philosophy, the term is often contrasted with objectivity.
In social sciences, subjectivity (the property of being a subject) is an effect of relations of power. Similar social configurations create similar perceptions, experiences and interpretations of the world. For example, female subjectivity would refer to the perceptions, experiences and interpretations that a subject marked as female would generally have of the world
(6) Artists statement- unpublished
Shaheen Merali is a curator and writer based in Berlin and London. Between 2003-8 he was the Head of Department for Exhibitions, Film and New Media at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, where he curated the exhibitions The Black Atlantic; Dreams and Trauma, Moving images and the Promised Lands and Re-Imagining Asia, One Thousand years of Separation.
In 2008, he was given the new role of artistic director for the very first contemporary Indian art gallery in Germany, BodhiBerlin, for which he curated Blindstars, Starsblind, a monograph exhibition on Shilpa Gupta, and the seminal Everywhere is War (and rumours of war) for BodhiMumbai, India. Previously in 2006, he was the co-curator of the 2006 6th Gwangju Biennale of Korea.
In February 2009, the large-scale historical show, The Untold (the rise of) Schisms, will open at Alcala 31 in Madrid accompanied by a publication that traces the rise of the political right within popular Indian culture and its neighbouring regions.
Merali has edited several volumes, including Far Near Distance, Contemporary Positions for Iranian Artists (2004); Spaces and Shadows, Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia and About Beauty (2005): New York-States of Mind and Re-Imagining Asia (Saqi Books 2007).
Article from: sararahbar.com