The Iranian painter celebrates the feminist icons of pre-revolutionary Iran in the exhibition “Rebel, Rebel” at the Barbican Centre Art Gallery in London.
As thousands of protesters continue to unite for freedom and women’s rights after the death in Tehran of Zhina (Mahsa) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman arrested by the “vice police,” Soheila Sokhanvari invites us back to Iran between 1925 and the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The exhibition “Rebel, Rebel” at the Barbican Art Gallery presents a series of 28 portraits of feminist icons from the pre-revolutionary era. The title takes its name from David Bowie’s 1974 song of the same name. The Iranian artist, born in Shiraz, lives and works in Cambridge, England, after her family had to emigrate as a child. Her multi-disciplinary work, steeped in symbolism, has since addressed the pervasive influence of Western culture in the Middle East, weaving layers of political stories, fueled by mysterious, humorous, and colorful narratives. The small canvases on display are painted in tempera with egg yolk on vellum paper, a technique long devoted to the painters of icons. All of them come to life in an immersive space, covered with geometric Persian patterns, from traditional oriental design.
Resistance to oppression
Soheila Sokhanvari brilliantly pays tribute to the courage of these women, forced to renounce any role in public life or to go into exile. These cultural figures lived and worked in a liberal country before everything was taken away from them after the 1979 revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini. We discover, among others, three great names of Iranian cinema: Faranak Mirghahari pointing a revolver, Kobra Saeedi smoking a cigarette, and Roohangiz Saminejad, considered the first actress to appear unveiled in a Persian language film. Further on is the controversial modernist poet Forough Farrokhzad, and the leading intellectual and writer Simin Daneshvar. Each painting is a collision between Western fashion, 1970s interior design, and the country’s traditional aesthetic. In addition, a soundtrack, fueled by ancient local songs, including those of Ramesh and Googoosh, punctuates the tour. A committed choice reminding us that it is still illegal to broadcast the voice of a woman in Iran. The exhibition ends with mirrored sculptures that project films from classic Iranian cinema. Soheila Sokhanvari’s colorful and subversive portraits express their strength, fighting violent legacies, while exploring the contradictions of Iranian women’s lives.
Exhibition Rebel, Rebel, from October 7, 2022 to February 26, 2023
Silk Street, Londres
The Curve space, Barbican Art Gallery in London