Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

(2004), Queens­land Art Gallery col­lec­tion. Pur­chased 2009, with funds from Tim Fair­fax AM, through the Queens­land Art Gallery Foun­da­tion. On dis­play, Gallery of Mod­ern Art, Bris­bane, un­til Novem­ber 5.

ONE Novem­ber evening in 1998, Ira­nian po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists Dar­iush and Par­vaneh Forouhar were mur­dered in their home in Tehran. The hus­band, Dar­iush, had been part of the 1970s demo­cratic op­po­si­tion to the shah and was per­se­cuted by both the shah and later, the Is­lamic gov­ern­ment. Af­ter the mur­ders, sev­eral peo­ple, al­legedly with ties to the Ira­nian se­cret ser­vice, were ar­rested; one of them re­port­edly com­mit­ted sui­cide while in cus­tody.

The cou­ple’s daugh­ter, Paras­tou Forouhar, went to ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts to in­ves­ti­gate her par­ents’ deaths, which re­main un­solved. To cope, she chan­nelled much of her an­guish into pho­to­graphs, dig­i­tal il­lus­tra­tions and in­stal­la­tions.

‘‘ My ef­forts to in­ves­ti­gate this crime had a great im­pact on my per­sonal and artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties,’’ she de­clared. ‘‘ Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and demo­cratic co­ex­is­tence lost their mean­ing in my daily life. As a re­sult, I have tried to dis­til this con­flict of dis­place­ment and trans­fer of mean­ing, turn­ing it into a source of cre­ativ­ity.’’

Forouhar, who was born in 1962 in Iran, lives and works in Frankfurt, Ger­many, and one of her pho­to­graphs, Swan­rider, is on dis­play at Bris­bane’s Gallery of Mod­ern Art, as part of the ex­hi­bi­tion Light­ness & Grav­ity: Works from the Con­tem­po­rary Col­lec­tion.

When I visit the gallery, I’m shown the pho­to­graph by Reuben Kee­han, cu­ra­tor, con­tem­po­rary Asian art, who be­lieves Forouhar is ‘‘ a par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing artist’’.

‘‘ Her bi­og­ra­phy is quite a tragic one and while you don’t like to fetishise those as­pects of an artist’s life, they do very much in­form their way of look­ing at the world,’’ he says.

‘‘ She’s an emi­gre artist, some­one who didn’t leave Iran un­til 1991 when she moved to Ger­many. She stud­ied at art school in the early 1980s in Tehran and this was a time when art was very much be­com­ing in­sti­tu­tion­alised to­wards pro­mot­ing the ideals and the per­son­al­i­ties of the Is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion. But she cre­ated new ways of be­ing crit­i­cal as an artist, and at the same time evad­ing de­tec­tion from pro­duc­ing what was seen as a West­ern­ised art form.’’

Swan­rider fea­tures a woman, who is the artist, dressed in a black chador rid­ing on a gi­gan­tic, white, swan-shaped pad­dle boat on the Lahn River in Ger­many. The work draws on a num­ber of Western myths and sym­bols, such as the Greek myth where Zeus as­sumes the form of a swan to se­duce the vir­gin Leda. There is also ref­er­ence to Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen’s tale of the ugly duck­ling trans­formed into a swan and to Richard Wag­ner’s opera Lohengrin, where a knight is car­ried on a boat pulled by a swan. Wag­ner, who was renowned for his anti-Semitism and his views on race, was a reg­u­lar visi­tor to Bad Ems, where the pho­to­graph was taken.

The work’s play­ful use of clash­ing cul­tural ref­er­ences and con­trast­ing black-and-white shapes em­pha­sises what Forouhar views as the im­por­tance of mov­ing be­yond op­po­sites or black-and-white con­cepts, such as good and evil, for­tune and mis­for­tune, beau­ti­ful and ugly, Kee­han says. ‘‘ There are all these lit­tle odd el­e­ments that add a quirk­i­ness to Swan­rider but at the same time make it more and more mys­te­ri­ous. Forouhar is able to bring to­gether these very spe­cific per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences to con­vey a sense of the am­bi­gu­i­ties of things we think are clearly black and white.

‘‘ I think the lighting in the im­age is quite lovely — it brings out a sense of the fairy­tale. The im­age of the cloaked woman can be recog­nised as a wicked witch from Dis­ney movies or the hag­gard old woman who casts a spell on peo­ple. The swan is the eter­nal sign of beauty but again brought into the con­tem­po­rary pe­riod by the clear fact that it is a pad­dle boat which has this num­ber on it, and a plug to let wa­ter out when the thing is sink­ing.’’

Type C pho­to­graph on pa­per, 160cm x 160cm

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