(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