Show bears witness to life of oppression in Iran
Artists uses kids’ motifs to present harsh reality
S haring memories in order to bear witness to a life is the impetus behind two current exhibitions.
At Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran in St. Henri, an artist who immigrated from Iran uses a child’s point of view to illustrate life in a repressive theocracy. Sayeh Sarfaraz, whose youth was scarred by the deaths of neighbours in the IranIraq war and by her own arrests by religious police, presents Mémoire d’éléphant as a contribution to collective memory.
At the Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec, the husband of an artist who died of leukemia 10 years ago, at the age of 48, is commemorating the life of Enid Kaplan, a jewelry maker and teacher. Jordan Deitcher worked with museum curator Pierre Wilson to fill the museum’s altar space with 150 examples of her inventive jewelry and her exuberant figurative painting.
Jewelry-making demands precision and presents technical challenges like creating colours in titanium and other metals through reaction to heat, Deitcher said. Kaplan was open to using any material, even rust found on the studio floor. But she unleashed the imagination and emotion necessary for her jewelrymaking art in her expressionistic paintings and drawings.
Her jewelry could look awkward by itself, Deitcher said, but “she knew how to make things fit on the body.”
Deitcher, a theatre director from Montreal, married Kaplan in 1980 in New York, where she had a studio. They travelled extensively.
“She learned that shamans in many societies were the artists,” Deitcher said. “She started to focus on the healing properties of metals and made amulets. She wanted artists to think of themselves as spiritual healers.”
In Sumatra, the couple became lost for two days in the jungle. They spent a night in a torrential downpour, which had the beneficial effect of keeping poisonous millipedes from coming above ground, Deitcher said.
“She made a promise to have a child if she survived,” he said. They both did survive and Kaplan “immediately got pregnant. She made an amulet and had an easy pregnancy at age 39.”
Their son was born in Montreal in 1992. She taught a design course at Concordia and helped establish a CEGEP jewelry program, Deitcher said.
Kaplan spent her last year in a hospital room, which she filled with the paintings and journals she continued to make. Some of them are in the exhibition.
Sayeh Sarfaraz translates memories of oppression
in her native Iran into a gallery exhibition by subverting children’s games — an electric train runs in reverse and dollhouse doors lead to a prison filled with Lego figurines.
She uses a child’s dream world to present a harsh reality that remains universal and recognizable, said Antoine Ertaskiran, owner of the St. Henri gallery that bears his name.
Toys make the exhibition palatable, he added, since blood and gore are sometimes depicted.
Sarfaraz said she uses toys to get her message past viewer’s mental barriers, adding that miniaturization is also a form of traditional Persian art.
The exhibition is set up as a series of scenarios set up at a child’s level, meaning viewers have to kneel on the floor or peek through holes. One hole is a view into the jail — which turns out to be under video surveillance.
“Pretend you are the nice girl and I’m the enemy,” she wrote in a wall text. “I’ll lock you in a cage. ... Your parents don’t know where you are; they’re panicking. Ha, ha, ha! Do you want to play again?”
Sarfaraz left Iran to study in Paris and in 2006 came to Montreal, where she said she found an art scene closed to outsiders. It didn’t deter her. She went around to galleries and soon got into an exhibition at La Centrale.
But she also got help from the Montreal Arts Council, which contacts immigrants who identify themselves as artists and offers programs, including one of professional internships.
Sarfaraz had a two-year residency at the Darling Foundry, followed more recently by an internship at Galerie Les Territoires, where she worked with six other immigrant artists on the exhibition Imaginary Cities.
Montreal’s Raphaëlle de Groot
has won the $50,000 Sobey Art Award for Canadian artists under 40. The selection committee noted de Groot collaborates with people outside the conventional art world. “Her work reinforces common values and shared human experiences,” it said.
De Groot told ARTINFO Canada that rather than producing new things, she reformulates what already exists, “so that we can see it in a different light.”
A current exhibition at Galerie Graff is related to performances in which she talks about the travels of objects from their production to when they are given to her.
“These objects become the characters,” she told ARTINFO. “I disappear.”
For more information, go to sobeyartaward.ca and raphaelledegroot.net.
Recent works of Raphaëlle de Groot, until Dec. 8 at Galerie Graff, 963 Rachel St. For more information, please visit graff.ca/galerie/expositions/programation.html