Last Friday the exhibit "Ornament and Crime" opened at Macalester College's beautiful new art gallery. The artist, Parastou Forouhar, gave a lecture yesterday about her work - how it creates a new imagined space for the immigrant or refugee, how language lends itself to memory, and how she seeks to address the sexuality and violence often "normalized" by ornamental signs in visual culture. For me, her talk highlighted how her work can be interpreted as feminist in nature, seeing as it disrupts the dominant narratives of language, history, geography, and sexuality.
Parastou was born in Iran in the 1960s, and moved to Berlin in the early 1990s. She continues to return to Iran, and most of her art mitigates her memories of her homeland and mother tongue, and her new identity as an exile in Germany. Her parents were well-known dissidents to the Islamic regime, and were assassinated by the state in 1988. Since then, Parastou has continued coalition-building via her artistic and political connections in Iran and abroad; her work explores the furthering of democracy, and criticizes the oppressive nature of dictatorships and religious hegemonies. That being said, her art is playful, comedic, and light - this juxtaposition of heavy subject matter and colorful media draws attention to her exploration of ornament and crime. Parastou talked about how she is interested in how ornaments and patterns that we are exposed to everyday are seemingly harmonizing, and that they actually cover violence and oppressions made invisible (often by government).
Her work plays with Farsi script, and she often makes the calligraphy illegible in order to examine memory lost and altered. She utilizes balloons, video game installations, and pocket-sized flipbooks to display her patterns and drawings. Her work is controversial in Iran, and she talked about several exhibits in which she was threatened or warned to not display her art. Luckily, however, her mobility as an Iranian in the diaspora allows her to show her work in Europe and the U.S. as well, where she has a growing audience.
The exhibit will run through March 10th, and is curated by Joanna Inglot, chair and associate professor of Macalester’s Art and Art History department. (I am enrolled in Professor Inglot's course, Globalization and Contemporary Art this semester - it is stellar).
Please come check out this wonderful exhibit in the gorgeous new arts building/gallery!
More info here.