café for contemporary art

Shohreh Ghanbary: counter-revolution, inside-out

Posted in Uncategorized by tyler057 on April 11, 2011

counter-revolution, inside-out
a Shohreh Ghanbary solo exhibition
April 9 to May 22, 2011
Café for Contemporary Art
140 East Esplanade Ave
North Vancouver, BC
Opening Reception: April 15, 2011, 7-9pm
with a musical performance by Hermin & Bahman

Shohreh Ghanbary is an artist, a woman and an activist whose artistic practice, spanning nearly 30 years is interwoven with and interrupted by experiences of imprisonment, flight, motherhood and the demands of everyday life. It is a practice that arose first from the unsightly guts of a crushed late 20th Century counter-revolution and has continued in exile. Ranging from painting an…d drawing to embroidery and video, Shohreh uses whatever medium is at hand to process and convey.

In the very early 1980s, in the wake of an Islamic Revolution, a wave of discontent overwhelmed Iran’s youth. Women who had come to enjoy a significant degree of equality were suddenly viewed by the state as worth no more than 50% of a man. The mouths of men and women who had embraced a revolutionary moment rich with political debate and religious freedom were suddenly forced shut with the reliable threat of prison, torture and/or execution.

At the time Shohreh was a young student at the National University of Iran and along with many of her friends she was unwilling to tolerate the extremes of the Islamic Revolution and took to the streets. Her subsequent arrest was nothing more than a factor of probabilities. Locked in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for nearly 7 years she was subjected to horrendous conditions, the constant threat of execution and the steady disappearance of fellow prisoners.

The imprisoner’s intent, certainly, was to crush her cultural urges and force her to convert and conform. Shohreh had none of that. And despite the least tolerable circumstances imaginable she not only refused forceful conversion, but also found place for beauty and love.

In the middle of the night when all was quiet, alone in the bed of her cell with a single needle and gathered threads she would embroider images of hope, commemoration and normality to the inside of the pockets of her chador. And each year as her parents were permitted to bring a change of clothes, her messages of hope were smuggled out.

Finally in late 1988, at the time of a brutal five month long mass execution of political prisoners, Shohreh was released. Her survival nothing more than a factor of probabilities. Shortly thereafter she escaped Iran with her prison treasures in hand. And, after 10 years in Montreal she finally settled here in North Vancouver. But like many in the lower mainland who have never really left the freedom crying souls of their youth Shohreh continues to cry for freedom. In addition to attending to the demands of everyday life she works tirelessly as an activist with the Neda for Freedom Society, a North Shore based human rights organization, and continues to produce art works that, exiled from a counter-revolutionary struggle, cry for freedom, reflect on exile and imprisonment and from time-to-time celebrate beauty.

Her works are special. They emerge out of unique experience and are not coloured by formal training or excessive theory. Reflecting on Shohreh’s pocket embroideries I often think of the Koreans of the March 1st movement of 1919, non-violent heroes who struggled for freedom and dignity but were brutally repressed by Japan’s Imperial regime. I wish I could give some meaningful reference to artwork that emerged from the prisoners of that moment. But I haven’t done the research and know of no one who has. I imagine however, contortions of the imprisoned soul in spring, through un-air-conditioned summers and under-heated winters writhing with hope and loss crafting, like Shohreh, something of their dreams and fading friends.

But there may be reference for Shohreh’s work in more recent times. Because of her prominence, Shirin Neshat’s name often comes up, when speaking about Shohreh’s work. But Neshat was a privileged Iranian woman who left Iran for art school before things got nasty in 1979. A woman who, after gaining a minor foothold in the New York art system, traveled to Iran for a short stint in 1990, returning to the US to comfortably craft reactions that spoke in a language amenable to a scene she was becoming a part of. Shohreh’s work doesn’t rest so comfortably in the milieu of Neshat. Rather, in terms of a relationship to internationally recognised art, Shohreh’s practice probably finds its most profound kinship or friendship with that of artists like Parastou Forouhar a fellow Persian woman whose intimate experience with the oppression of Iranian regime has resulted in exile, ongoing activism and persistent artistic production. Forouhar’s parents, prominent critics of the Iranian Regime spoke out for human rights and were consequently massacred in the intimate setting of their private residence. Forouhar’s work which grapples with political violence and the position of women in contemporary Iran is, sadly, probably more of a sister to Shohreh’s work. One can only hope that, as the urges of a new generation erupt across the Middle East and a rugged muzzle remains on the democratic movements in Iran, the works of these women find no more kin.

Today, at the café for contemporary art it is an absolute honour to have these priceless works on display and as a precious democratic election looms, it is a profound privilege to be able to reflect on these works so generously presented in Shohreh Ghanbary’s solo exhibition/mini-retrospective: counter-revolution, inside-out.

Exhibition Curator: Tyler Russell
Exhibition Designer: Roya Changizi
Technical Assistance: Bahman Ghadimi
Special Thanks: Mehran Amiri, Shirin Mehrbod and Hermin Eshghi

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  1. […] pieces depict her journey, as well as the people of Iran in a very vivid, yet real way. Follow the Café for Contemporary Art Exhibition page for more details on the heavy and thoughtful […]

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