Iranian artists working in this country possess unique challenges, including the responsibility of cultural exchange and diplomacy with the ignorant or uninitiated. At The Iranian, we’ve discussed and spoken with a number of artists whose activism involves an interrogation of history; arguably, this is no more evident than with women artists. Sheida Soleimani, a professor at Brandeis University and a contemporary artist, leverages photographs, collage, digital editing techniques, and her survivor’s heritage as activism through her art.
Soleimani was born in Iran, but her father was a political activist contesting the Ayatollah’s regime, responsible for her mother being imprisoned and tortured. This resulted in a move to Cincinnati, where she grew up, though clearly informed by the narrative of her mother’s incomprehensible suffering and strength: “My maman would draw me pictures of her prison cell and tell me bedtime stories about her life during the revolution.” In the process of unearthing these real life stories of death, captivity, and torture, Soleimani used online forums, the dark web, and other resources to depict these victims in her unique style, which skewers, duplicates, and violently contorts images, creating strangely moving and disturbing transfigurations of real people—it’s possibly a reconsidered, reclaimed concretion and magnification of their suffering.
The messaging and symbolic details may be complex, but experiencing her art is a visceral and immediate event, prompting something of the universal: “To see an image and deconstruct it through your own ideologies opens up the possibility for more global communication.”
Though disturbing, work like Soleimani’s attempts to give a voice to the voiceless, translating a deeply personal lineage of pain into an effective platform, one that now includes collaborations with publications and zines like Zine Zone, for which she designed last September’s release for a PS1 event. The cruelty and totalitarian methods that sought to foster silence now only makes Soleimani’s work even louder.
You can find a large collection of Soleimani’s work on her website, here.