Farideh Sakhaeifar: You are in the war zone.
March 18 through April 17, 2021
Curated by Klaudia Ofwona Draber
By ANNA HARSANYI, May 2021
Upon entering Farideh Sakhaeifar’s solo exhibition, You are in the war zone. curated by Klaudia Ofwona Draber, at Trotter&Sholer, co-organized by KODA, the focus is drawn towards Mute (2019), a large metallic rug installed on the floor. It is a commentary on the Halabja massacre in 1988, a genocidal massacre against Kurdish people; the largest chemical weapons attack directed at a civilian population. The motifs running along its edges and inner panels are made up of repetitions of jets, missiles, barbed wire, armed soldiers. Their CNC laser cut outlines are filled with soil. In the center, images of death and destruction overlap into near-abstraction. This work is inspired by Afghan war rugs, a form of rug-making which developed in the context of wars in Afghanistan’s recent history, beginning during the Soviet occupation in the late 1970s. These rugs continue the tradition of preserving narratives and recording experiences by including visual references to the times in which they are produced. War rugs more specifically capture the public consciousness of violent conflict, weaving together ubiquitous symbols to recount the visual memories of war. Sakhaeifar’s rug, in turn, encapsulates these same symbols through solid materials, a sculptural rendition of the perceptions of war.
The exhibition features work spanning Sakhaeifar’s multi-disciplinary practice, including one work by HEKLER, an artist collective that she is part of, examining the multi-faceted consequences of war through a close examination of image-making and distribution. Rooted in her own lived experiences, the artist asks audiences to look at images through a lens of disrupted familiarity, challenging what it means to visualize war and how such images often obscure the complex and enduring realities of people living in conflict.
Near the gallery’s front window is Toppled (2015), a small bronze statue of a faceless man upon a pedestal. With one arm raised ambiguously signaling forward and holding an upright stance, the figure resembles the monument of Saddam Hussein toppled in 2003 shortly after the US invasion of Iraq, but because it is faceless it appears to be that of any dictator. Around his neck hangs a rope, an ominous symbol of his impending collapse. This work is augmented by a digital collage, or a digital painting, hung nearby, whose title suggests the next step in this statue’s fate: When pulling down a statue, a chain works better than a rope (2021). This large colorful print compiles scenes from monument removals around the world, an amalgam of popular destruction against symbols of power. Along with Mute (2019), these three works capture collective refusals of authority – whether through subversive visual storytelling or outright destruction of symbols.
The series Pending (2015) shows journalistic photographs of war refugees licensed by Getty Images, The Guardian, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. From the perspective of a contemporary American viewer, the snapshots are familiar: a desert panorama, sometimes peppered with US soldiers and military vehicles, empty if not for the fleeing refugees. Sakhaeifar has manipulated these images by removing the bodies of the refugees, leaving visible only the parcels they carry with them. The result is a landscape of floating objects, the material fragments of people’s lives, rendered anonymous from their owners’ absence. This series provokes questions of what kinds of power dynamics are involved in war photography, and what it means to view these images from outside of their immediate contexts. It is not lost that the United States’ wars in the Middle East of the past 40 years, which have incited seemingly endless cycles of violence in the region, hold disproportionate consequences. For those living in the US, almost all perceptions of the war exist through photographs and videos, never grasping the long-term destruction that permeates all aspects of people’s lives. This reality engenders a dependence on the mediated experience in order to gain any aspect of understanding. Though some might argue that photojournalism documents palpable facts, images also serve to distort and isolate a complex reality. Through the artist’s acts of erasure in Pending (2015), of removing civilians from the frame, she prompts a deeper reflection on what we actively do and do not see, do and do not remember, when looking at such images.
In the series You are in the war zone. (2016-2017), gelatin silver prints of scenes from daily life in New York are overlaid with images of war traced on top of the photograph during the developing process. Children playing in a fountain basin are overlaid with a wounded person being carried on a stretcher; drawn on top of subway commuters hurrying up stairs is a man and woman each holding wounded babies. This simple yet profound intervention into the image calls into question the parallel existences of a nation at war. The quietness of the New York street portraits, and the delicate process of over exposing the traced drawings on top of them in the darkroom, reverberate a painful intimacy. The ability to be still, to forget or potentially evade the lived realities of victims of war is broken on the surface through the artist’s drawn lines. Indeed, the stories captured in the photographs are mere traces of what its subjects experience, only small fragments of life in a war zone.
Sakhaeifar’s image-based interventions illustrate the distance between depictions of war, and the realities of life during wartime. The artist explores this from multiple standpoints, from the perspective of the image-makers, who selectively frame and capture moments in time; to the viewers, whose consumption of these images leaves an incomplete understanding of war; to the notion of images themselves, whose form inherently limits the ability to convey complex realities. Within this tension, Sakhaeifar elaborates a sense of displacement – from the material and physical displacement that war creates, to the affective chasms that evolve out of wars fought entirely abroad.
You are in the warzone. is viewable on Eazel, indefinitely. WM
Anna Harsanyi is a curator, educator, and arts manager. She is dedicated to presenting art in a non-art context and creating sites that invite participation from audiences outside of the art community.
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