ASCENDING VOICES

4 – 21 May 2016

Opening Night | Thursday 5 May, 6–8pm

ASCENDING VOICES: In Conversation |
Wednesday 11 May, 6.30–8pm

Join us at BLINDSIDE for an open discussion on female Iranian subjectivity, expanded documentary practices and the role of video art between exhibiting artist Sofi Basseghi and Dominic Redfern, artist and Associate Professor at RMIT University.
 

Sofi Basseghi

Sofi Basseghi employs documentary and video art practices to reveal an image of female Iranian rebellion. Her work observes the complexities, contradictions and contrasts within the dichotomy of a misogynist and theocratic governed Iran. 

Interested in the manner in which religious ideologies, superstitious belief systems and an ancient traditional culture impact the contemporary female Iranian identity, her work is often cognitive and visceral, informed by dialogues and exchanges between her own experiences as well as the experiences of women mostly from her own generation – women born during the Iran/Iraq war. Basseghi is particularly driven by the hidden and untold stories from these war babies who are products of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Her work intends to alter misguided perceptions by unveiling the rebellious nature of Iranian women living in and emerging from an oppressive society.

These narratives collected in social outings are interwoven with a collection of videos gathered during solitary outings capturing a multitude of perspectives expressed through the presence of majestic landscapes, urban cityscapes, the eerie crumbling of historical ruins and voyeuristic observations of women going about their everyday lives.

Through her practice, Basseghi aims to create a window for the exchange of dialogues between women’s lives in Iran and in Australia exhibiting both an ‘as is’ existence through documentary and a ‘perceived’ existence through narrative, dream and mythical folklore.

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Sofi Basseghi is an Iranian born video artist, photographer and director based in Melbourne. Her award winning films, photographs and video work have been exhibited nationally and internationally including the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome.

Dominic Redfern creates video artworks focused on the ways our understanding of ‘place’ is informed by the relationship between social and natural histories. With extensive experience working overseas with a particular focus on the Asia Pacific region, Redfern
publishes his own work, and the work of others, to promote and foster video art culture in Australia.


This project has been made in collaboration with: Performance by Parmida Siasifar + Nina Seyedi + Setareh Akef; Sound Design by Ai Yamamoto, Exhibition Design + Installation by Ehsan Khoshnami.


Thanks to Dominic Redfern + Keely Macarow, RMIT School of Art Research.


YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH THINGS AS THEY ARISE

It is a chaotic world in Tehran. Everything that could possibly happen, manages to happen as soon as you land at the airport. As soon as you step down from the airplane, people jump through queues. There are cars everywhere.

The light is different in Iran. It is warmer somehow. And then things happen: funerals, accidents, weddings. As soon as you arrive in Tehran, people are excessively kind, loving and cruel. Everything is extreme.

I have a connection to the land, the colour of the soil and the sunset. I want to project the majestic yet calm land. I remember the clear water in the rivers. It is an emotionally complex and politically oppressive place. But I find solitary moments in its barren landscape.

I remember hearing the ‘Namaki’ man with his trolley of dry bread, salt and plastic goods to trade and sell. I miss his cry of “Namaki e Nun Khoshkiye” which roughly translates as “the salt man is here for people to bring their dry or stale bread.”

I miss the Panbeh Zan who roam the streets calling: “Lahaf Duziyeh” so people know that he is available to mend or sew doonas with cotton. The Panbeh Zan use long sticks with a string attached to fluff up the cotton and create a doona. The stick resembles a strange instrument and makes a strange ringing and buzzing noise. I miss these sounds. Buskers also roam the streets with their accordions singing songs from old pre­revolutionary movies. I miss these people, but they also annoy me.

There is always something happening in the streets as you look out from the apartment windows, whether it's the doona man, fruit sellers, buskers, people fighting, cats fighting or birds feeding from food deliberately left on people’s window ledges.

Each season has its own unique flavour as urban landscapes transform. The sound of cooing doves and chirping sparrows resembles Spring and Summer and the sound of crows reminds me of Autumn and Winter. In Iran, children are told that the crows are messengers.

I miss the constant drama. I miss the chaos of it all. It is these nostalgic sounds and the dying trades of people like the Panbeh Zan which remind me of the life I used to live in Tehran with my family.

As I return to Iran each year I notice that old houses have been demolished for tall apartment blocks, the roads have more traffic and the pollution is worse. Kids are unable to play in the streets like I used to when I was younger. The seasonal changes remain the same, however there is much less snow. It is ironic that when I was in primary or middle school in winter we would pray for it to snow heavily so the schools would close. However the schools are now closed on occasions when the air pollution has reached a dangerous level. I find this disturbing.

Iran is a politically oppressed place filled with highs and lows. One minute people are in love with each other. The next they are taking anti­depressants. But I do miss the drama.

I am always driven to people who tell captivating stories. I look for these types of people, as I want to work with those who have the talent for telling an incredible story. It is the character of a person that is important to me.

We have awkward photos of my wedding because I am awkward in front of the camera. But most Iranian women are at ease and embrace the lens.
I establish a relationship with my characters to ensure their trust. I always want to make them comfortable in front of the camera so I can document their life and stories with their full consent.

I like characters with expressive identities and faces. I like people who talk forever, and are at interesting stages in their lives because of the experiences they have lived through. I am interested in people who have lived through difficult events and turn this to their advantage. I am interested in people who do not make excuses about who they are.

I am fascinated by my friends who I have watched from afar, as our form of communication has changed from letters to emails and from Facebook to Viber, Whatsapp and Telegram. A part of me wants to be back in Iran in the movement to facilitate change.

I have taken my camera to parties since I was 16 documenting the life that I thought I was missing out on. There was always an alcohol man who supplied alcohol to take to parties. And there was always medical alcohol if supplies were sparse, purchased from the pharmacy with the excuse of treating pimples. However this ploy did not always work. You had to fathom how your short boobtube dress could be hidden, firstly from your father and then from the public since women must cover up outside. But as soon as you arrive, the party is in full swing. You have to work harder to get something in Iran. Even then there might be consequences. You still might be caught out by the morality guards. But you have to work around them. There is always a way around.

My friends were jailed for partying. But people keep going, and the restrictions are the driving force behind their momentum. They think they are missing out on what they think is taking place outside Iran. But they don’t give up and things can become extreme.

The women in my work reflect this rebellion, by the way they are dressed. Twelve years ago those who appeared in my work were dressed far more modestly than they are dressed now. There was much less make up. The veils were thicker, the overcoats were longer.

When I was 18 and my friend drove her car, she was told to stop driving by a soldier because we were smoking. We got away. It was okay. You have to deal with things as they arise.

- SOFI BASSEGHI + KEELY MACAROW

School of Art, RMIT University.