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Feel the Expanse: An Exhibition by Roxanna Manuchehri

Source:, Tehran


"This is my room, this is my studio" it says in Perso-Arabic script on one of Roxana Manouchehri's paintings from the "Feel the Expanse" series the Teheran-born artist is introducing to us in the present exhibition. The painting is showing a windowless, unfurnished, dimly neon-lit interior easily identifiable as the artist's Korean studio in North Eastern Seoul's Changdong district. Ironically the premises of the Changdong Art Studio where the artist is currently attending a 6-month residency programme prove an ideal setting for Manouchehri's criticism of the sterile functionality western aesthetics have been obsessed with for almost a century.



Of course, criticism of modern aesthetics is not what Manouchehri's recent work is about. Populating the interiors with the ghost-like silhouettes of figures taken from traditional Persian miniatures, Manouchehri creates a unique imagery aimed at the visualisation of emptiness rather than the depiction of what is there. The figures, mostly quotations from Persian Safavid Dynasty's iconographic inventory, are representing corporate Iranian cultural heritage as well as a piece of the artist's personal history: saints and fairies rising from the dusty story books of childhood, meandering the bleakness of contemporary interiors as "vagrant phantoms, [...] at odds with their environment formally and contextually." Rather than directly articulating criticism of rationalism, Manouchehri points out the spiritual emptiness it created in western societies (causing substitution of numinous symbols as described in C.G.Jung's "Man and his Symbols") and contrasts it with the traditional believer's na´vety, that way highlighting the gap in-between and creating a sensation of loss and nostalgia.



The gloomy sonority of Manouchehri's imagery is alleviated by subtle irony that adds skilfully modulated warm overtones: "I always wanted to know, for example, how it looks to depict the baptism of Seljuk era Jesus in a modern bathroom; or lovers of Isfahan School in a modern bedroom with a king-size bed...!", says Manouchehri in a statement illustrating her preference for the ambiguous and the kind of double entrendre, that is easily overseen by beholders unfamiliar with the traditional Persian narratives many of her works are iconographically linked to.



The painting of a modern shower room, for instance, refers to the narration of an ill-starred love relationship by epic poet Nezami Ganjavi (1141-1202), the lovers' first encounter taking place at a fountain where the female protagonist Layli is washing her body. In shifting the scene to the shower room Manouchehri reveals her talent for delicate irony, concurrently making clear that her viewpoint is a Middle-Eastern artist's: "I regard myself as a member of this inhibited, shy, and traditional generation [of Iranians], who came to know western technologies and culture for less than a century. [I]nhibitions and shyness are part of our nature and all these modern glosses are like a thin shell. Deep down under this false shell we are the same as those figures, looking to the world through their eyes and struggling on the edge of tradition and modernism." It is the artist's deep rootage in the firm ground of her home-country's cultural heritage along with a sense for subtle irony that makes her clear-cut comment on the issue of cultural alienation in the age of globalisation so convincing.


... Payvand News - 05/19/09 ... --

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