The convergence of art and public space is a recurrent and potent theme, particularly within the context of Iran, where the streets have often borne witness to the presence of bodies unified in demonstrations and protests. These gatherings are emblematic of the power of bodies to stake their claim in the public sphere, shaping not only the physical landscape but also the identity of these spaces.
At the heart of this transformation of public spaces lies the body itself, both as an individual entity and as part of a collective. It is through the corporeal actions of individuals and crowds that the demand for freedom is embodied and enacted, often taking on a performative character. In our contemporary world, where social media shapes the evolution of politics, political movements frequently embrace art as a vehicle to amplify their messages and extend their reach to a broader audience. This raises the question of whether there exists a fundamental similarity between the bodies of protesters and those of artists, and whether they share common skills and expertise.Rather than delving into the well-explored terrain of the traditional divide between art and politics, this essay highlights the instances when art assumes the role of protest and when it becomes a powerful tool for conveying political concepts.
Within the framework of this 12th Persbook event, I spotlight the pioneering work of artists who deploy their own bodies as agents of change in public spaces. One such artist is Zohreh Solati, who boldly takes her stand on a sidewalk adorned with an outfit composed of small, square-shaped mirrors. Veil-less and assertive, she plays a pivotal role in securing her right to access public space, simultaneously allowing passersby to see in her body nothing but themselves. Through her performance, she pushes against the conventional limits that demarcate personal and public space, elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary, and even infusing it with political significance.
In another provocative work featured in the Persbook series, artist Farzin Hedayat zadehperforms in an outfit reminiscent of medieval samurai attire or even the iconic Darth Vader from the Star Wars series. Armed with a shackle, he leaves an enduring imprint on walls adorned with state-endorsed political slogans, providing a visually compelling portrayal of the artist as a tough agent for reshaping the political discourse.
Mojdeh Atrak engages in a performative act that spans cities and individuals. She navigates urban landscapes with a heavily knotted rope. In a deeply symbolic gesture, she invites random passersby to participate in unraveling the knot, with each individual contribution symbolizing unity and cooperation. The knot eventually yields to collective effort across multiple communities, signifying the power of collective action.
Nasrin Shahbeigi employs her body as a site of contestation, eschewing the conventional act of walking in favor of rolling through various urban spaces. Her unconventional approach challenges societal norms, particularly in Iran, where women are often discouraged from unusual corporal movements, running, or moving swiftly in public spaces. Her act is not only an assertion of her presence but also a powerful commentary on gendered expectations in public life.
Esmail Ghanbari embarks on another daring and thought-provoking journey. In the depths of the night, he traverses the lush forests of the north of Iran, armed only with a flashlight. What sets his act apart is his intent: he seeks to make himself vulnerable to wild animals, effectively offering himself as prey. In a world where human agency is often perceived as dominant, Ghanbari’s act subtly shifts the focus, allowing other agents in nature to take center stage.
Within the work of artists featured inthis Persbook event, we observe a common thread: the body emerges as a central locus of contestation, a canvas upon which artists inscribe their narratives of change and ownership of public spaces. These artists continually push the boundaries by navigating the intricate relationship between art and politics with their bodies as the medium. They embody resilience, courage, and a steadfast commitment to reshaping the spaces they inhabit.
The artists showcased here represent just a select fraction of the remarkable talents featured in the Persbook series. There is a wealth of creativity and expression that still waits to be explored within the broader context of Persbook, a platform that has evolved and grown over a decade, offering new insights and perspectives year after year. As I reflect on the past and present, I anticipate the boundless potential for artistic and societal transformation that Persbook will continue to unlock during these critical times and hopefully in the years ahead.