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Visibility_Invisibility, An Artist’s statement

The main premise of my work is the transportation of ideas via live art and performative elements, using videos, architecture, sculptures, drawings and photographs. In particular, my work is always framed within an urban setting and inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s writings on the 19th century concept of the “Flaneur” and difusing the idea of urban space being reserved for the practice and performance of the white, middle class, hetro-sexual male. Instead I choose to highlight those individuals who would ordinarily be marginalized, made invisible or forced into self-‘ghettoisation’ from the urban domain such as migrant communities and their culture, particularly the communities from the Middle East and their diaspora. The question of visibility and invisibility, therefore, has been a situation that I actively explore within my practice; mostly with reference to my earlier video work.

In my film ”i?” (2004), I revisit the conceptual nature of Samuel Becketts’ only film, called ”Film”, starring Buster Keaton and made in 1965. The Video “i?” is not a remake of Becketts Film. The differences between Beckett’s Film and my video are important. The figure in Beckett’s film is mostly alone with his identity crisis; his running, climbing and scuttling around appears to emerge from a deep need.
But the video “i?” is examining identity in the center of the confusion of a multicultural city. Instead of Beckett’s twenty-two minutes, I made a 4.17 minutes’ film on a loop. The illustrative ending is gone, and replaced by a circular construction. The beginning, when the figure looks into the mirror while shaving, is backed up to the ending, which is double. First, he enters his home through the door, then arrives there and cannot open the door. Looking into the mirror is completely different after having been a mirror to others all day long. Those differences turn the later film into a critical commentary on the earlier one, in true postmodernist fashion. But it is also clear that this is a dialogue, not a rejection, of everything that Beckett’s film contains but keeps hidden: most importantly, the logic of the combination of going out in a public space while hiding of the face.

Since the video work “i?” I started a big series with the so-called ”migrant-figure” that embodies clichés of the West on behaviors of various migrants, especially those from the Mid-East. While women from this region are often seen as the oppressed with all freedom taken away and forced by their fundamentalist men or fathers or family to wear the chador, men are seen as the aggressor, the potential fundamentalist, the terrorist. The migrant figure is a somewhat minimalist version of what Western Europeans imagine as the migrant (the so called “guest worker”): a cheap suit, old-fashioned shoes, and a suitcase. While the video “i?” has a complex narration and deals with a twin migrant-figure, as if a split personality- the later videos with the migrant figure show him in very reduced but somewhat typical actions: in ”Road movie” (2004), walking down a road…; in ”Gold” (2004) walking through deserts…; in ”Alcazar 2450” (2004), it ends in a fiasco, when he went to celebrate a birthday party…; or walking through the territory of an abandoned factory in “Rockefeller boulevard”. In ”Caution” (2004), ”Attenzione” (2005), ”Hazard” (2007), and ”Ikaz” (2007), he is making a statement by using caution tape as if raising claim for his own territory. He is always on the move, mostly with his belongings in a suitcase in his hand.

In 2005, I started a new series, with new figures of migrants, also meeting the various prejudices:
”Islamic star” (2005), the Islamic fundamentalist…; ”Mehmet” (2005), the Kurdish activist…; ”Miguel” (2005), the Guerilla-guy…; ”Mladen” (2005), the criminal from the Balcans… Here the conception of the figures is radicalized: they are no longer the almost invisible friendly helper of the German reconstruction. Some of these figures are having a huge auto-aggression, burning themselves, firing a grenade next to themselves.
In “Islamic star”, the figure is showing the stigma of an Islamic Star (2005) on his shirt. With an “m” for “Muslim” on the star, similar to the ones that German Jews were forced to wear during Nazi-regime.
What does it mean, if a male artist, puts himself in the position of a “criminal” and a negative element in society? Does this mean to repeat the aggression of Western society and direct it against himself as an act of catharsis? It is quite unusual, that a male artists works with his own body, in this sense of course, beyond the fetish.

The works ”Islamic Vogue” (2001-05), ”Miniatures” (2001), ”Das kleine Schwarze” (2003-05), ”him and her” (2006), ”tents and sacks” (2006), ”Playboy” (2006), ”Heroines” (2006) and ”Islamic Carding” (2007) reflect the situation right after the Islamic revolution and the requirement for religious Shiite women to wear the black chador. It turned into the only possible public manifestation of women in Iran. At the same time, a censorship of female imagery in books and magazines in the public libraries and universities within the Country had also begun. As such pictures of uncovered female heads and parts of the body were either cut out from the printed matter or covered with paint in order to transfer them into the only valid aesthetics. After September 11th, the chador became the metaphor for radical Islamism, and, in addition, the symbol for the question of releasing women in the Middle East from male oppression. In the body of works that I started in 2001, I began - in an ironic and humorous fashion - the act of mimicing censorship within my home Country to “Islamize" the Western fashion world through veiling all the female bodies and faces shown in the German edition of the magazine “Vogue”, on “H+M” fashion posters and on a set of “Playboy” play cards and postcards. Two cultures collide in my work: On the one hand, the series remind us of the fact that many women are exposed to these obligations. Inevitably, at the same time, we think of the “black widows” that we know from the news. On the other hand, the pictures also scrutinize the often doubtful ideals of beauty within the Western world. Further “Islamic Carding” (2007) reflects the practice of placing prostitutes cards in phone boxes, which is known as ‘carding’ and is a particularly English phenomenon specific to London and the seaside resorts of Brighton and Hove to serve a flourishing tourist trade. I transport this confrontation also in my installations, sculptures and para-architectures. In my installation “M” (based on five lockers which four of them content the outfit and equipments of my performed different migrant figures and an empty one, and five large mirror framed by lights bubbles) I construct a sculpture of memories of myself and the other, trans-identity, and xenophobia.

Recently, I started my new series ”Dead Satellites”. ‘Dead Satellites’ is an expression defined by me for a certain culture within the migrant scene. In an astro-scientifical context, the term ‘dead satellites’ stands for satellites that are out of service, but still circling around the earth without destination. The title refers to those people, who left their home countries and practice certain cultural traditions in an exaggerated way. By this, the traditions lose their origins and are unveiled in a way of total hypertrophy. This exaggeration mixes up with a deep feeling of discomfort and mistrust against the ‘host country’. As result there are ‘dead satellites’, rootless, in two ways: They are without any context to their home countries and live in a partly self-decided, partly forced isolation additionally to their situation in the new country. Further interracial tensions are stoking between the groups of migrants since the European enlargement. The three parted video performance “Dead Satellites” tells the story of a muslim couple, dressed up in western clothes, who are filled with hate against the ‘white’ race in their environment. During the three chapters, ‘bint ‘amm’ (inbreed*), ‘Jungle Fever’ (after a film by Spike Lee, that deals with the love and compassion between the races) and ‘Familycide’ (an expression for a committed murder on relatives), the conflict potential between the partners gets worse as result of the Dead Satellites-situation. It evaluates into a bitter battle.

My newest project, ”Looking for ‘M’” responds to the artistic and media development. It is a response to the numerous works about the situation of migrants and migratory processes in a globalised world that are trying to explain their situation. “Looking for ‘M’” opens a natural view to ‘looking for’ those minorities without creating an “artistic self portrait of the community”. “Looking for ‘M’” offers the possibility of interactivity so that the audience can make its own portraits of the community - reflecting the information given by the community itself without the director's ‘censorship’. “Looking for ‘M’” invites the audience to participate in the my journey during my search to find the ‘Mennonites community’. The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496-1561), though his teachings were a relatively minor influence on the group. There are about 1.5 million Mennonites worldwide with the largest population in the United States and Democratic Republic of Congo, but Mennonites can also be found in tight-knit communities in at least 51 countries, including the North of Mexico, in the region of Chihuahua.The film is a road movie which depicts an adventure in a small city ”Cuauhtémocin” in the North of Mexico that is surrounded by Mennonites colonies. Inspirational base for the movie is the general cliché about Mexico as it is created in various Hollywood movies. A journalist arrives in the city, obviously looking for somebody. He meets several people asking them in a stubborn and stereotype way to show him the way to find the Mennonites. By using violence, he is able to get more information out of the people then they were ready to give initially - in order to create his own sensationalist story.

Shahram Entekhabi 2008