press release

In the Shadow of “Fallen” Heroes* by Sara Raza

Hovering somewhere between myth and reality resides the historical concept of heroes as almighty figures with miraculous capabilities to transform both time and place. These mystical super-characters were revered, feared and loathed in equal quantities; just as they were constructed, maintained, abolished and resurrected and have now come to exist comfortably within an easily digestible semi-mythological and historical repartee of once upon a time in a far away land. In the not so distant contemporary moment one can undoubtedly witness the evolution of the former notion of the so-called hero, with his trusted sidekick in tow, dutifully battling against the status quo as something of days long bygone. Instead, today’s heroes represent the ultimate goliath multiplied by the power of infinity and perhaps better known as the superpower. These new heroes are armed with an entire entourage of “trigger happy” supporters, who are apparently considered as heroic within their own right all ready, waiting and willing to act on behalf of their appointed hero.

Equipped with the latest armaments, immortality has become merely an occupational hazard for today’s hero/ superpower with his Teflon like persona, where nothing seems to stick beside from an astonishing ability to create an entirely new set of gold spun tales based upon a biased and distorted authenticity. The legacy of these tales can be recognised and best summarised as a series of unforeseeable and regrettable happenings, often having been dismissed as unfortunate incidents which are accompanied by a “heroic” apology, possible resignation, or in the majority of cases a gallant re-instatement of power.

The residue of heroic acts of bravado ultimately and ironically suggest that there are no apparent winners in this elitist game, where the game of snakes and ladders takes place along the select sections of the longitudes and latitudes of the globe. Notably, Kyrgyzstan, the site where the 2nd Bishkek International Contemporary Art Exhibition will take place, like its neighbouring republics in Central Asia, bears witness first hand to a region inflicted by political recreation having experienced almost three quarters of a century of communist dictatorship, and the constant pressure of the Cold War; jostling in between the world’s superpowers: the USA and the former USSR. The only visible outcome of this type of play acted out in Central Asia, and indeed countless other parts of the developing world, has been the increased visibility of numerous incidents of “failures of intelligence” where heroes have fallen from grace, leaving behind haunting moments and memories of disarray, trauma and absurdity. Consequently, these moments have come to form the curatorial selection of works by eight contemporary artists of Iranian or Kurdish heritage: Rey Akdogan, Shahram Entekhabi, Nooshin Farhid, Shahram Karimi, Maria Kheirkhar, Mitra Memarzia, Mitra Tabrizian and Safi Yazdanian whose works will be exhibited for the first time in Kyrgyzstan under the subtitle of “In the Shadow of “Fallen” Heroes.” Each artist through his or her diverse approach to visual culture is seen to map out the bizarrely incongruous malfunctions and complexities associated with the so-called “winners” and “losers” of heroic game-play.

Rey Akdogan’s Formula 1 Grand Prix Kurdistan, 2005, map and test drive video footage, are part of a documentation of an on going research based project that is intent on accumulating all the necessary ingredients required to play the real and imaginary game of high velocity. By employing the assistance of actual architects, engineers and cartographers Akdogan’s proposal for a Formula 1 racetrack site along the Kurdish borderline, toys with the double binary of visibility and non-visibility of an actual space that is dictated and fractured by current, historical and “worldly” impacts.

Shahram Entekhabi’s Happy Meal, 2004, video, portrays an extraordinary economical and cheerful date between two opposing giants: Islam and corporate capitalism which takes place in a drive through McDonalds in Berlin. This romantic scenario is acted out by a small chador clad girl blissfully devouring her super-size burger, fries and soda pop, whilst trying to maintain her veil, which repeatedly works as an interruption between her and the “Happy Meal.” The piece performs as a powerful metaphor for the two conflicting entities that are ironically in a battle to wholly consume one another.

Nooshin Farhid’s two screen video installation Blind Spot, 2004 utilises scenes from the mundane and the absurd to highlight the aftermath of breakdown in communication. Set within the tranquil countryside one monitor shows a lone security guard watching over a series of monitors, on the other monitor a man presumably dead lies in the lake in a partially deflated boat. The piece deals directly with the failure of technology and surveillance to capture a fatal calamity and is further accompanied by a soundtrack of a 1970s pop idol who sings about feeling a loss of control.

Shahram Karimi’s video performance Wall, 2004 is a site specific piece enacted by the artist at the site of Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. The performance documents the artist engaged in a makeshift rebuilding of the former Berlin Wall at the very spot where it was once erected with the aid of haphazard concrete blocks that are frantically piled one on top of the other. The end result is the recreation of a wall that is highly disproportionate leaving the artist’s face fully exposed through a gaping hole providing a flippant commentary on the construction of manmade walls and borders that impede mobility and possess the ability to divide and contain.

Maria Kheirkhah’s video performance piece, Khamoosh, 2003 Reflects on three different meanings in the Farsi/Persian language, silent, unlit and dead. Through the action of lighting the candles, which are deliberately positioned to spell out the word Khamoosh, the artist uses temporal performance to re-awaken intellectual memory and simultaneously denies the word of its own memory or legacy. The performance binds together emotion, intellect and the recognition of loss, innocence and history where the lighting of the candles becomes an act of resistance.

Mitra Memarzia’s AlterNations, 2003 video performance of a presumably “female” figure continuously rotating and removing several layers of clothing “echoes the intentions of altering meaning to change, to adjust, modify, revise, rework, correct and maintain” (Mitra Memarzia May 2004). The body of the performer has been decapitated through intentional framing, reminiscent of old 8mm films, refusing its viewers access to the actual identity of the figure and thus, creating a sense of suspense. The piece also includes a disturbing flashing strobe light that has been purposely inserted by the artist to create an environment of discontent reflective of the way in which information is filtered and interrupted by the media.

Mitra Tabrizian’s film The Predator, 2004 unfolds the fictional story of “a hit man from an unknown Islamic country sent to assassinate an influential writer now living in the UK. The film focuses on the unusual encounter between the two men; a writer who has given up his life’s work and has lost his belief in any political intervention, and a loyal solider who is loosing his loyalty.” (Mitra Tabrizian Oct 2004). A striking irony recurring through the film is the dominant use of English as the only common denominator between the characters, which plays on the notion that fundamentalism, is a universal concept, akin to the practice and performance of the English language.

Safi Yazdanian’s documentary film Looking for Shahrzad, 2002 traces the hilarious search for the figure of Shahrzad, the historic and iconic image of the archetypal Persian heroine, whose image appeared in a pre-Revolutionary television commercial for Shahpasand Vegetable Oil. Through his search Yazdanian sites the history of over two decades worth of television commercials by interviewing frustrated PR agents and highlighting the comical highs and lows of advertising in Iran; where censorship laws are both strict and rampant and provide the explanation for Shahrzad’s expulsion from the television screen.

* Text © Sara Raza and ArtEast Social Organization, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, exhibition catalogue published in Russian and English for details please contact Muratbek Jumaliev and Gulnara Kasmaliev All images and text are courtesy and © of the curators and artists and can not be reproduced without prior written consent.


In the Shadow of Heroes
2nd Bishkek International Art Exhibition

Organisation: ArtEast Social Organization, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Kuratorin: Sara Raza
Ort: Historical State Museum, Bishkek

mit Rey Akdogan, Shahram Entekhabi, Nooshin Farhid, Shahram Karimi, Maria Kheirkhar, Mitra Memarzia, Mitra Tabrizian, Safi Yazdanian