Ghadirian was inspired to make work reflecting what she saw as the duality and contradiction of life. Her Qajar Series (1998-2001) consists of small studio portraits of women dressed in the nineteenth-century Qajar style. Many of the women photographed are Ghadirian’s friends and family. The backgrounds of these portraits resemble those found in photographic studios of that period. However, the artist has added some modern anomalies or dissonances, such as a mountain bike, a newspaper, or a Pepsi-Cola can. Ghadirian plays with these juxtapositions and contrasts, thus expressing the difficulties women face in Iran today – torn between tradition and the modernity of globalization. These composed portraits depict women unsure to which era they belong.
2001, black & white digital prints, 60 x 90 cm.
Ghadirian made her Like Every Day Series after her marriage to fellow photographer, Peyman Hooshmand-zadeh. In this body of work, Ghadirian comments upon the daily repetitive routine to which many women find themselves consigned and by which many women are defined. Each of these color photographs depicts a figure draped in patterned fabric in place of the typical Iranian chador. However, instead of a face, each figure has a common household item such as an iron, a tea cup, a broom, a pot or a pan.
Her work is intimately linked to her identity as a Muslim woman living in Iran. Nonetheless, her art also deals with issues relevant to women living in other parts of the world. She questions the role of women in society and explores ideas of censorship, religion, modernity, and the status of women.
2008. Digital print, 30 x 30 in.
“Come Caress Me”
September 2010 performance at Azad Art Gallery, Tehran
Shocking performance at Art Gallery, inspired by Chris Burden, in which he stood in front of a target, wearing a bodysuit with a protective metal box over his head, and invited gallery visitors to shoot at him with a pellet gun. It was, he says, a symbolic execution with a message about freedom of speech and the hopes of artists of his generation being silenced.
“Come Caress Me”
September 2010 performance at Azad Art Gallery, Tehran
“Portrait of the Artist as a Rebel”
2005. Digital C-print, 20 x 13 1/2 in.
Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1977–80) have been canonized as a hallmark of postmodernist art, which frequently utilized mass-media codes and techniques of representation in order to comment on contemporary society. In this series of 69 black-and-white photographs, Sherman posed herself in various melodramatic guises that recall the stereotypical feminine characters presented in 8 x 10 publicity stills for B-grade movies from the 1950s and 1960s. The personae she created range from ingenue lost in the big city to martini-wielding party girl to jilted lover to hausfrau. Untitled Film Still, #15 depicts the tough girl with a heart of gold.
Contrary to the media images they appropriate, which may require a transparent sense of realism to sell an illusion, Sherman’s stills have an artifice that is heightened by the often visible camera cord, slightly eccentric props, unusual camera angles, and by the fact that each image includes the artist, rather than a recognizable actress or model.
Untitled Film Still #7
In the early 1980s Sherman continued to explore stereotypes of femininity and female representation found in popular culture, such as the centerfold format of pornographic magazines. She also began to use color in her work; her painterly sensibility is apparent in Untitled, #112 and subsequent photographs. Untitled, #112 is also one of the first images in which the artist portrays a more masculine identity. This gender ambiguity, along with the way the unusually lit figure emerges from the black background, yields an unsettling sensation. These effects become ominous and even frightening in later works in which Sherman portrays more disheveled and malign characters.
Untitled, #167 is from Sherman’s Disasters series, which directly investigates grotesque and disgusting subject matter. The sense of foreboding elicited by earlier works is more overt, suggesting the terror of horror films (a genre that significantly focuses on female victims). Untitled, #167 depicts the scene of a gruesome crime. Emerging from the dirt are the nose, lips, and red-painted fingertips of a blonde, apparently female, victim.
A discarded Polaroid photographic sheath suggests documentation (either by a police officer or perhaps the villain, whose reflection appears in an open makeup compact), and obliquely implicates the artist as photographic voyeur. The very darkness of the image and the reflectiveness of the photograph’s surface make it difficult for the viewer to scrutinize the scene. Untitled, #167 foreshadows Sherman’s use of prosthetic body parts in her later works, as well as the gradual elimination of her own likeness.
Sherman’s reputation was established early on with her Untitled Film Stills, a series of black-and-white photographs from the late 1970s in which the artist depicted herself dressed in the guises of clichéd B-movie heroines. In photograph after photograph, Sherman was ever present, and yet never really there—her ready adaptation of a range of personae highlighting the masquerade of identity. Her appropriation of the space on both sides of the lens destabilized the traditional opposition between artist and model, object and subject—one that had been theorized by film critics in terms of spectatorship and its gendered codes of looking.
If the Untitled Film Stills elicited debate concerning the construction of woman-as-image, the photographs Sherman made throughout the mid-1980s served to perpetuate this discourse. Her Centerfolds (1981) and Fashion (1983–84) series elaborated the codes of what film theorist Laura Mulvey termed the “to-be-looked-at-ness” of female representation. Emulating the signifiers of the centerfold, the closely cropped photographs reveal a body that is available to the camera and bathed in a vivid light. Sherman’s choice of subject compounds the voyeuristic impression established in the works.
Feeling pigeonholed by the feminist discourse that surrounded her work, Sherman gradually dispensed with representations of the female, often removing herself from the picture and moving toward more fantastic and lurid imagery, as in her Fairy Tales and Disasters series from the mid- to late 1980s. The ever-increasing market for her photographs also prompted this turn, challenging her to attempt to create work that was “unsaleable” due to its visceral depictions of vomit, body parts, and grotesque fairy tales. Simultaneously, she instilled the works with a heightened sense of artifice created by garish colors and gaps that reveal the fiction behind the illusion.
Art 21 Episode: Transformation
July 09 – October 03, 2010
Mika Rottenberg’s immersive video installations address issues of gender and labor through outrageous narratives centered around real women (not actors or models) and their bodies. With her new video entitled Squeeze, Rottenberg collapses the humorous and the unsettling to examine global production in a 20-minute narrative that screens on a continuous loop at SFMOMA. Splicing together documentary footage from a rubber plant in India and a lettuce farm in Arizona with her own narrative of women in an absurdist makeup factory, Rottenberg’s surreal video homes in on the social realities of women’s labor.
Maya Deren’s Legacy: Women and Experimental Film
May 15–October 4, 2010
Maya Deren (American, 1917–1961) was a visionary of American experimental film in the 1940s and 1950s. A precocious student, she studied poetry and literature at New York University and Smith College, where she became interested in the arts. While working for modern-dance choreographer Katherine Dunham, Deren met her future husband, filmmaker Alexander Hammid, who introduced her to European avant-garde film. In 1943, the couple collaborated on the short film Meshes of the Afternoon, which has since become one of the most widely influential films of the American experimental-film movement.
Deren, who received the first Guggenheim Foundation grant for “creative work in the field of motion pictures” and formed the Creative Film Foundation to broaden support for experimental film, continued making and self-distributing her own films and lecturing and writing about avant-garde cinema theory until her untimely death at the age of forty-four. Her pioneering formal innovations—performing in front of the camera, using semiautobiographical content, and meshing literary, psychological, and ethnographic disciplines with rigorous technique—inspired future generations of experimental filmmakers.
This exhibition, which consists of a video installation in the Theater Galleries and short-film programs in the theaters, examines Deren’s legacy through both her own work and that of a trio of women directors upon whom she had an indelible influence: Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Hammer, and Su Friedrich.
For the first time in the world, a museum will be displaying the feminine side of its own collections. This new presentation of the Centre Pompidou’s collections will be entirely given over to the women artists from the 20th century to the present day.
elles@centrepompidou is the third thematic exhibition of the National Modern Art Museum’s collections, following Big Bang in 2005 and the Mouvement des Images (Image Movements) in 2006-2007.