Text by Phyllis Kiehl, translated by Ishbel Flat
A human figure veiled from head to foot, the original surroundings cut out by computer and replaced with pure white.
A black, patterned chador is draped fluidly around the figure, who appears to be kneeling in prayer, and whose position alters slightly from image to image. Another motif, smaller this time, shows the same figure, from the chest upwards, again in slightly different positions. The figure in the chador is a man. He has no face. Instead, the viewer is confronted with the back of a shaven head, a smooth, skin-coloured protuberance that has no identity. Only a band of grey stubble betrays the gender of this human figure that has been reduced to mere form.
The photo series by Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar leads the viewer into a black-and-white non-space in which the harsh silhouettes of the bodies appear as absurd manifestations of a sterile world. Almost life-size, the rear view of a man’s head in a chador addresses us with an immediacy that demands a fearless response. But what is it all about? The figure effortlessly foils our prejudices and casts them back at us: Who is speaking? With what right? In which language? And beneath the veil, we glimpse an offer so deceptively obvious that it might be an advertisement. What irony that holds for those who immediately “understand” Forouhar’s super-signs of alienation.
The figures are sitting and standing in a world detached, a world that cuts through pathos with a well-honed scalpel. Literally.
Of course, we can go along with that. But it is precisely because they seem so strange and so funny and so rigidly immobile in the face of their own inherent potential that our gaze tries to avoid the close-up, and we start looking around for other expressions of reality. As we step back, we see the space Forouhar has occupied in a new context. Black forms align, the gaze drifts through the room, past flesh-coloured hemispheres. Sometimes in full, sometimes in profile, these blind spots in the robes mark a hitherto unknown body area.
On any given map, a blind spot would mark an uncharted area where we would be likely to find life and forms similar to those in the immediate surroundings. Yet this cannot be proven as long as no-one has been there and documented it.
In spite of the harsh outlines, that would seem to be the task we face when confronted with Forouhar’s installation. No prescribed vocabulary, no hastily interpretative approach should influence the dialogue to be conducted in this room of empty faces.