This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. – Alasdair MacIntyre
Verily, my brothers, with different eyes shall I seek my lost ones; with a different love shall I love you. – Friedrich Nietzsche
The directional force of Forouhar’s works is toward an indictment of the theocratic state, the amoral society, the uncommitted man, and by extension, art itself. Her works are not of the obvious and shopworn political diatribe of the pseudo intellectuals but are subtle reflections on the aesthetic of exploitation, abuse, and horror. The mechanics of her works are clearly critiques of theocratic political institutions, of the privileging of one gender at the expense of another, and of rationalizing brutality by appealing to the aesthetics of altruism.
In work after work, she tears at the serene and oft beatified cultural veils instituted by Iran’s religious hierarchy, revealing the blood and gore that is (and has been) concealed beneath them.3 In her installations “Trauerfeier” (Funeral Service, plates 1-2) and “Countdown” (plate 3), she covered office chairs and bean bags with funerary Shiite religious banners used in Ashura, the Shiite commemoration of the death of Hossein ibn Ali in 680.4 The effect is dialectical as it exposes the inherent contradictions of religion’s claims to transcendence and higher truths. “Trauerfeier” shows that the seat of power in any religion is conducted on office chairs rather than in a holy- heavenly, transcendental vision. She brings home the fact that the seat of otherworldliness resides in the earthly-physical and is governed by the self-fulfilling human interests carried out by bureaucrats on modern office chairs and bean bags. The heavenly does not extend beyond the chairs used in their offices as seats of authority, beyond offices from whence are issued orders to manipulate, exploit, and even murder. Religions are no more than their quotidian banners and settings.5 And their language of otherworldliness, on banners or anything else, is no more than language games.
For me, the contrast between the modern chairs and the anachronistic messages and references to events of more than a thousand years ago on the banners evoked the realization that modernism and its many technological advancements can be utilized by theocracies for regression and a return to medieval concepts. “Trauerfeier” also raises the idea that the seat of Shiite power is its appeal to death; the management of this appeal is reflected through bureaucracies, here symbolized and semioticized by the quotidian chairs and bean bag seats. The manipulative nature of religion’s so-called transcendental power becomes clear when we realize that, according to Forouhar, “Trauerfeier” refers to the 22nd of the month of Bahman (the Iranian revolution) and to the 22nd of November 1998 (the assassination of her parents by the Islamic government of Iran). On another level, her work thus points an accusatory finger at religious narratives as powers that “… make crooked all that is straight and make turn whatever stands.”
“Shühe Ausziehen” (Take off Your Shoes) is a more direct, Kafkaesque representation of the realities of theocratic structures. Sharply defined by black and white presences, the sketches portray a cruel, stern, and unyielding philosophy. Faceless, nameless, sinewy figures of women evoke a mannerist sense of agony and helplessness. The contrasting theocratic powers, also faceless, are defined by a sense of plentitude through body and facial hair, establishing a remoteness that would portray the presence of automatons and not human entities. Here are men who do not even labor to find better words and better structures for what they have labeled mystery.
The “Blind Spot” series places chadors8 on the balding backs of men’s heads. This series serves as a metaphor for the powerless and sexually moribund male. Forouhar in a brilliant stylistic strategy has reversed the order of the weak chador-clad female and the strong patriarchal male. Now it is the male who is weak. To understand this, we must acknowledge that the purpose of the chador is, above all, to conceal a woman’s hair, a symbol of her sensual and sexual powers. These chadors and veils are, in fact, symbols and signs of a woman’s weakness and her need to be protected by a male. But, isn’t it a truism that this concealed female is a construct, a concoction of a weaker, more powerless and terrified male who is fearful of the liberated female? With this reversal of hierarchy, we recognize that the chador is actually more befitting of the sexually powerless (bald), antiquated, and anachronistic male who in an act of cowardice has deprived the female of that which he himself so obviously lacks. Forouhar returns the weak and sexually moribund man to the prison that he has made for the woman. And yet, these men are not attractive enough to deserve concealment. In “Rorschach; Behnam” (2008), the images of “Blind Spot” are multiplied and the chadors flow unpredictably like molten black lava. The effect is Dionysian as the impact of “Blind Spot” is elevated to a psychology of passion, anxiety, and inscrutability. There is Gender and the treatment of women in Islamic settings are important facets of Forouhar’s works. “Freitag” (Friday) is a four-panel vinyl print (each panel measuring six meters by two meters) and displays a chador wherein a female hand is holding together the bunched up sides of the traditional curtain (plates 5-6). Her clasped hand evokes the shape of female genitalia and emotes the power of the female. This power shines through the dominion of the chador’s (tent’s) darkness. Nature triumphs even when deeply buried by those who love death. It returns in substitute forms and referents to remind us of its perennial presence. Therefore, the tent of her imprisonment cannot contain her. This image is not a cry but an assertion of her gender identity. The monumentality of the work reflects a romantic and heroic meaning with profound liberating powers.
Forouhar often frames horror by beauty, creating a phenomenal contrast. Dreams of safety and perfection are placed alongside the horrible reality of man’s socio-political affairs. This is clearly the case with “I Surrender,” wherein (in an interview with Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani) she views the balloons as childhood dreams of security and the scenes of torture upon them as the shattering of that safety by the horrors and brutality of Iran’s theocratic politics.10 In “I Surrender,” her helium-filled balloons, like her textile patterns, appear from a distance as signs of play, joviality, and propitious gatherings (plates 7-8). However, up close the designs on the surfaces of the balloons reveal themselves as scenes of heinous brutality, and the beautiful image suddenly deconstructs into frames of our illusions regarding the world and life. This duality between abstract principles and ostensive detail runs through most of her work and bespeaks of how violence is rationalized through various frames––such as transcendental judgment, altruism, nationality, and religion–– offering itself as panacea for whatever ails the state. The sharp duality found in her work forces us to stop dreaming and start looking for the amelioration of the problems of our collective apathy.11 Thus, Lutz Becker sees a sense of responsibility in the works of Forouhar that tries to expose all theoretical structures whose force of rationality is violence and brutality.
The “Eslimi Textile” series also consists of beautiful patterns that, up close, reveal the instruments of brutality and sexual organs. Perhaps, as in the works of Mike Kelly, these symbolize the genetic structure of man’s proclivity for sex and violence. These textile patterns complicate our perceptions of reality and make transparent the ontological tensions between man and the archaic state, between man’s transcendental claims and his natural gravitation toward raw, brute force. Here, the plentitude of the designs, similar to her kaleidoscopic arrangements, allude to intricate and sophisticated structures of control. The force within them is vertiginous as we recognize the guns, genitals, and abused figures as the machinations of power by a few whose claims to morality is at best sententious and tendentious. Looking at these works, we realize that from a distance everything looks beautiful. The heavens too are alluring from afar, but dead and inhospitable up close. These works are more than references to Forouhar’s personal life; they are critiques of a society ruled by anachronisms.
The “Papillon” collection and its “Ashura Day”, “Evin Prison,” “November 22nd,” and “Khavaran Cemetery” examples, among many others, are outstanding expressions of how brutality can be framed as beauty. “Papillon” collection (butterfly wings) demonstrates the parergon by which inhumane treatment, inhumanity, and murder are justified. A corollary of these ideas even indicts art as we are confronted with the polemic of how much pain and suffering the serene facades of these monuments actually conceal.
The black chador-clad female riding the white swan in the “Swanrider” series is discursive in its allusions. The colors evoke a metaphor of Manichean forces, of distinct opposites. We are filled with questions: Is this a metaphor of enchained humanity versus the free animal, of culture’s narratives versus nature’s essence? The issue of man and his simulations of nature (here appearing as a plastic toy swan) suggests many more philosophical interpretations as well. Is this a metaphor of the inability of man to return back to nature and be authentic, or is this the desire of a dark and profusely contaminated man riding a symbol of beauty in the sea of freedom––where history does not exist and the past no longer chains us? However, given that the chador appears as a curtain of darkness in front of other banal European imagery,15 we may conclude that the shadows of Islamic symbols can easily overwhelm the light of modern western civilization. Julia Allerstorfer has rightly called the chador upon the swan as “evoking tension and incoherence.” But this appears to be the fate of the West transformed by eastern values and eastern beliefs, mostly caused by the West’s colonial policies and, of course, the unavoidable forces of globalism and interculturalism.
In addition, Forouhar recognizes language and text to be potent forces of human enslavement and fall from grace. Man can invent anything in language and subsequently allow that invention to destroy life itself. In “Written Rooms” and “Body Letters,” she disables the meaning of words and releases them as pure form. The images of ping-pong balls, whirling dervish dancers, and balloons give the impression that both words and language are too fluid to be given the authority on Truth.