Iranian-born artist Nasim Nasr explores cultural and intellectual separation between West and East.
Art Radar takes a look at some of the key themes in Nasim Nasr’s work as she opens her latest exhibition at GAGPROJECTS in Adelaide, Australia.
Nasim Nasr’s practice explores the complexities of interchangeable identities and cultural difference through multiple channel video works, photography, performance, objects and sound.
Nasr is an Australian-based artist who was born in 1984 in Iran. She studied a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from the Art University of Tehran in 2006 before moving to South Australia in 2009 to complete a Master of Visual Arts (Research) at the School of Art in the University of South Australia. Although starting out working with painting and drawing, Nasr now makes poetic works in photography and video that inspires and informs.
This year she was nominated by Art Radar‘s Managing Editor C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia and shortlisted for the 2017 Sovereign Asian Art Prize, awarded to mid-career contemporary artists nominated by industry experts. Recently Nasr has also participated in exhibitions at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney (2017), 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney (2017), Art Stage Singapore (2013), TarraWarra Biennial: Whisper in My Mask, TarraWarra Museum of Art (2014) and Video Arte Australia y Nueva Zelanda, M100, Santiago, Chile.
Nasr’s work often looks at experiences of living between cultures, something she has personal experience with in her life between her past and present cultures and homelands of Iran and Australia. Her practice examines how objects, actions and language can take on different meanings, and how diverse interpretations impact the way in which culture is viewed.
Many of Nasr’s works consider aspects of censorship. For example, in the work Muteness (2011-13) Nasr uses the ancient Daf drum, previously played by village women to signal conflict and war who were then banned from playing it after 1979. Another work that looks into women’s voice is Erasure (2010), a performance in which Nasr writes in chalk about her own memories, as well as translating text from Iranian feminist poet Forugh Farrokhzad and her banned 1959 poem Another Birth. The text is then erased, leaving behind a white smudge, a ghost of past words lingering behind the text of the present. As Nasr commented about her work, “my practice seeks to represent not only the socio-cultural invisibility of women in Iran but also their disempowerment”.
From 31 May to 23 June 2017, Nasr is holding “The Home, The Habit” at GAGPROJECTS in Adelaide, Australia. The exhibition began with an image form her grandparents’ 1950s photo album. Nasr explains in the artistic statement:
There is a passport photo of two female family members—with the word manzel written on the back. This refers to the habit of a man, in public, calling his wife— manzel (home), rather than by their name.
In the exhibition Nasr explores various meanings of the words manzel (home) and adat (habit), exploring not only what home means for her, but also the way women were treated in the 1950s and 1960s. Nasr states that “in this context, ’the home‘ relates to everything one man had (property, wife, children, etc.)”.
Art Radar has a quick chat with Nasr about some of the key motifs in her work.
Your practice draws upon everyday objects and routines. In your opinion, what can these everyday objects and routines reveal about experiences of living between cultures?
My recent artworks have considered the cultural and intellectual separation between West and East, of how objects and actions might have different meanings, and how such interpretation impacts upon contemporary perspectives. For example, I have used worry beads, a ubiquitous everyday object in Middle Eastern culture and from my upbringing. In my experience I saw them used by the younger generation as an object through which to pass time (idly twirling or counting the beads), whereas for the older generation it was more about praying. In using worry beads in my video works, focused just upon multiple variations of hands working the beads, it passed on a different meaning to Western audiences, of anxiety or restlessness, rather than these particular men not being worrying about anything necessarily, just passing time.
The duality of meaning inherent in these objects and actions – for example Persian daf, ceramic or wooden worry beads, the act of beshkan (Persian finger snapping) or the use of goldfish – between my past and present, between East and West, is fascinating for me. A familiar act or object for me becomes completely unfamiliar and unknown in another culture. This ambiguity provides a feeling of both power and being powerless in terms of one’s new (cultural) identity.
What does home mean for you? Is it possible to feel at home in more than one place?
Home is where one person belongs to, from the heart and mind, and the intrinsic response to the physicality of that space. In my latest series of work “The Home, The Habit” I am more inclined to point out “the Other home”, the one that is not lived in, in its physical space, but is carried nonetheless through the mind and the heart. It may no longer even exist, it is definitely in one’s past, the place where you used to live while dreaming of the future. But now you have more than one place in mind and heart as ‘Home’, there is the one where you currently live as well, where in your daily routine you habitually call ‘home’.
Several of your works use language (such as Zaeefeh (The Wretchedness), Erasure or Ashob (Unrest)). What role does language play in your creative process?
As I have dealt with the two languages since I moved from Iran in 2009, it becomes elemental to the titling of my art work, and representative of my status – it presents simultaneously both my past (Farsi) and present (English), and the subsequent phenomenon of shifting identity and language. Alternating between both languages, and therefore past and present, has definitely had an impact on my creative process.
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