What is identity? What is the role of time, location, circumstance, or cultural context in constructing identity? Is there any part of us that is immutable?
I search for my identity through different frameworks. They can be divided into three main categories.
First: Past Self (Childhood Memory)
The adult personality emerges as a composite of early childhood experiences, based on how these experiences are consciously and unconsciously processed within human developmental stages, and how these experiences shape the personality. I began the exploration of my identity by digging into my childhood memories using family home movies and found footage. I mine my childhood to transform my own memories into a material and tool. Through repetition and looping I tease out formative moments lingering in the everyday to elevate and immortalize trivial moments, to make personal memories resonant for others.
Second: Present Self (Gender, Race, Language, Religion,…)
Searching for my identity, a necessarily fluid process, is laden with meaning –as a female, Iranian video artist and performer, I engage the deceptively simple question: “Who am I?” Because of the nature of my subject matter, I am unable to show my work in my home country. There is always a cultural/religious transgression in my pieces (due to my use of footage of unveiled women -mostly myself, personal home movies, religious television shows, etc.). This creates a dislocation in my work on a foundational level.
My videos are a combination of found footage and original material. I use my body as a tool, my performance as a process. All the characters are me, and I am all the characters. Dressing/undressing, putting makeup on/wiping it off, dancing, gazing at the camera, using the veil sometimes as a fashion tool, sometimes as an inner organ or an embryo, these are the examples of what I do in front of camera to express different emotion, thoughts, personas. With the help of repetition and glitch and layering different materials on top of each other both physically and visually I occupy and accentuate instability and transience.
In my videos I embody feminism as another character fruitlessly searching for fixity. Feminism has been regenerating itself as a fashion trend, a commodity to be bought and sold, rather than fulfilling its true purpose. Capitalism, with its cruelty, swallows even the most profound and radical concepts. Feminism has been stuck in a loop that is fed by its advocates. Those that propagate its beliefs are often the ones hindering it the most. Poking fun at this common attitude through my attention-seeking “camwhore” performance, my practice highlights issues of misunderstood Feminism. I explore the ironic relationship of veil and fashion, modesty and flashiness. In Islamic culture it is not appropriate for women to be conspicuous yet on the other hand, when capitalism and religion merge, the veil becomes just another product to be advertised; there is no way to avoid the irony: advertising modesty.
Third: Self Reflection (Otherness)
Mirror reflects the light by its nature. We reflect ourselves onto one another. Mirror has become a literal tool for me to translate a psychological phenomenon to a physical entity. The process includes few steps. An image or a though occurs to me, I simulate the setting and record it with the camera. After working on the footage to make it look as close as what was in my mind I project the finished video on a wall. By putting a mirror in front of the wall, the image will be reflected to another wall. What the viewer experiences is merely an illusion of what I experienced at the moment.
By reflecting a projected image of a recorded image of a thought, I re-emphasize how distanced the viewer is from the actual experience both physically and visually. The experience has become fragmented, so has the image. The viewer is constantly aware of what they see, distanced from how they feel, they are not tricked by any magic, are not filled with emotions. The projected and reflected images are neither big enough to make the viewer feel they are transported in the real space nor small enough for them to experience intimacy and closeness. I invoke the viewer to exist in a conflicted state; at once immersed in my perspective and at the same time aware of the farce; the experience of being the other and being the first person, back and forth. In the end the experience is intended to leave the viewer with thoughts and questions, not just momentary excitement or temporary sympathy. Women do not need sympathy, Middle Easterners do not need sympathy, video artists do not need sympathy. We all need mutual respect, mutual understanding. We all need to be constantly us and the others.
Although there might not be any single assured answer to what makes us who we are, I am in a constant search for finding possible answers. Sartre articulates it well in his book Being and Nothingness: “being is at bottom beyond the self, and our first formula can be only an approximation due to the requirements of language. In fact, being is opaque to itself precisely because it is filled with itself. This can be better expressed by saying that being is what it is.”