6 Video Arts (2007)

6 Video Arts

Mania Akbari’s 6 Video Arts – Self, Repression, Sin, Escape, Fear and Devastation, shot between 2003-2005 – come as a project which no longer cherishes such (idealistic?) hopes. There’s even more to it: its artistic credo is expressed and constructed literally on the scraps, very tiny pieces. The basic means of expression used by the authoress in every single of the six videos is the so-called ‘split-screen’, the combination of a several smaller, separately framed images – scraps – within the same action. Sometimes such images are only two, sometimes they multiple into dozens. Although most of these images are symbolic, at some points even abstract but always monotone and repetitive (so that it could be probably better watched as an installation or live picture in a gallery) – this time Mania would have serious problems denying the explicit and primary political context of all six videos. Their individual titles speak for themselves, and every doubt left is definitely dispelled by Mania, broken to pieces; the only protagonist of every moving picture, and her alternatively raged/scared/provocative/ dead look that stares directly at the spectators’ eyes which this time – whether they want it or not – take on the role of the tradition or the man on the dock from the 20 Fingers. Various situations that Mania puts herself in or creates directly evoke the issue of (female) dependency and forced restraint – not necessarily in the Middle East, but maybe even easier in the domestic backyard. It seems as if Mania had dreamed her videos while shooting 20 Fingers: so that she could have dreamt out everything that could interfere with the movie’s status of allegory; and the other way around: she filmed 20 Fingers so that during the shooting she could dream out 6 Videos, i.e. elaborated in details six mordant social statements.

Organisation: City of Women
In collaboration with: Kinodvor

Between 2004 and 2007 Iranian artist-filmmaker Mania Akbari made six video art works, entitled: Self (2004), Repression (2004), Sin (2004), Escape (2004), Fear (2005), and Devastation (2005). Lasting an average of six minutes each, these films explore the malleability of identity in relation to social boundaries, beliefs and expectations. We are shown the many faces and different personae of the artist, which she links to the shaping emotional impact of family, memories and personal fears and dreams, as well as our desire to break away from the prison of the self.

In Self Akbari responds to the question ‘Who are you?’ by adopting both, the appearance and the voice of alternatively a man and a woman, in order to expose the way our public personae are constructed by external signifiers i.e. shaving foam and smoke indicate masculine rituals. Yet it is in the allusions to family – and in particular the father figure – that society’s entrapment is most clearly figured (further enhanced by incessant hard breathing in the background). This in turn provokes a desire for liberation from it, expressed most strongly in the sentence voiced by a member of her family in Sin: ‘It was heaven and you brought us hell’, that points to the family’s undoubted importance in constituting who we are, as well as the guilt generated by defining ourselves differently to it.

This is particularly pronounced in the case of women. In order to represent the barriers women face in Iranian society, Akbari films herself trapped behind a glass with her hands pressed against it as she cries dark tears in Repression. Here, the idea of imprisonment and the suffocating lack of ‘air to breath’ are symbolised by goldfish literally dying out of water. The identification between woman and wife is explored most impactfully in Self, where Akbari sits on a swing dressed in white with a pointy hat on her head, symbolising a grotesque form of wedding dress. As the white fabric touches the floor, the sound of dripping transforms into a dark red substance that stains the dress, signifying the loss of virginity.

All this is framed by a divided screen which presents the top and bottom part of her body disconnected i.e. separating virtue and sex. This division is most clearly depicted in Escape, where a newly married couple are sitting side by side on a merry-go-round each holding a fruit, her a pomegranate, him a banana (the inclusion of this fruit caused the exhibition to be banned in Iran). When the fairground ride starts, their bodies disconnect from their heads and the dismembered parts go round in unsynchronised circles, reminiscent of a fruit machine. But it is in both Fear and Devastation that the rejection of society’s repressive norms vis a vis women is at it most direct. A woman and a man are tied together while women whisper in the background in Fear; and the image of a woman with her face painted green and smoking a cigarette (an activity banned for women in Iran by virtue of its sexual connotations) is repeated ad infinitum in Devastation.

The allusions to religion and repression are particularly straightforward in Devastation; the green paint is not only Akbari’s comment on a country that, in her view ‘is full of colour but decides to hide it’, but also the main colour used in the ceremony, exclusive to women, to celebrate the honour of the Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah. Devastation is primarily a withering attack on this celebration of Fatimah as a role model for women. But where there’s imposition there’s also contradiction – the same ultra-religious women who attend this celebration also smoke in private. Although this dialectic of pleasure and repression clearly fascinates Akbari, the endless multiplication of images of the woman’s face in green and an increasing number of cigarettes in her mouth in Akbari’s video art ultimately produce a sinister effect. ‘This is because Fatimah only means something communal, leaving no space for the individual. For me this is really frightening’.

By Mar Diestro-Dópido

Between the years 2004 to 2007 she made six video works titled Self, Repression, Guilt, Escape, Fear, and Destruction, which participated in numerous festivals such as Locarno Film Festival and exhibited at museums such as Tate.

2004 – Directed Video Art self / 6 min, Repression/ 2 min,  Sin / 6min ,  Escape / 6 min
2005 – Directed Video Art Fear / 6 min, Devastation / 6 min