Body Politics at Whitechapel Gallery, 14 Sep 2019

Body Politics brings together thirteen contemporary Iranian artist-filmmakers whose work explore notions of womanhood, female gaze, body-memory and body technology, informed by geographical and geopolitical conditions.

Curated by Mania Akbari and AmirAli Ghasemi, this program hopes to provide a counter narrative to the tired image of the Iranian female artist as seen not only in the mainstream media but also in the art world. Featuring work by Mehraneh Atashi, Negar Behbahani, Bahar Behbahani, Nebras Hoveizavi, Mona Kakanj, Simin Keramati, Shahrzad Malekian, Bahar Noorizadeh, Anahita Razmi, Bahar Samadi, Niloofar Taatizadeh, Jinoos Taghizadeh and Maryam Tafakory, this program is defined not by the films’ location-specificity but a diversity of conceptual and experiential approaches in tackling the question of body as the site of politics.

I’d like to first thank Gareth Evans and The Whitechapel Gallery who helped bring this project to life. Also the many individuals who helped us achieve this result. Reconfiguring sexuality and body identity opens up a new way of gender repositioning and possible pathways for social transformation. What are the politics of art on bodies? Which bodies are producing knowledge about which other bodies? Each choice is political. Through these questions we delve further, by transcending body politics in feminist contexts, but also reflecting on a key moment in body politics and gender discourse.
In the past year I have watched some 65 short films made by a new generation whose work focuses on the body and how it relates to society, to politics, to culture and to technology. The subject of Body Politics has been a focus of mine for more than 20 years. My experience of the Iranian Revolution, which took place when I was five years old, followed closely by the war, changed our individual and collective relationship with the body at every level. As a result, our body language changed along with our geographical language, our socio-political framework and the language of art. My first documentary film in 2003 was about a Kurdish girl, Aysheh, from Sardasht, in Iran, who suffered a strange side effect of the first chemical bomb during the Iran-Iraq war. Her body began to produce clear, bright crystals. They began to grow below her eyelids. They came out of her mouth and her vagina. Though no doctor would diagnose these crystals as manifestations of war, she absolutely knew that they were chemical. Her body was confronted with war and politics. Historical, socio-political, scientific and medical events were present inside her. Meeting Aysheh cemented my focus, but my own body soon underwent changes beyond the its control. The loss of my breasts required the introduction of strong substances. They flowed within me, affecting even the smallest of my veins. Iranian society banishes a woman in this unfamiliar state. Our relationship with our bodies is a two-way live relationship, constantly in flux, and these experiences changed my view of gender, human and female identity and its place within society. I also developed a newfound relationship with technology. Science and Technology created a new body, and two round objects but that was just the beginning. An external chemical substance has the ability to make you menopausal, changing again both your body and your character, as you enter a new manifestation, and a new socio-political environment. Twenty years from now the body may not even be required for the creation of humans. In spite of all my own physical changes, mine produced another child. Foucault said that human bodies are always part of the political field. The body is always a contested site. He saw power relationships between gendered bodies happening at every level, in everyday relationships, in economic exchanges, in knowledge relationships and in sexual relationships. These minute power relationships feed upwards through all levels of society, until they become governmental and administrative. The smallest power plays causing an effect on a much grander scale. For years feminism was has pursued gender parity. We are now witness to a new era with new questions. In Iran, early feminist activity took place in the city of Rasht one hundred years ago. Today queer feminism dominates the movement in my country. We see a new generation fighting for the future. When curating this program I was faced with a central paradox. I am against labels for artists. I am not an Iranian artist, or a woman artist. I am an artist. Too often these labels are used to present an exotic view of the other. However, I curated this program in direct response to my own experiences as filmmaker. For twenty-five years I have existed beneath both the Male gaze and the Western gaze. I wanted to present a program of films that goes beyond this Orientalist framework, by choosing artists whose voices are truly global. I also strongly believe that if any serious political movement is going to happen in Iran, it will be led by women.