Afshin Pirhashemi talks Femafia exhibition

We speak to Iranian artist Afshin Pirhashemi about 'Femafia'


Chanelle Tourish speaks to Iranian artist Afshin Pirhashemi about his latest exhibition ‘Femafia’.

Every once in a while, an art exhibition comes along that speaks volumes about the society we live in – portraying everything from war and conflict to the effect of movies on popular culture. Iranian artist Afshin Pirhashemi’s latest exhibition ‘Femafia’, on display from Monday
March 16 to Thursday April 30 at Ayyam Gallery in DIFC, features vibrant and powerful images of females in various situations of conflict and power.

Born in 1974 in Urmia, Pirhashemi now lives and works in Tehran. According to Ayyam Gallery, the works express the artist’s thoughts and notions of life in modern Iran and the role of women in contemporary Iranian society. The series features ten canvas paintings of women, often holding guns or covered in what appears to be blood. While the collection seems to look at the good, the bad and the ugly of modern society, the message really lies in the eyes of the beholder.

The exhibition could easily have taken inspiration from the famous 1976 horror film, Carrie, in which a young girl uses her powers to get revenge on those who torment her. One of the film’s most memorable scenes shows Carrie standing with an intense gaze, blood dripping down through her long hair. While this might not seem like such a comforting image, it is certainly a compelling one. Whether it’s the artist’s intention or not, Pirhashemi’s works appear to share similar traits. ‘Untitled (2014)’ features a mixture of women painted in black and white, while overlapping with two other figures in a fiery orange shade. The mix of these opposite figures gives the painting an ominous feeling – so much so, that we have to look away after a few seconds. Each of the photorealist portraits has a dramatic, eye-catching quality.

‘I am inspired by the atmosphere I live in. Not by a specific object, but rather by an ensemble of things I perceive in my surroundings,’ says Pirhashemi.

Another popular movie reference featured in his work titled ‘Godfather (2014)’, shows three women wearing sleeveless black gowns holding a gun and surrounding the character Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) from Mario Puzzo’s iconic movie of the same name. Pirhashemi’s aim here is to hint at the dark lifestyles he has witnessed in various places. ‘This piece is about a certain way of life, especially seen in patriarchal societies, where the male figure is almighty. Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone character is the epitome of this lifestyle,’ says Pirhashemi.

This theme of power is continued through each work and can be seen through the women painted in his portraits, where he highlights their struggles in hostile environments.

‘The role of women is a substantial component of Iranian culture.

I started painting when I was six and I always pictured artists admiring the women in their lives,’ Pirhashemi says. News, films, and women, are at the centre of the artist’s outlook on the world. ‘Each of my paintings conveys a specific message. Put next to each other, they construct a narrative reflecting my state of mind and opinions on situations observed around me.’

One work, ‘Dynasty (2014)’, highlights his message clearly. It shows a young Elizabeth I beside an Iranian woman and her piercing gaze. ‘This piece is about powerful women – from Queen Elizabeth I to the modern Iranian woman today; a generation that have been fighting for their rights and place in society,’ Pirhashemi says.

‘Femafia’ is no doubt a dominant exhibition that takes viewers on a journey, giving them a glimpse of life in Iran and the role that women play.
Free. Sun-Wed 10am-8pm; Thu-Sat noon-8pm. March 16 to April 30. Ayyam Gallery, Gate Village 3, DIFC (04 439 2395).

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