Share Me

These images of young girls who have so thoroughly immersed in their fantastic world demonstrate the crisis of identity amongst the middle-class new generation of Iranian women. As one treads a path among these flamboyant features one easily identifies them as stereotypical adolescent city girl in today Iran. Vanity, overindulgence, artificiality, extravagance; these are the expressions which come up in a spectator’s mind in the first place. Homa Arkani has presented her familiar and, at the same time, awkward characters in both indoors and public places, creating a psychically-charged space to reveal the characteristics of this section of the society. In her painting exhibition Share Me, Arkani addresses the ways in which hybrid identities of the generation of female youth have been performed in Iranian urban life. Oscillating between the rules and strictures of everyday reality (imposed by family, school, society, state and religion) and the relaxed and exuberant world of fantasies (constructed by Western media), members of this generation have gradually transformed into grotesque and ridiculous features on the verge of beauty and repugnance. These girls can neither conform to certain values of their traditional society such as “dignity,” “virtuousness” and “modesty,” nor are they interested in any specific socio-political views practiced by their former generations. Born after Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), members of this subculture have not experienced the early years of the 1979 revolution, and are alien to ideologically-oriented criteria of their older generation. In fact, all national, religious and leftist ideologies have failed to fulfil their corporeal needs, and such a situation has led to a broad gap between the young and the old. Instead, as Arkani shows, the idealised images of beautiful woman, extensively produced and proliferated via international media, are in accordance with the psychic tendencies of this generation. These doll-like girls yearn to have a Western lifestyle: luxurious, high-tech, liberating, joyful, colourful and beautiful. Such a wish, however, can never be carried out, since, on the one hand, it is not possible for them to ignore or escape from their traditional background; and on the other hand they are the consumers of a distorted image of the West, i.e., such a world does not factually exist. This is the reason that their hybridised identity seems grotesque and artificial. The image of a girl whose face is metamorphosed inside washing machine and holds her unwanted identity notebook has aptly visualised such suspended identity. To use Stuart Hall’s words, these young individuals are in a process of “self-othering,” seeing themselves as inferior “Others” of the West. Their identity is constructed through the manipulative mirror of Western media. Unlike what they look in appearance, they think and act traditional in many respects. Such pretentious attitude stems out of their internalised inferiority and obsession with beauty associated with their body’s overrun by hormones and sexual frustration. One of the important issues raised by Arkani’s work is the ways this generation of Internet, satellite, mobile phone and Facebook use technology. They are very keen to consume the most recent products of giant corporations. This generation of middle-class/upper-middle-class youth must own the latest gadgets, otherwise they could not be called “updated” and “modern.” The idealised beauty, introduced by tumultuous celebrities and perpetuated by capitalist politics, should be achieved through sunbathing, botox injection and cosmetic surgery. Implying the socio-cultural limitations, the artist demonstrates that such ideas are put into operation in unusual places: the meaningless botox jab before toilet mirror at school; the sun tanning with their clothes on over the roof and next to satellite dishes. There is also more opportunity via Internet profiles and web logs to play mind games and exhibit their so-called cool and laidback character and pretty face and Barbie-like body. Moreover, virtual space is a safer ground to share ideas and images, allowing them to fantasise about their relationships and love affairs. Arkani not only skilfully shows the preoccupations of this generation, but also criticises and ridicules their superficiality and vanity.

Combiz Moussavi-Aghdam