Samira Alikhanzadeh

Samira Alikhanzadeh
2 records
In recent years the parameters of Islamic art (particularly as defined by museums, commercial art galleries, and private collections) have expanded to include contemporary works by artists from the Middle East. These artists draw inspiration from their own cultural traditions, using techniques or incorporating imagery and ideas from earlier periods but in an idiom that speaks to today’s world. They are not so much reinventing Islamic art as they are repurposing it so that it becomes more clearly a vehicle for personal expression, freed from the constraints of patronage and functionality. LACMA has been in the forefront of American museums in this regard, as we are the only such institution that both collects and regularly exhibits this material.

It goes without saying that the Islamic Revolution of 1979 created an enormous rupture in Iranian society, one that still resonates today and is reflected in contemporary art. Like other Iranian artists of her generation, Samira Alikhanzadeh references the past as a means of exploring life in present-day Iran. She is somewhat unusual in that she looks backward only so far as the first half of the twentieth century when, under the leadership of Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925–41), Iran was transformed into a modern nation-state. Reza Shah undertook to bring both women and religious minorities into the mainstream of national life in order to create an ideal of modernity. As part of his reform movement, he sought the elimination of the Islamic veil; consequently, in 1936, the compulsory uncovering of women was decreed by law and was vigorously enforced. Concomitant with this, the Shah launched the Women's Awakening campaign (1936–1941), which created a new discourse of Iranian womanhood, one that endorsed education and promoted Western-style dress.

Alikhanzadeh’s work focuses on found images of women from this period—the first generation of Iranian women who were free to appear uncovered in public and in photographs. She also includes small shards of mirror allowing the viewer (perhaps, ironically, an Iranian woman now decreed by law to wear hejab) to identify more closely with the nameless girls and women dressed in their once fashionable clothes. In these twin pieces, Alikhanzadeh incorporates actual Persian carpets from the same period as the photographs, which help to fix these young women in time and place.

LACMA has only just begun to acquire contemporary art of the Middle East within the context of our Islamic collection. We do so in the belief that the function, strength, and ultimate success and relevance of the collection should not be based solely on exploring this art as a means to better understand the past. It can also be seen as a way to build creative links between the past, present, and future. This pair of objects by Alikhanzadeh makes a significant impact to that end.

(Linda Komaroff, Curator Islamic Art - 2010)