I was hidden from my own sight…
The paintings and photographs of Yasaman Moussavi deal with the intersections of object reality and the shifting locations of inner identities. Within her works, she explores both communion and contradiction with the many worlds around her. In oil paintings, which pay homage to Dutch traditions of the still life, she presents a quiet and contemplative world in which apples and plants become sanctuaries. But although the artist’s use of multiple glazes is inviting, it is deliberately misleading. The indexical use of this technique, with its strong invocation embedded the past, eventually reminds us that such constructed respites are fleeting; the past is, after all, the past.
In canvases in which Moussavi has incorporated her presence, she explores the relationship between herself and objects iconic to her culture. A case in point is her use of the “Persian rug.” In one painting, a rectangular rug frames the artist’s passive face, her connection frames her face, the tendrils of her hair seemingly form a lifeline connecting past with present. On closer inspection, however, the direction of the life force is less apparent…does the subject derive strength and protection from tradition or is tradition’s vitality bolstered by her presence and the ongoing connection? Indeed, the latter reading, taken to its extreme, might seem to imply a kind of captivity. However, in another work of art, the artist clarifies the nature of her relationship with the past. Asleep, her body assuming fetal positioning, she is partially cocooned, protected, by the textile. The predominantly cool surface of greens and blues provides a field upon which the sleeper can synthesize a pastiche of dreams and imagery. Spectral faces and designs float on the surface. In an act of spiritual acknowledgement, the hand of god, a reference taken from Michelangelo’s Birth of Adam, reaches down to give life to the artist. Inevitably, the imagery celebrates both the traditions of the past as well as the potential of a rebirth of imagination and life.
Moussavi’s revelatory experience is given voice in a series of new photographs in which her veiled body is integrated with projected details of Islamic building design. Repeating light and shadow are reminders of domestic interiors, gendered female, found throughout the Middle East. The artist’s veiled body dances with the past, here and there, fusing with the architecture. The blurring of her body is both a trace of her former locational position as well as a reference to the authorial act of drawing itself. Here, she uses her body to assume a more active role, her agency celebratory.
While Western feminist readings of Moussavi’s paintings and photographs might hold the equation of women’s bodies and objects as suspect, these works should not be understood as a diminution of individuality. It should be remembered that the act of artistic creation, in and of itself, is an act of agency. These works are explorations of self, history, and tradition. They are reminders to us of how both value and tensions are to be found in exploring our own pasts.
Constance Cortez, Ph.D.
School of Art, Texas Tech University