S I M U R G H. T E N W O M E N
A R T I S T S F R O M I R A N.
Yalda Afsah, Mehraneh Atashi, Ramesch Daha, Nooshin Farhid, Parastou Forouhar, Mona Kasra, Anahita Razmi, Neda Saeedi, Farkhondeh Shahroudi, Soheila Sokhanvari
Curated by Başak Şenova
April 28 – June 17, 2023
S I M U R G H.
Text by the curator Assoc. Prof. Dr. Başak Şenova
The Simurgh is a magnificent bird that has been depicted in many mythologies since the 12th century. Various portrayals and stories of the creature appear under different names in different cultures; the legend can be traced in Persian, Mesopotamian, Slavic, Egyptian, Chinese, Altai, Indian, Greco-Roman, and Turkish histories. In all versions, the Simurgh is characterized as an immortal, wise bird with the virtues of healing, protecting, and guiding, and was believed to live in the legendary Mount Qaf, the land of unknowns. First appearing as a unique literary work, referring to Iranian mythology, the epic “Conference of the Birds,” written by Sufi poet Farid-ud-din Attar, describes a journey of enlightenment: the poet tells the story of thousands of birds traveling through seven valleys – the valleys of love, knowledge, detachment, unity, wonderment, poverty, and destruction. Only thirty overcome the difficulties of the journey and reach the destination. The epic narrates anecdotes at every stage.
Inspired by this legend, the Simurgh exhibition focuses on the distinctive positions and works of women artists of the Iranian diaspora. Diasporic existence designates a state of inhabiting two places at the same time. Most of the artists started their journey in Iran, two were born outside of the country and yet carried different forms of immaterial heritage with them. In this respect, it is possible to detect traces of Iranian influence in all works. Hence, the exhibition also creates bridges between the past and the present through different strands of inquiries, states of existence, and examples across generations.
The exhibition can also be considered a modest gesture of solidarity for the women in Iran.
The Simurgh exhibition deploys a discovery of the journey of each participating artist: Yalda Afsah, Parastou Forouhar, Anahita Razmi, Neda Saeedi, Farkhondeh Shahroudi, and Soheila Sokhanvari, all of whom live in Germany, Mona Kasra and Mehraneh Atashi, who are active in the United States, Nooshin Farhid, who has her center of life in United Kingdom, and Ramesch Daha, who is based in Austria.
Through their journeys, the works of these artists critically navigate diverse realities and forms. Therefore, the exhibition encompasses a wide range of topics and artistic approaches through a variety of works in all media, including painting, drawing, objects, spatial installations, photography, printmaking, and film.
Ramesch Daha, who mostly begins with a personal story investigating historical artifacts, presents a body of work that was extracted from the 32°N/53°E project that collects her grandmother’s personal archive and memories of life in Iran—between the time of the Shah and his gradual removal by the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The work designates a journey through Daha’s cognitive adventure.
Anahita Razmi’s spatial installation No National Flag Uses a Gradient #1 – #8 consists of a series of flags with slight color differences: a gradient from white to black. This ambiguous representational mode questions the politics of representation. Her World Music #01– #04 (The Sound of Something That Is Universal) photographic series articulates the same questioning with abstraction. Whereas Neda Saeedi’s installation with hand-made stained-glass panels, Only Birds Who Flying the Highest Can Shatter the Windows makes a similar inquiry by using architectural elements and the transparency of glass. The images depict fractures of anecdotes interwoven with current European politics the way Attar’s poem narrates.
Nooshin Farhid’s installation Noises Next Door connects us further to the daily and mundane issues of economic and social structures. From personal items to broken furniture, from architectural designs to the harshness of urban developments, the work underlines social urgencies through fragments of the work.
Parastou Forouhar takes our attention to another urgency with her large-size lithograph Water Mark as a tribute to the drowning refugees. With another body of work, Forouhar creates maze-like images on mental and physical violence and cruelty by referring to many visual historical sources, such as miniatures or Persian ornaments. Both the series of four digital drawings, titled Parade II, and a series of four flipbooks, Thousand and One Days, address the same issues and feelings; hence, the flipbooks suggest tactile experience by positioning the viewer/user as the witness.
Farkhondeh Shahroudi’s drawing Degrees of Freedom creates its own environment around figures that she fabricates; the drawing underlines a process of observing, remembering, thinking, sketching, taking notes, creating, and producing in a rather performative manner. The same kind of performativity is being suggested with her sculptural objects Flying Carpets; while carrying Persian motifs the carpets stimulate imaginative narrations that take place in today’s middle-class households. Finally, her artist books follow the same performative process of remembering, thinking, and creating. The Book, Book in the Book, Third Script depicts drawings on fabric with illegible text written in Persian, figures with long robes and clothes, and ornaments. She says, “The text is a reminder of the poem in a language that is present but absent in its communication. I often draw the outlines of these figures in one breath by recalling Persian miniatures.”
On the other hand, Soheila Sokhanvari paints from archived photographs, derived from the pre-revolution Iranian time by employing crude oil. She revisits her own—attached or detached—memories through those decisive moments of the photographs. As she explains, her egg tempera painting Daphne is “based on a photograph that was from an unknown woman born during the Qajar period and the photograph was taken post-1936, soon after the law enforced by Reza Shah banning the veil for women.” She merges the founded photo with mythology. Whereas Mona Kasra’s notion of transformation is through interconnected landscapes, the Dwelling in the Enfolding video and the series of photographs show a constant state of interanimation and transformation.
Finally, Mehraneh Atashi’s animation They Become My Eyes on Your Body is directly informed by Attar’s poem. The work addresses a state of surveillance in a poetic and playful way. The animation is accompanied by her poem, which ends with the following lines: “All sounds come from the Simurgh; all the birds are silently listening. The Simurgh is pierced with a hundred holes. I secure the seeds in the Simurgh’s punctures. I become the voice.”
 Tugba Bayrakdarlar, “Türkmen ve Azerbaycan Masallarında Mitolojik Kuş Motifi: Simurg/Zümrüd,” Söylem Filoloji Dergisi vol. 7, no. 2 (2020): 533–52, https://doi.org/10.29110/soylemdergi.1114159.
 Attar Farid al-Din, The Conference of the Birds, revised ed. (London: Penguin Books, 2011).