If Georgia O’Keeffe the American female painter represented a heart of the USA, I am an Iranian female painter representing a heart of Iran. Georgia O’Keeffe carries the soul of a nation while bringing attention to the beauty and sensuality of flowers with her art. I carry the soul of Iran while bringing those beautiful flowers to the heart of what makes us human with my art. I have honoured the heritage that O’Keeffe brought to the art world and carried on with it through new steps from my heritage. Such is the intertwined moving forward of civilizations. The true identity of a nation lies in the daily lives of its citizens, and the authentic relations of a nation lye in the connection felt and lived on through its artists.
At this moment of heightened tensions between Iran and USA I wish to remind all people reading the news that there are other types of relations going on between Iran and USA, and which are actually authentic and real in their connection. But sadly little space is given to such good relations on the mainstream media. Even in the art world there is little space given to gentle art today, serene beautiful art is ridiculed as ‘non serious’. The establishment seems to be looking for what is ‘shocking’.
My fellow artist Shirin Neshat’s collection “Women of Allah” showed an image to the world which everyone was already familiar with through the mainstream news: “women covered up in black, holding a gun”. International institutions have been promoting and celebrating that collection, not realizing how they affirm by that a bitter alienation and bitter division, without understanding and hearing what is it in the HEART of those ‘women of Allah’.
I grew up in Iran from 1977 to 1991, and went to schools under the Islamic Republic regime there. Therefore I witnessed and experienced things from inside, rather than a viewer looking at the images from outside trying to interpret them from an outsider’s point of view. Shirin Neshat did not grow up under the Islamic Republic of Iran, she expressed what she saw AFTER returning to visit Iran as she finished her studies in the USA. She is an artist in exile like I am myself. I fully respect her work and voice as an artist, and I feel equally it is of utmost importance that the mainstream hears the voice of other female artists in exile which do not give us only what the mainstream shock news do. There are important realities that many fail to see, because we get lost in the ‘loud noise’ of threats and fear easily.
The heart of a woman covering herself is seeking an ideal of being good and pure, just like any other women who seek that, yet express it in other ways. Whether that covering up is a way to get close to God (like most Orthodox Christian women do, or the Christian nuns do), or it is to keep their beauty discreet and away from attracting attention is all questions of personal dilemmas. What is wrong is the forceful imposition of course, because flexibility in dressing allows space for personal development.
A government resorting to dictatorial behaviour is seeking to assert its authority to outsiders and insiders, failing to see that authority obtained through terror is way too weak and non sustainable in the long run. While authority obtained through substantial amount of good will respecting the dignity of others is the long lasting authority which does not require terror induction to survive.
When common people resort to such terrorizing means they are clearly alienated and express that alienation with hatred onto others.
The current escalation between the USA and Iran is terror induction. I do wish the Iranian government to change because of the over restricted space it has created for its citizens. It is when majority of people reach a level seeking change in the government that it can happen. In the meantime I wish the world to hear my voice as an artist who grew up there and look at the bigger picture: authentic connection between two nations happens only through culture and the arts, its scientists and common citizen friendships. Heads of states trying to interact on behalf of their people can barely touch the surface of that connection.
For me the question of identity was a big issue to solve, because first I lost my birth city (Khorramshar) in Iran-Iraq war (in 1980), then after moving to Tehran, then to Ahvaz, the local cultural identities were already very different. Members of my relatives were executed by the regime, and others who got killed in the bombardments. All that did cause alienation to me from the whole world and not just from the regime. So I have been seeking to connect ever since. I affirm the connections through my art visuals so people can see and feel the interconnectedness before getting all caught up or dominated by the noise of pompous threats of heads of states.
At the age of 14 we moved to Malta, there I had to face yet another cultural identity, besides the complications of political refugee status, and how that is perceived as an identity in itself. In 2006 I moved to Paris to follow further my art path, there I was faced yet with another whole different cultural identity and codes of communication. For me as an artist who likes navigating the human heart and soul, there is no issue whether I am dubbed as Maltese, or Iranian, Western, or Eastern, because I happen to have taken qualities from all so far. Seeing the bigger picture is what gives me a sense of belonging to the world, rather than having to mimic a certain group only in order to be taken in as a fellow citizen.
I hope the readers see that besides ‘‘Women of Allah’ there exist also ‘women of hearts’ that show another side to the reality of connection between Iran and USA, a connection which is based on deep respect and sincere appreciation, a connection of understanding and cherishing.
Yes it does exist, and it is real. And it is up to the readers to allow more space to such type of relations, until their space prevails. We cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created the problem. If something is being done on the basis of terror, we need to apply an approach different than a terrorised/terrorising mindset. It is 21st century today, conflict resolution knowledge is part of the ABC alphabetisation for every citizen of international society.
Finally my message to the governments of USA and Iran:
Iranian government using guns on its unarmed citizens proves to the population inside and outside the country that their administration is faulty and not loved.
American government, targeting cultural heritage spots is a mistake both for short term and long term. Using such force against a military spot alike might win a military war, but against cultural spots would ruin part of your own human civilization historical heritage.
Lida Sherafatmand is a practicing painter exhibiting her works since 1997 in 22 countries. She is also a scholar of international relations with a Master Degree. Lida is currently a Fellow Artist in Residence at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study in Germany. For more information: www.lida.gallery