1 September, 2017 Sheida Soleimani is an artist who trained at the University of Cincinnati and the Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan. Her work, which has been widely exhibited in North America and more recently internationally, merges art with activism and features underrepresented women that are both the subject and the producer. Candid Magazine’s Issey Scott sat down with Sheida Soleimani to discuss her body of work and where her influences come from.
Issey Scott: I encountered your work in the solo exhibition To Oblivion at Edel Assanti Gallery in London earlier this year. You present many clever and compelling dichotomies in your practice, but the one between Western audiences, because your work has mostly been exhibited across the US and in London, and subject matter is a tough one. Do you think the cultural difference enhances the viewing experience of your work?
Sheida Soleimani: I think a lot about the cultural difference as a motivation for my practice – having been raised as an Iranian in the West, I became aware of the differences between cultures as well as the West’s viewing and Orientalizing of the East at a young age. Through portraying the stereotypes of Middle Eastern culture by the West, I aim to re-condition how we have been taught to view the ‘other’.
IS: Feminist ideals manifested in contemporary art is becoming increasingly commonplace, which of course is positive but it means that there is a great range of efficacy. I think your method of documenting political injustice is incredibly effective and evocative; are there any other international female artists inspiring your research and practice?
SS: Isn’t it funny how feminism is finally a trend now? It is better than not giving any attention to women’s issues at all, but it comes at the expense of devaluing many of the important concerns that femme identifying bodies are fighting for. I think some women that push the boundaries and challenge to reconstruct the term ‘feminism’ itself are Liz Cohen, Kembra Pfahler, Shanna Merola, Tania Bruguera, and Nona Faustine.
IS: Your selection of images of women unlawfully imprisoned and executed are what Hito Steyerl would call ‘the poor image’, as they are low-resolution and have been widely circulated on the internet prior to being used in your sculptures. Why have you chosen to use these images and how have you managed to subvert their value?
SS: The only trace left of many of these women are the images that recorded their imprisonment, trials, and execution. Sized for the web at 72dpi, these photographs are forgotten and lost in an image saturated economy, and often overlooked by the West, whose interests in the Middle East are rarely in humanitarian issues. When the photographs are enlarged and printed, they become pixelated- I think about this as a nod to their web-based origins.
IS: Your work has been exhibited across North America, including at several important art fairs. Do you get different feedback from different contexts?
SS; Absolutely- the type of feedback depends on who has access to the spaces that the work is displayed in. In most cases of a gallery or museum, I expect that the audience will be of a more privileged background, and belong to some sort of intellegentsia. Within that setting, I aim for my work to dismantle some of the societal conditioning that the audience is steeped in. Within more public settings, or throughout the distribution of zines, publications, and posters, I aim to interact with an audience that doesn’t need the economic or educational background to access the works or information necessary to learn about the content.
IS: For me, your work completely materialises ‘the personal is the political’, and it is clear that the images of these women have not been mis-appropriated nor exploited. To what extent do you feel that the gallery space has the potential to incite political outrage which evolves into meaningful change?
SS: Again, I think those that enter the gallery space are generally those that come from a class background that is more privileged- and in turn, those people are the ones with the means to be able to support/back a cause. Unfortunately, without the support of the middle and upper class, visibility for these types of issues often is hard to achieve.
IS: Where is your research heading next?
SS: In my most recent series of works, ‘Medium of Exchange’ I have been investigating the relationship between the leaders of the oil rich OPEC countries as well as Western military leaders, complexes, and governments that have been involved in warfare as a result of oil interest. By creating portraits of OPEC Oil Ministers and Western government officials, I’ve been thinking a lot about the interplay of love and sex between those in command, the fetishes that guide their exchanges, and how they result in drastic global turmoil: frequently at the expense of civilians from the OPEC countries. The series of photographs and screen plays really aims to criticize the role of petroleum trade in concert with inadequacies of governments to provide for their people.