03 December 2018 In “Medium of Exchange,” Sheida Soleimani dramatizes the play of domination and dependence between the US and oil-rich nations. Featuring an array of actors in caricature masks, her photographic collages are a visual assault: shock-and-awe metaphors megaphoned through a punky, DIY aesthetic. Laying bare the amoral, transactional ties between the establishment and OPEC figureheads, Soleimani choreographs a pornography of cronyism and corruption—the money shot, in this case, being geysers of crude oil.
In a disheveled hotel room, Jimmy Carter and the UAE petroleum minister are caught in flagrante delicto (Minister of Petroleum, UAE & Former President of the United States, 2018). The former president, a call girl in a little black dress and heels, offers her punter the golden handshake of a US bomber jet. The mattress is strewn with peanut shells (a nod to Carter’s rural family fortune): spent ammunition in America’s ongoing imperial crusades. In another, Donald Rumsfeld—sporting a hundred-dollar-bill towel and baseball cap like a Miami spring breaker—locks hands with Dick Cheney, coyly perched on a Halliburton oil drum (Former Vice President and Secretary of State, United States & Halliburton CEOs, 2017). The photo’s prom-like pomp is belied by a background of exploding Iraqi oil fields: the military-industrial complex demolished with sledgehammer satire.
Soleimani takes the idea of commodity fetishism to literal, lurid new heights. In one image, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lies splayed and bare-breasted beneath a Saudi energy minister, his jackboot replaced by a plastic stiletto. An oil-smeared hosepipe links them in kinky foreplay (Minister of Energy, Industry & Mineral Resources, Saudi Arabia & UN Secretary General, 2017). Inside a tent emblazoned with various primary food exports from all fourteen OPEC nations, a video loop brings some of these scenes to life. Two Middle Eastern ministers, dressed in kaffiyehs, stuff their faces in a mindless ice-cream-eating competition. The judge? A headless body yammering away in stars-and-stripes boxer shorts.
The smartness of this show lies in how Soleimani grubbily implicates us in her cynicism. Propped up on petrol cans, these tableaux slant like mirrors, forcing us to reflect on our own art-world complicity. Just who is sponsoring that next blockbuster exhibition you’ll see?