The Kelowna Art Gallery offers students free admission to visit its various exhibitions. From street photography to Pop Art, it has offered numerous spaces for students to come and learn about art and its ever changing meanings and faces.
We Are Countless is the show currently available, which started on January 21, 2023, and will be ending on April 16, 2023. It features multi-media artworks by interdisciplinary artists Reyhan Yazdani and Nasim Pirhadi, and asks the public to engage in powerful art that brings attention to the socio-political discourse and unrest occurring in Iran.
After visiting the installation myself, I was interested in hearing more from the artists themselves about what the artwork was trying to communicate and its sources for inspiration. Upon contacting Nasim Pirhadi, who’s also an MFA candidate at UBC’s Okanagan Campus, she provided insightful comments about her work and its impact.
Ana Salgado: Tell me about your newest exhibition We Are Countless at the Kelowna Art Gallery.
Nasim Pirhadi: We Are Countless focused particularly on the current unrest in Iran in response to the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman tortured and killed in Tehran by ‘morality’ police forces for improperly wearing a hijab.
AS: What was your main source of inspiration in both subject matter and media, and what message were you trying to convey?
NP: I created the piece using black paint on unprimed canvas, in the style of the protest banners used in Iran. Utilising the monotype technique, I sketched on a piece of paper with a brush and black paint before pressing it by hand on the linen. I was inspired by the stencil prints of victims' faces on public property in Iran, which are frequently accompanied by a brief sentence or their names. In Iran, protestors employ stencil graffiti in order to expedite the process. In this work, I explore issues of belonging, diasporic self-understanding, location, and memory, as well as highlighting and calling attention to the current social and political uprising in Iran. This textile depicts intricate portraits and figures of activists and victims in varying states of protest, intermingled with city motifs and street scenes from the locations of the incidents and surrounded by high-voltage power lines.
In the video, I am repeatedly smearing my face with, and then cleaning it of basil seeds, as traditional drum music plays in the background. This music is normally played in zoorkhanehs, traditional gyms that only men are allowed to enter and participate in, and whose name translates to House of Strength. There is an old belief that women are not purified enough to enter these sacred places, and that the inherent corruption of womanhood makes them undeserving of titles like ‘hero’ or ‘champion’. Through the repetitive act of cleaning my face of basil seeds, positioned here to represent Iranian womanhood, I am asking: is it enough now? Am I purified enough? Am I eligible now?
AS: Your installation has a powerful message. Do you think the gallery space is doing a good job in delivering it?
NP: Yes, I was quite happy with the installation, and the professional curator and staff of Kelowna Art Gallery.
AS: Why do you think it is important for not just students, but for the public, to visit the exhibition? What can we all learn from it?
NP: The purpose of the show was to raise awareness about the unrest in Iran and be the voice of the Iranian people. Informing the audience and bringing them into a conversation, easing it a little, because this is a difficult conversation especially with so much global attention on it. The audience are welcome to the conversation and see a little bit of what’s happening in Iran.
We intended to highlight that this uprising has had a long history, and this is not the first time that Iranian women have requested the elimination of discriminating laws. It is the result of a long-running women's protest campaign against the mandatory hijab, which every woman supports by her presence and against all repressions.
Why should we all care?
Art is a form of communication and protest, just as powerful as other mediums. To ignore a long-standing history of oppression and discrimination is to endorse it. As the public and citizens of the world, it is our duty to spread the message of activism and stand against all oppressions.
Even if you are not the person who usually likes to walk into an art gallery, I’d encourage everyone to visit downtown Kelowna and have a look. Not just to look, but to analyze, make meaning out of it, and reflect on our place in the world.
If you’re interested in learning more about this installation, make sure to visit https://kelownaartgallery.com/we-are-countless/ for more information!