Delicate and complex questions are at the heart of this exhibition bringing together three artists of Iranian origin. In a more poetic than literal way, the works address censorship, religious fundamentalism, the loss of cultural references. All in all, they stem from a very intimate relationship with creation, linked to gesture, writing and memory.

The exhibition My stories run, run is made up of narratives, although abstract or sometimes illegible (even if you read Farsi) forms dominate. Shahla Bahrami, Shabnam K. Ghazi and Leila Zelli, the artists gathered at the Pierre-François Ouellette contemporary art gallery (PFOAC), put a lot of their own life into it (experiences, memories, objects) to tell about potentially universal states of mind. .

It is a combination of circumstances that led the gallerist to bring together these three women whose only common point was, until then, having immigrated to Canada – they did not know each other. The exhibition originates from an invitation to Marie-Jeanne Musiol, an artist represented by PFOAC for a long time, to introduce a colleague.

At the end of their discussions, it was not one, but three artists who were put forward, even if one of them, Leila Zelli, is not quite a discovery since 2019 and her end exhibition. master’s degree at the UQAM gallery. Her work around the image and her feminist gaze dissecting cultural references have already earned her a lot of esteem and prizes. The exhibition presents Sacred landscapes (2018), a series of diptychs associating religion and war, personal memories and derailed heritage.

Political teas

In My stories run, run, however, it is Shahla Bahrami who steals the show. The two series proposed by the artist from Ottawa, cultural worker and Franco-Ontarian activist – she runs the artist-run center Voix Visual, which she co-founded – speak with force of censorship, of self-censorship too.

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The small weavings entitled Persian carpet (2017-2021) and photos by I eat my tongue (2021) are carried by the words (in Farsi) and a murky relationship to expression. The result is very different, however.

Fragile assemblages of cut-out papers bringing together censored texts, the former take on the appearance of artefacts. Both a geometric composition, because highlighted by the pattern of the grid, and an irregular object, as if torn from its support, each Persian carpet is unique, even if it comes from the same manual process. The gestural expression here takes the place, or the relay, of the verbal expression.

With the series I eat my tongue, neat photographic staging, Shahla Bahrami is more incisive, while being more poetic. Each image associates a culinary or consumer-related element (bay leaves, coriander seeds, tea bags or… beer caps) with sentences, sayings or extracts from poems.

Between two states, interiorization and exteriorization, between the half-open box of the image Nothing and a few voids and the overturned pot delivering its corks in One hundred and twenty-three, speech appears hesitant, accidental. She is also oppressed by the effect of a mortar – the work Art and artist. Fundamentally political, like a strong charge against totalitarian regimes, this series turns the act of feeding into a gesture of self-censorship. Salvation is in silence.

“If the word takes the form of an opening, a gift, an extraction of oneself, eating is on the contrary the movement of a return to oneself, of a compression, of a disappearance in the flesh, writes the artist in his blurb. Different cultures or beliefs combine these two elements through rituals where the act of swallowing words carries power. “

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The way of being silent, or of hiding one’s words, one’s expressiveness, one’s ideas, passes in Shabnam K. Ghazi through a traditional writing ritual. The Toronto artist uses the Persian calligraphy Siyah Mashq (literally “black practice”) to cover an entire page, writing his memories in all directions.

The memory exercise, which has become an abstraction, takes the form of a carpet (the work gabbeh, 2018) or, what is even more impressive, a series of paper spheres (Yarn, 2018). These are reminiscent of the famous Thick Paintings by Eric Cameron, where the Calgary-based artist covered articles of his daily life under tons of layers of gesso.

Like Iranian auteur cinema, the trio of artists brought together by PFOAC expresses itself through a lot of political metaphors. The personal gesture and commitment are the basis of works which, moreover, captivate the eye.

My stories run, run: Shahla Bahrami, Shabnam K. Ghazi, Leila Zelli

At the Pierre-François Ouellette contemporary art gallery, until August 14

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