here’s the latest offering by one of our global bloggers, another excellent story, steve, go to http://globalpressinstitute.org to
By Saideh Jamshidi
It is not too hard to find the Redline Milwaukee art gallery. My square GPS device is able to locate and identify the most remote streets and dark corners of large and small cities in the US better than any old fashioned map. When my eerily clever GPS announces that I “had reached my destination,” I find myself in front of an aluminum modern-looking building.
The gray building seems to have been molded specifically for the gloomy Milwaukee afternoon. The outside scenery is colorless. But when I open the gate and climb the eight wooden stairs to the main floor of the gallery, the red and warm colors of its interior stirs a pleasant heat on my body. On my left, there is a wide corridor that directs me towards a large open space within the gallery. There, Fahimeh Vahdat’s enormous art works are on the view. The artist, herself, is standing in front of a piece that caught my attention.
There are several large pieces of thick papers cut in different shapes that are hanging from the ceiling. These shapes are letters in Farsi. I put them together and read the word: “Khodaya,” means “oh God” in Farsi.
Beneath Khodaya is a large white round table. The table is cut into two unequal pieces. Each piece stands independently and at unequal heights from the other piece. I have to look closely to recognize the world “America” written in Farsi with white print on the surface of the higher cut. “Iran” is screen printed on the lower smaller table. The shadow of Khodaya from above falls on the Iran table.
“This is about my personal journey,” Vahdat said. “I spend less time in Iran and more time in the US.”
I know Vahdat from previous interviews I had conducted for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. She is an Iranian-American artist who had just moved to Columbia a few months ago. Her move is so that she can begin her new position as a Director of Studio Arts Program at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD. Vahdat considers herself an artist as well as an advocate for social and political justice causes for women around the world, and for the people of the Middle East. Redline Milwaukee gallery is the location of her fifth solo show under her Freedom Series, a series that began about five years ago. “Protest” was the title of this exhibition; it is dedicated to the men and women of Syria and Iran who have been protesting against the lack of political and social freedom in their countries.
“I interrogate issues regarding injustice,” she said, “and I stand up against the issues that hurt other people.”
After further study, I see that I am Iran, I am America is the title of the parted table. There are red and green cards on the top of those tables. There are more cards, all hand printed in red and green, on a separate table close by. “It is my voting system,” Vahdat said, explaining the cards. “This is a silent vote. You do not sign your name. You just pick a card and put it on one of the tables. Red is for war with Iran and green symbolizes peace.”
I skip voting and turn to the far right side of the gallery. I see a dark blue room hiding behind closed curtains. The room is called “Changing Room.” I pull the curtains and enter the room. There are two pieces of black clothing hanging on the opposite sides of the walls. “I am going to invite audiences to come into this room and try on these clothes,” Vahdat said. “I want them to see how a woman is in prison within the space of her own body.”
Robs and head-scarves on the walls look familiar to me. Back in Iran, I wore a similar kind of robe and scarf; therefore I know how a woman can be restricted from moving freely or walking steadfast as a result of the restrictions she must observe.
When we come out of the Changing Room, I stand still and take a deep breath. The memory of those days in Iran when I had to cover myself according to the country’s Islamic code overwhelms me.
When I look more closely to my surroundings, I can see the word Khodaya everywhere. The word is written on a 240 inches of a canvas hanging from the ceiling to the floor. It is also on different paintings hanging on the walls and on fabric hanging over different paintings.
“What is going on?” I asked, “Why too much Khodaya Fahimeh?”
“I am trying to write Khodaya one million times to support Iranian women’s one million signatures,” she responded.
The One Million Signature campaign was started by a group of women activists in Tehran on June 2006. These women were raising awareness against unequal and discriminatory laws against women. Although the campaign gained momentum and many international organizations supported their cause, the leaders of the movement were eventually attacked and jailed. Despite this, the Iranian government couldn’t stop the movement.
“I feel I am a vehicle meant to bring awareness to the people in the US,” Vahdat said.
Vahdat’s journey as an artist took off when she decided to show the pain and suffering that women had to endure due to unequal social rights in the US. Her paintings were shown first in Dallas, and later in many different cities across the country. In her paintings, she still continues to show the struggles and obstacles the people had to overcome in order to move towards freedom and social justice. She has been awarded several times for her art including NEA regional grant for “Sacred Crossings:” A multi-media memorial installation dedicated to the Baha’i martyrs in Iran after the Revolution of 1979.
Vahdat is determined to write Khodaya as much as one million times.
So far, she has written it only 100,000 times.