Sepideh Dashti - In Between and New Work - 2024 - The Little House Gallery

Published July 10th 2024
By Sofia Mason

Sepideh Dashti پرواز را بخاطر بسپار پرنده مردنی است Parvaz Ra Beh Khater Bespar, Parandeh Mordanist, 2024 
Hair, oscillating fan, plaster, steel cables, projection

Tri-Star Arts 2023 Grantee Sepideh Dashti presented new sculpture this summer entitled In Between before beginning a three month residency at the McColl Center. Several pieces in the show link through a fragmented body. Hair floats separate from plaster cast eyes, cast mouths mark the approach to the gallery, and rubber-cast hands in four different sizes draw with markers on a sheet of plexiglass. There is more hair in another piece down the hall. 

The largest sculpture entitled پرواز را بخاطر بسپار پرنده مردنی است Parvaz Ra Beh Khater Bespar, Parandeh Mordanist hinges on a line of poetry from the Iranian feminist writer, Forugh Farrokhzad who wrote extensively about the constricted position of women in Iran. This text, “remember its flight, for the bird is mortal”, projects on a wall with video looking into a subtle blue-gray sky with birdsong and breeze. Occasionally superimposing its shadow in the projection is the largest of Dashti’s sculptures- an oscillating fan wafts a carpet made of the artist’s and her daughter’s hair and stabilizer toward the ceiling before it slides down steel cables that anchor it to plaster weights. The six weights bear casts of the artist’s closed eye and brow. 

Dashti lives in an increasingly populous Iranian diaspora, where women’s hair has become a modern symbol in a culture full of imagery. These sculptures are industrial; a family of hand automatons swivel with loaded paint pens against a window in the piece Baraye, “For…”, 2024. In the front yard Zabane-Hagh is Bitter and Heavy, 2024 stands as a warning. Low on a tree, several steel cutouts of the Farsi word “Rights” dangle and lean their sharp, rusty, swordlike shape on a pile of plaster-cast tongues outstretched. But the sculptures are also poetic and human. The papery, organic edges to the plaster eyes mimic the fringed wool the artist embroidered with women’s hair in another room. The rubber hands show hair follicles and pock marks no mannequin would bear, and the tongues and chins perpetually frozen in plaster make my own tongue ache.

In March, at least 126 (and upwards of 500) people throughout Iran lost vision in one or both eyes as a result of police using rubber bullets and paintball guns to disturb crowds protesting gendered apartheid. The simple pleasure of letting a woman’s hair fall behind her is tethered in Iran to the threat of imprisonment and re-education and to extrajudicial abuse, torture, and death. In diaspora, gendered freedoms come with the weight of guilt, grief, and constant responsibility to speak out about the regime. Dashti’s exhibition, far from her home, is held poignantly in a home. Feminist work has carried on a dialogue with the home since the beginning of women’s activism. Though still surveilled, homes in Iran are the last place mixed company can gather to share meals or speak openly. For women, homes are confining and liberating in political and personal ways.

Craft works this way in the show too, holding back and unleashing Dashti’s political message in tense equal measures. Justice-Seeking Mothers, 2024 creates an alternative flag for Iran. Imagine a beaded curtain placed against a wall. Each strand, with a crocheted casing in equal bands of green, white, and red, begins with a servo motor and ends with a metal disc like a bell or clapper in traditional music. In place of the Iranian Republic’s Islamic emblem in the middle of this flag, Dashti has placed several “mother and child” paisley signs she hand-embroidered on wool. They are soft, warm, comforting. When the motors are given voltage, the strands twist and the metal discs ring out an anthem, proclaiming the efforts of the mothers seeking justice for their children whom the regime brutalized for their activism or for simply existing near this conflict.

Craft has a complicated relationship with fine art because formula, practicality, and decoration define it. While iconic, Iran’s mosques, and the stunning traditional craft of inlay they frequently employ, stand in for the republic in its rigid, practical formula in Hypocrisy of Mirrors, 2024. Three small, gold domes sit open like lemon halves to display their mirrored “ceilings”. Above them on the wall Dashti has engraved her own poetry on four mirror tiles and calls out the hypocrisy of a sect that refuses its reflection.

In Between invites us to sit with this community in mourning but also to serve as witnesses to the indelible ferocity with which Iranians own their culture and freedom. In the mourning and memorial Dashti builds, she also carves out space for new found mindfulness. Building sculptures gives her focus to experience her turns in emotion, her physical responses, and the materials she touches just as they are, not analyzed, corrected, or dispelled.

Sepideh Dashti will present new video and sculptural work at the McColl Center in Charlotte, NC in August at the conclusion of their summer residency program.