The exhibition ‘Soheila Sokhanvari: Rebel Rebel’ at the Barbican opened on 7th October 2022 and runs through to 26th February 2023. I thought it brilliant and extremely memorable, and, the ‘space’ has everything do with the shows impact. Sokhanvari has created an environment that envelops, almost strangely cosseting the visitor, and hung within this world of engulfing geometric pattern, are miniature portraits of 28 Iranian women from pre-Revolutionary Iran.
Last month, it felt timely to visit ‘Rebel, Rebel’, as this exhibition shows portraits of Iranian women who were working in the creative arts before the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
As we have recently seen on the news there are ongoing protests in Iran challenging some of the laws of the clerical regime. This period of protest began following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who apparently did not have her head appropriately covered. She was arrested by the morality police in Tehran on 13 September for apparently violating Iran’s strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab or headscarf. These laws are part of the theocratic society of Iran that came into existence in 1979.
The women featured in this exhibition were active in Iran before its Islamic Revolution during the Pahlavi era between 1925 and 1979. Their stories from this time have rarely been told.
Nowadays we might call these women feminist icons of the period. Despite the conservative, male-dominated society of their times they successfully worked in the realms of literature, theatre, film and music.
Soheila Sokhanvari has painted a series of portraits using egg tempera painted on calf vellum. The finished paintings have a soft lustre and are bright with colour bringing a vivacious quality to her subjects. Short biographies of all 28 creative women can be read here.
Also as part of the exhibition, there are a couple of hologram installations showing ‘Cosmic Dance I’ and ‘Cosmic Dance II’. And, at the very end of the gallery space there is a suspended star, made of two-way mirrors and perspex.
Once settled on a large comfy cushion you can watch clips of Iranian films shining out from the centre of the star showing some of the women whose portraits hang in the exhibition.
9 thoughts on “Making Space Memorable”
This looks really interesting. I wonder if I can squeeze it in somehow, before February? Apart from anything else, I don’t know when I last visited the Barbican. An excuse for a trip along the Thames from Greenwich, perhaps?
We liked it because it was unusual and also my daughter still doesn’t appreciate large exhibitions! And, I think the Barbican is always worth a visit to admire the striking architecture with the water garden.
Right. It’s on the list. Thanks. I agree with your daughter. Small is beautiful when it comes to exhibitions.
It certainly ticked the box for both of us which is rare.
Mothers and daughters, eh?
Thanks for taking us on a tour of a thoroughly fascinating exhibition. I would like to think that I could get there in person but it’s quite a trek with no nearby bus stops. I am certainly tempted to try
Yes, it is a tricky venue altogether. My daughter and I have been several times and yet we always end up walking around a bit to get out at the right exit.
What a fascinating exhibition. I was living in Florence in 1980 in the early stages of the Iran-Iraq war and studying the language with many Iranian women (and men). It was heart-breaking to think these vibrant, free-thinking women would ultimately return to post-revolutionary Iran.
Yes, when you think of the long history of the area it is devastating to see the limitations on women’s lives. I don’t know, I despair at times at how humans have devised such belief systems and ways of living.