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.