Deaths without burial
from 2009 to future
By Nikoo Tarkhani
“You’re dead and my eyes are dry. Forgive me; I guess I have no more tears and death no longer matters to me. Outside there are three hundred lying dead in the grass; and tomorrow I too will be cold and naked without even a hand to fondle my hair. There’s nothing to regret; you know: life itself is not so important anymore. Goodbye…”.
Parts from “deaths without burial” (aka the victors) by Jean Paul Sartre
My father died of lung cancer in 2007. I was the first one in my family to know about his disease. I was at med school then and I could see his whole future. I used to take care of him; sitting by his bedside; watching over him at nights. However the moment that he passed away I wasn’t there. I had to go to hospital to find someone to take care of my night shifts so that I could spend more time at home with him. He was already gone when I arrived.
I have photographed me and my father during that period; since we have found out about his cancer to the moment that his lifeless body was lying on his bed getting cold. I hid the camera in a closet and came back to it two years later; when the green revolution started in Iran.
I spent months to select the right images and paint them. The whole suffering came back again: nights of crying in bed, days of being surrounded by memories of his last days; tasting the long gone moments once again.
Altogether I have chosen twelve portraits; six portraits of me and six of him, the last one was his tortured face in peace after he died. There are hundreds of 13×18 cm pieces in this project. There are at least two magnets behind each piece that let them stick to an iron plate; thus they can be easily replaced by another one. Altogether they make a big puzzle of 80×648 cm. each portrait is made of 18 pieces. When you exchange a piece with another one you are mixing pieces of me with those of my late father. That is how death and life are mixed together.
That is how for someone who had seen so many people die before her eyes life is: fragile. I believe that we all are marked with certain things. No matter where we live or where we die, there is no escape from our nationalities. Not that it is something bad or good, just it is what it is; we cannot pretend to be someone else. My life experience in Iran as an Iranian woman is something that an English woman could not wholly understand; nor I could hers. So the idea of painting traditional patterns on portraits came to my mind.
As for the situation of Iran then I chose the colors of our flag are the best match for these patterns. It was like our today culture: the ancient traditions with the flavor of our present. We have to obey rules; in order to live in peace. Ever society has its own rules that need to be obeyed; no matter what we think of them. Being accepted in each society needs certain sacrifices. We have this liberty to walk naked in our own home; but when we are going out we have to put on our clothes; otherwise not only we will get arrested for sure in some countries; but we also will be disgraced by religious people. We might be a fan of sadomasochistic sex, but we are not to talk about it loudly in public or else will face consequences. In Public, we are not who we really are. We hide our real face in order to survive. But it is not something to be honored all the time. Sometimes we break those rules no matter what the consequences are. That is why I painted the patterns in such a strange manner. Broken portraits (Persona) let the patterns (traditions, rules) stay complete and so let each unit to stay harmless visually. But a complete portrait will lead to a broken pattern which gives the image a cranky look. The only portrait that matches the patterns in its own completion is my dead father.
I once showed the piece in “Auto-portraits II” curated by Ali Ettehad in Silk Road gallery in Tehran. Audiences spent long times playing with this work. Their interactions took the painting to another level of Art. It wasn’t only a painting; but accompanying a performance by audiences.
They were playing with my past, with my father’s death, and even with their own destiny as residents in Iran; they were playing with the form of their flag. Knowing that made them more anxious to play; to be a part of my project; resisting the situation as it is but failing to change it thoroughly.
Ali Ettehad says:
There were twelve portraits which were covered by ancient Persian patterns. Audience could exchange the smaller pieces and make his/her desired image. The relation between portraits and patterns was in a way that if the audience completed a portrait, the patterns would be broken and if he/she put the patterns in order the portrait would be incomplete.
What we call “model of a traditional society” is a powerful supervision trying to transform the whole society into an overall unit without paying attention to its multiplicity. It is basically against any kind of multiplicity; because in this pattern of social analysis, differences in personalities mean chaos. Ancient Persian role models could decrease any kind of history to the level of a mere ancient myth. All the insignificant events are trying to become a major myth.
This “changing the stories” is exactly what in traditional constructions means “running away from chaos” or “keeping things in its own place”; and every single unit of society and mostly intellectual people call censorship.
The main point in this discussion is how we explain cultural totality? If cultural totality of a society is the resultant of the thoughts of this society’s units; then how it could stand against single identities of that very same society? The answer could be that perhaps the resultant is not only of present time but past; and we should add the variable of time to it. The cultural totality of any traditional society is a resultant of major thoughts and beliefs of all time; Even if this historical totality is against its today’s people opinions. What makes Nikoo’s works so discussable are such challenges; the challenges between traditional patterns and a single identity.