On the waves of writing
Born in Teheran in 1962, Parastou Forouhar has been living in Germany since 1991 and contrasting her memory of Iran with her present awareness of Germany. The more painful her dream of Persian culture, the brighter its sparkle. Since the end of the 90s she has been urgently furthering democracy in Iran.
Pingpong balls bearing Persian letters from Parastou Forouhar gathered in niches of the House of World Cultures, on having bounced from her installation at the entrance, where networks of letters spread over the floor and walls. As part of the exhibition "Heimat Kunst" (Homeland Art), they made the room more mobile and visitors less so.
"I began to build a sanctuary of illusions round the notion ´homeland´", writes Parastou Forouhar, who in 1991 left Teheran for Germany. "And since then the mirage of my homeland has shimmered to me from afar, as if through the letters of my mother tongue, which spread out gently, rhythmically and invitingly." Like water following the line of least resistance, the letters adapt themselves to their milieu. In them seem to be woven the anxiety of life in an alien culture as well as the comfort of memory, which they enable to be taken everywhere as lightly as a notepad.
There arose in a derelict house in Frankfurt am Main in 1998 the first room into which these letters poured and spread over walls, ceilings and doors. Their long cadences covered a screen and a figure painted on a door behind it, as if to re-establish the primacy of writing. A second room of the exhibition "Two Rooms with a View through Them" held poetic and fairytale frescoes of dancers, musicians, trees and birds from a magical past.
These rooms of letters are not only rooms of memory but also rooms of escape from the authority of the written word, with its power to bid and forbid - a power which it retains in Iran even today, especially over women. After studying art in Teheran, Parastou Forouhar sought to escape this power in applying for a course of further study in Offenbach in Germany.
Her parents were both leading opposition politicians in Teheran and in November 1988 were found dead on having been stabbed repeatedly in their home. In her "Chronicle of the Murder of our Parents" Parastou Forouhar reports on her trip to Teheran and her efforts to have the incident clarified. Over 100 000 people came to the burial, and the ceremonies of mourning became political demonstrations eyed by the secret police and threatened with arrests. Parastou Forouhar called for an enquiry into the murders and, together with the relations of other murdered victims of the secret service, brought so much pressure to bear on the authorities that finally a minister was forced to resign. The "Chronicle of the Murder of our Parents" is part of a documentation of the resistance to the enquiry and of the repression of the public. Beyond day to day concerns, Parastou Forouhar continues her political activities in the field of art.
Given this painful political and personal background, the force and lightness of exhibitions which she held at the same time are surprising. They dance like waves above reefs of anguish. Suspended between East and West, Parastou Forouhar has been moved by her parents - fate to reconsider her relationship to contemporary Persian culture, which is divided within itself.
Birds, dragons and other fabulous creatures gambol on "carpets" which Parastou Forouhar has painted on hardboard, showing in a simple, nearly folksy way the differences between European and Islamic culture. On the one hand these carpets show that ornamentation in Islamic lands has often been figurative, and on the other hand they question the Western preference for pure art over applied art, which has for centuries caused works from the orient to be underrated.
The gap between the private and public spheres is different in Iran to in Germany, as implied by the work "Hair", which Parastou Forouhar created with Phyllis Kiehl. In its photographs, shown on pin-boards in exhibitions and on bill-boards around town, the women exchange their tresses. In one photograph they stoop over each other to do so, as if questioning the superiority of blond over black, while certain of their openly vaunted beauty, and in another photograph they stand side by side and hold each other´s hair like a veil in front of their mouths. In musing on the silencing of women, they are now and then ironic about themselves but free from Western condescension.
Parastou Forouhar has also shown the muting of men, as of those who said little and sent her through a labyrinth of mirages on her quest for her parents´ murderers. For the biennial in Berlin, 2001, she devised a poster showing the silent, mouthless back of a man´s head in a shador. In a set of photographs, men´s typical fluttering robes become wavering and ambivalent black blobs. Signs, letters and language lose their meanings in being veiled.
Author: Katrin Bettina Müller
Parastou Forouhar was born in Teheran in 1962, studied art at the University of Teheran from 1984 to 1990 then continued her studies at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (High School for Design) in Offenbach am Main in Germany. Together with 11 other artists in 1995, she started the project Fahrradhalle (Bicycle Hall), to share inspiration and to find various venues for exhibitions. She takes part in women´s projects, lives with her two children in Frankfurt and appeared in the film ´Superwoman oder was´, in which the Frankfurt film-maker Anja Czioska portrayed three women managing to live in their own ways with more children than money.
Parastou Forouhar´s parents were murdered in Iran in November, 1998. In her quest for clarification she has since flown to Iran eight times, questioned functionaries in the ministries responsible, held press conferences and has written letters to human rights organisations and politicians. There has been no clarification yet.
Persönliche Chronik der Ermordung unserer Eltern (Personal Chronicle of our Parents´ Murder)
in: Metronome Backwards, Translation, No. 4-5-6, published by Clémentine Deliss, Frankfurt am Main/Wien/Bordeaux
GROUP EXHIBITIONS (Selected)
Exhibition / Installation
Global Feminisms, Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA
Retracing Territories, Kunsthalle Fribourg, Germany
Eastern Expressway, Evangelische Stadtakademie Frankfurt, Germany
Das kritische Auge, Neuer Kunstverein Aschaffenburg, Germany
Hannah Ahrendt Denkraum, ehemalige jüdische Mädchenschule, Berlin, Germany
Intersections, Jüdisches Museum Melbourne/ Jüdisches Museum San Francisco, USA
Gabriele Münter Preis, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin/ Frauen Museum, Bonn, Germany
Entfernte Nähe, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany
Die Zehn Gebote, Deutsche Hygiene Museum, Dresden, Germany
Zeitzonen/3rd Triennial of Contemporary Art,Oberschwaben, Weingarten, Germany
4th Busan Biennial, Busan, South Korea
M_ARS, Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum, Graz, Austria
Gæstebud – Feast/Hospitality, Århus, Denmark
Die Quelle als Inspiration, Franckesche Stiftung, Halle, Germany
Blind Spot, Golestan Art Gallery, Teheran, Iran
Heimat Kunst, Kulturverein Zehntscheuer, Rottenburg, Germany
Berlin Biennial, Germany
Frankfurter Kreuz, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Heimat Kunst (Homeland Art), House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany
Ex Lux, Kunsthalle Tirol, Hall in Tirol, Austria
Housewarming II, Kunstprojekt Fahrradhalle, c/o, Offenbach am Main, Germany
Schreder, Kunstprojekt Fahrradhalle, Altpapierhalle der FES, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Neues in Zimmern (New Things in Rooms), c/o, Offenbach am Main, Germany
The Art Project Fahrradhalle in Berlin, Artists Space, Berlin, Germany
The Art Project Fahrradhalle in Hamburg, Künstlerhaus, Hamburg, Germany
Shahnameh and Iranian Modern Artists, Afrand Art Gallery, Teheran, Iran
SOLO EXHIBITIONS (Selected)
Exhibition / Installation
Just A Minute, Fondazione Pastificio Cerere, Rom
Parastou Forouhar at Deutschr Dom, Berlin, Germany
Schuhe ausziehen, Einstein Forum, Potsdam, Germany
Sprache des Ornaments, City Museum Spital, Crailsheim, Austria
Schränke (Closets), with Phyllis Khiel, 1822-Forum der Frankfurter Sparkasse, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Carpets, Gallery Morgen, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Selbstmordserie (Suicide Series), Golestan Art Gallery, Teheran, Iran
Documentation, Exhibition Room de Ligt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
8. März Frauentag (8th March, Woman´s Day), Deutsch-Iranisches Kulturhaus, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Überirdische Dateibearbeitung (Unearthly Data Processing), Seyhoon Art Gallery, Teheran, Iran
Pätch Pätch, Fahrradhalle, Offenbach am Main, Germany
Sie geht neben mir (She goes along with me), with Phyllis Khiel, Immobilien am Palmengarten, Frankfurt am Main, Germany