For just about forty minutes earlier this summer, we got to have a sit down with Zahra Baseri. And in that amount of time we were fortunate to have learnt a great deal from the Iranian-born, Winnipeg based artist. Her individual experiences and observations living in an oppressive Islamic regime has stirred her to take a bracingly honest and critical look in the society she lived through. The absence of the female voice in the Islamic society she grew up in is a palpable assessment in Baseri’s recent BMO’s 1st Art! award-winning Outcry series. Below is our conversation with Baseri: we go into the nuances of her work, her creative process, and where her earliest creative inclinations came from.
Zahra Baseri On Outcry:
The current body of work is related to my personal background and experience. With this series, I’m looking at it from a critical standpoint. It has a lot to do with being born and growing up—especially as a female—in an Islamic culture under a theocratic regime which has led to a vast violation of human rights. The free-standing sculptural piece references a cage or a cell but its external design may come off as very ornate and beautified in a way, and that's because it is how some people view it but for me it is the opposite. For me, behind what seems to be beautified, there is an unpleasantness to it in terms of human rights and in terms of women’s rights. The piece is made with my size and height, therefore when I stand in it I’m restricted by its dome and eight sides. I’m not able to see outside from the inside very clearly. It’s very much associated with the specific Islamic culture where women wear these black coverings that go all over their bodies, in some Muslim countries the entire face has to be covered and if not done properly there could be arrests and charges put in place against you. Something simple just like a piece of clothing of your choice—a very basic right anyone should have—is taken away; you have a specifically required clothing instead. It is acknowledged that the Hijab is the “flag of the state” as though if you don’t have the Hijab it cannot be called an Islamic country. The Hijab is used as means to control, define, and limit women to domesticity. But the Hijab is just one of many ways women are being limited.
When it comes to academics, when it comes to some jobs like engineering or law, females are discouraged and told they cannot, and instead should be a mother or a wife and those are the issues I’m concerned with this body of work.