Soody Sharifi, b. 1955, Iran
Soody Sharifi is an American/Iranian artist working in photography, painting and collage to untangle the paradoxes of the two cultures under which she has grown up. She challenges notions of Eastern and Western through her multi-disciplinary oeuvre exploring concepts of identity. Soody approaches her subjects from the view of both an outsider and an insider, investigating ideas of alienation and integration. Much of her work examines what it means to be a young Muslim in both Iran and the United States in the 21st century, and how modernity can be embraced and interwoven into a traditional society with strong religious ideals.
Since the age of 17, Soody has lived and worked in Houston, Texas, where she studied for a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering at the University of Houston in 1982. In 2004 she re-enrolled to complete a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Photography. Her carefully staged works show an influence of meticulous planning and physical context. They feel engineered and practical in their structure and execution. In 2010 Soody completed a residency at Stiftung Kunstledorf Schoppingen, Germany, and she has been the subject of several solo exhibitions throughout the USA, Finland and Slovakia. Her works are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Portland, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Farjam Collection in the United Arab Emirates.
As part of The unbreakable rope, Soody is presenting work from her Maxiature series. The works appear as large-scale Islamic illuminated manuscript illustrations, yet collaged with contemporary figures in the scenes. The works are finely detailed and saturated with colour, referencing the exquisite craft of the manuscript illuminators who were true masters of their art – an art that took many years to master both because of its painstaking technique and rich heritage. The contemporary figures address ways in which young people interact with a society both strongly underpinned by traditional values and situated in an age of unparalleled social and technological change. The works are highly alluring in their colour and labyrinthine compositional schemes, alluding to convoluted imaginings of history. Soody Sharifi uses the tradition of Persian miniature painting and photo-collage to present a dialogical critique of the entrenched positions separating the Western and Muslim worlds.
The Maxiature series intervenes in the tradition of Persian miniature painting, incorporating contemporary issues and art practices into the centuries-old form. The series ruptures the miniature tradition on two levels: the medium (the works use photography) and the kinds of narratives depicted, which lead to incongruous and at times humorous results. As highly sophisticated pieces of visual language, Persian miniatures often explore the tension between public and private spaces. In particular, they offer the viewer idealised vignettes of daily court life behind the palace walls.
The Maxiature works open up the private spaces of domestic settings to provide the audience with a privileged insight into Islamic culture behind closed doors. Whilst Islamic miniatures traditionally show courtly spectacles such as elegant receptions, sporting hunts and romantic encounters (by characters who are depicted as generic types rather than specific individuals), the protagonists of Soody's works are sourced from staged and documented photographs. By blurring the line between fiction and reality, they suggest a tension between Islamic culture and Western influences. Religious and secular attitudes collide in Soody's works, revealing a miscegenation of visual narratives before rendered in black and white.