Sunday, 24 May 2009
The Look Of The Eyes
The camera is the dominant motif of this work and the look its guiding concern. In the plate above, two enormous eyes stare out of an oval plate, just big enough to accommodate them and their carefully sculpted eyebrows. The face may be framed by a chador, by a loosely worn scarf, or only by hair, we don’t know because the rim does the framing and my point is that it’s of no consequence in this image because, although the law in Iran currently insists on women being ‘modestly’ dressed in public, covered and not ‘made up,’ the other kind of law, the law of social mores, insists, with equal force, that Iranian Women Are Glamorous And Are The Most Beautiful In The World… and woe betide anyone who doesn’t believe it. In other words, social mores insist upon a woman being, by English standards at least, very dressed up indeed.
I don’t know any Iranian woman who would willingly step foot outside the house without wearing full ‘party’ make-up, even when she’s just popping out to buy bread.
The social glamour laws do not, on the face of it, require enforcement by a special police force, which the modesty laws enshrined in statute certainly do. However, if the statute were removed, and women were allowed to dress as they pleased, it would be interesting to witness the result over the long term. Three years ago, I would have said that glamour as a social norm would not change. It seemed fixed forever. Now I do detect, among my own friends at least, a certain ambivalence, a questioning even of the social laws. Some have told me, in a quiet moment, that they do find the necessity to ‘dress up’ (as I see it) as a bit time consuming and oppressive. It’s a complicated process, though, to navigate this kind of social pressure, when set alongside the laws of government, which are vastly more oppressive: young women in particular are often rounded up by the religious police and taken to the police station and sometimes beaten. This plate is my response to the necessity of resisting oppressive legal demands, which dictate what women can and cant wear, while also observing and feeling the gendered social oppression inherent in the form that the resistance takes.
Here's what I wrote in the catalogue -
Why don’t you ‘do’ your eyebrows? Most women demanded to know this within five minutes of meeting me. I didn’t think about eyebrows normally. They were just there. Apparently I was wrong. Eyebrows were there to be sculpted, along with the rest of my face, which could be entirely rearranged if necessary. I began to develop a much closer relationship with mirrors.
I had worried intensely about wearing the right things outside, in the street. This is where I would be seen. But as soon as I arrived in Iran, I was being invited to peoples’ houses. I carefully said no twice but didn’t want them to withdraw the invitation, so hastily changed no to yes, in case they changed their minds. This is when I realised that I needed clothes to wear in people’s houses. My English clothes were not good enough. Iranians are ‘posh’. English people are not. I had to bring make up learn how to use it. I needed a hair dryer. I was creating a new version of myself but it meant that my suitcase was getting heavier.