S*HEROES and beyond—the unknown creators of non-European cultures

December 28, 2021

'S*HEROES – The Nomadic Women of Persia', showing at galleries Anahita - Arts of Asia and Anahita Contemporary in Berlin, is the first in a series of exhibitions exploring issues of diversity, culture and empowerment set to take place in the venues over the next year

The galleries Anahita – Arts of Asia and Anahita Contemporary in Berlin are to become a place for interactive encounters and opportunities to explore issues of diversity, culture and empowerment over the next year, starting with the current contemporary multimedia art exhibition ‘S*HEROES – The Nomadic Women of Persia’ (until 26 February 2022). In this first show gallerist Anahita Sadighi—great-granddaughter of a Persian nomadic prince—goes in search of her roots. With over 20 international artists and cultural workers participating in the project, ‘S*HEROES’ focuses on traditional crafts, showcasing their influence on modern art and design. Here Anahita Sadighi talks to COVER magazine about the aims of the exhibition series.

<meta charset=utf 8>SHEROES Anahita Contemporary Berlin

What is the idea behind the S*HEROES exhibition? With ’S*HEROES – The Nomadic Women of Persia’ I want to tell a personal and authentic story. It’s a sensitive subject: the art and culture of my ancestors. It’s very common to keep a distance as a curator or gallerist. Rarely is there a very personal approach. But I’ve always found it valuable to bring women’s stories—whether they’re contemporary artists or unknown nomads—to the forefront. S*HEROES is about merging theory, scholarship, my own passion, and my family history. The curatorial approach is born out of all these elements. S*HEROES is an experimental attempt to transcend the boundaries of the current art market and to create a counter-design to classical and contemporary exhibitions. This curatorial approach is intended to provide new stimuli within the German art scene and bring underrepresented chapters of cultural history more into the public. S*HEROES is a unique juxtaposition of disciplines, genres and eras. The curation of the artists and exhibits creates an interdisciplinary, intercultural and trans-temporal body of art work that also specifically addresses a new generation of art lovers.

SHEROES Anahita Contemporary Berlin

Can you describe the artworks on show at the gallery? Works by new generations of artists from different backgrounds and disciplines expand the presentation of ancient textile works. Photography, painting, sculpture, video and sound create a multimedia dialogue. More than 20 international artists and cultural workers are participating in the project, including Sepideh Ahadi, Yumna Al-Arashi, Pablo Alonso, Hesam Ayat, Nina Lamiel Bruchhaus, Dieter Detzner, Frank Jimin Hopp, Rebecca Pokua Korang, Kalpesh Lathigra, Stella Meris, Tahmineh Monzavi, pantea & momo zeli, Roxana Sadighi, Yotam Shwartz, Studio Jeschkelanger, Laure d’Utruy, Amalia Valdés, Christoph Wieland, Yalda Yazdani, Wenxin Zheng.

I especially like the juxtaposition of German artist Dieter Detzner’s large-scale acrylic glass reliefs with the ancient textiles. The pine green and purple work are important anchor points at both galleries. Dieter Detzner’s works concern themselves with the appropriation and perception of spatial relationships. He actively involves the viewer in the complexly arranged work of art directly by allowing him to enter the space of art he has created on two different levels. In doing so he intentionally blurs the boundaries between inside and outside. Chilean artist Amalia Valdés works with geometric abstraction using specific patterns that deliver a testimony of the sacred symbols of diverse ancestral cultures. She investigates in her stainless steal paintings and mobile objects with reference to the art of diverse ancestral cultures—among other things geometric and space-producing aspects of grids. In their encounter with her works, which are here matte, there shiny, then reflective, viewers become active observers who perceive changes in form, colour, and light according to their perspective and the position of their bodies. Both artist’s works are in direct connection with the kilims and gabbehs exhibited next to them. They play on the contrast between geometric patterns and reflective materials. 

<meta charset=utf 8>SHEROES Anahita Contemporary Berlin

Why are the antique rugs and textiles part of the exhibition narrative? I want to present antique rugs and textiles as true works of art and show them on an equal footing with contemporary art. Ancient knotted carpets and flatweaves are of captivating beauty and ancient origin and yet they have to find their place in the art world. They are waiting to be discovered and recognised for the rich cultural treasures that they are. Especially for new generations of art lovers. The show invites you on a journey through the topicality of textile arts and draws a contemporary panorama of Persian nomadic art. The gallery Anahita Arts of Asia displays kilims, flat-weaves and presents a nomadic tent, brought to life with performance and music. At Anahita Contemporary, the focus is on knotted carpets (gabbehs). Extremely rare, ethnologically and artistically valuable exhibits from the 18th and 19th centuries from my father’s collection (Hamid S. Neiriz) are on display. Among them are extremely rare and exceptionally beautiful gabbehs from the Bakthiari (Southwest Persia) and Ghashghai nomads (South Persia), as well as khorjins (bags) from the Bidjar nomads (Northwest-Persia). 

<meta charset=utf 8>SHEROES Anahita Contemporary Berlin

S*HEROES is part of an exhibition series, can you tell us more of what is to come? Yes, it is the start of an exhibition series introducing some of the unknown creators of non-European cultures showcasing their influence on modern art and design with ancient crafts and contemporary art being brought into a new dialogue. However, a main focus will be on textile arts. The next exhibitions will include textile works from other parts of the world, for example, Turkey and the Caucasus as well as other weaving cultures of Eurasia. I would also like to dedicate an exhibition to the fascinating textile works of the Bakuba tribes from the Congo. The neighbouring galleries Anahita Arts of Asia and Anahita Contemporary will become a place for interactive encounters and opportunities to explore issues of diversity, culture and empowerment. 

<meta charset=utf 8>SHEROES Anahita Contemporary Berlin

Why do you think these messages are important for our lives today? As a gallery, you have the task of communicating art and culture. The underlying messages of the exhibition explore issues of culture and empowerment. Nomadic textile art was produced exclusively by women. As such, the history of nomadic art is also a history of strong women. The rediscovery of nomadic art and its creators should strengthen the women’s movement and serve as a powerful counterbalance to historic stereotypes of Near Eastern women. S*HEROES also raises awareness for creative, authentic production processes and sustainable lifestyles. So these subjects are highly topical. 

Rugs are one of the most original works of art. The gabbehs, knotted with a flat pile and not such a tight knot density, were initially garments that were supposed to give the nomads superpowers. Behind this is the idea of strong animals and protection. To engage with this mythical world and imagine that women produced these ‘superpowers’ is totally interesting to me. This train of thought is so fascinating. It goes back several thousand years and has evolved incredibly. In my opinion, we can also draw inspiration from this knowledge today and in modern art, there are references to these works. Look, for example, at the paintings of the American Abstract Expressionists of the 20th century, these large, contemplative paintings that cost several million dollars. Or the sculptures of Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida—if you compare them with the textile embroideries of the Bakuba tribes from the Congo, you tend to see parallels. Pablo Picasso, too, has always openly articulated what objects he collected and what inspired him. But in the historical narrative, these narratives are kept small. In the classic exhibitions, the role for contemporary art or the influence of the works on modernism has hardly played a role. There was a large Bauhaus exhibition in the Gropius Bau, in which my father also lent works from his collection. Until then, many visitors had only seen the Bauhaus weavings and thought that the Bauhaus artists were probably the creators of these modern, graphic and minimalist textiles. Actually, they had counted on Anni Albers. And then they read about Ghashghai nomads from southwest Persia who used these patterns already in the 19th century. This world is still so unknown to many people and yet has such great relevance. It is a pioneer in the development of modern art. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about US modernism or the Bauhaus movement in Europe. This elemental force has played far too small a role up to now. The approach of the exhibition is to change that. I wanted to take a new look at what parallels there are between emerging contemporary artists and ancient works. It’s far too rare to make associations between media and formal languages. Everything doesn’t always have to have a certain order—but many don’t want to get involved in the sensual experience of art. Yet it is so much fun.

<meta charset=utf 8>SHEROES Anahita Contemporary Berlin

The point of such exhibitions is also to question the supremacy of western artists. One has to do justice to all other sources of cultural inspiration. Especially considering the last 200 years, colonialism and post-colonialism, but also the current ‘war of civilisations’ and Islamophobia. Through multi-layered exhibitions, you can renegotiate perceptions. I want to surprise people and show a new and important reality that is rarely told. There are few exhibitions that deal with these issues. Because it entails a redistribution of certain power structures to re-locate the term ‘genius’ and the importance of unknown women artists. If you want to redefine the value of these works as artworks, it upsets a lot of things in the current art market. Many gallerists, curators are not interested in that—they want to push their own content and people. We have a strongly Eurocentric dominated art world that will need a long time to treat these cultures and people with respect.

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