Nasim Nasr: Out of the shadows

Adelaide-based, Iranian born artist Nasim Nasr’s artwork revolves around the complex notions of identity, derived from self-experience.

She looks at images and objects that in the East mean one thing but when represented in the West take on a different meaning. Nasr says: “My work is a visual presentation of what I have experienced from past to present. The theme is about identity, how identity changes when you move from one culture to another and how much this new life and new land affects you.” After having her work censored in IranNasr moved to Australia in 2008 to further her professional contemporary art career and held her first Australian exhibition at Format Gallery in mid-2009. This exhibition was a series of photographs, Women in Shadow, which were images of women wearing a black burqa or chador taken at Maslin Beach. “It is a contrast between what I used to do back in Iran and what I am now in Australia. I was looking at how it might work to shift from nude drawing in a religiously restrictive country to covered women in this new free land – at Maslin Beach, the nude beach. I wanted it to be an ironic visual presentation,” explains Nasr. While completing a Masters at the South Australian School of Art, Nasr supported herself by working in high-end fashion retail. This influenced her final presentation, a performance piece, Women in Shadow, which further explored the ideas raised in the photography series. Nasr says the performance was a fashion parade with a difference. It featured models dressed in black burqas with heavy make-up, high heels and beautiful clothes underneath. The models returned to the stage at the end of the performance holding goldfish, symbolising rebirth – of being in a new culture. Earlier this year Paul Greenaway presented her work at Art Stage Singapore 2013 where it was well received. Now it’s Adelaide’s turn with an exhibition of her work on display at Greenaway Art Gallery this month. It will be a combination of new and older works. The exhibition features the video work Beshkan (Breakdown), whichGreenaway also showed in Singapore. The work explores this idea of how different imagery and symbols can have different meanings for the East and West. The minute long video loop features hands performing the Persian snap (Beshkan). “Beshkan is a form of celebration in Middle Eastern and Arab countries when they hear good news. It comes naturally to them.” In contrast, in the West we might interpret it as a representation of a person shooting a gun. Audiences might have already caught a glimpse of Nasr’s series Muteness, which was projected on the Rundle Mall Super-screen and Blyth St Light boxes in 2011. This month’s exhibition will feature four images from this series, which show Nasr’s face behind a traditional (Daf) drum. “Muteness was about me and censorship. I have kind of censored my face. You can see my hands playing the drum but hardly see my face behind its surface.” The traditional Daf makes a loud noise, so the image suggests an “irony between the loud sound of the drum and the muteness of the person playing it,” says Nasr. “I am playing it but not showing who I am. It’s a form of self censorship, a self portrait in a way.” Also in the exhibition is her new video work, Untitled, 2013, featuring a middle aged man performing the different hand movements for praying in different religions while repeating `I believe in love, I believe in love’. “It addresses different religions and brings them all together and promotes love rather than any religion specifically,” says Nasr. Nasr draws on her own experiences with identity and censorship, and uses her art as a means to express them. She is particularly interested in how things can be looked at differently from East to West. This latest exhibition and much of her body of work to date stems from her fascination with the way the audience in the West views her artwork. Nasim Nasr Greenaway Art Gallery Wednesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 28 nasimnasr.com

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