Exhibitions, previews & reviews
Khosrow Hassanzadeh – Faheshe
Scream Gallery 04 March – 04 April 2009
Written by: Louise Hall
Khosrow Hassanzadeh’s latest show ‘Faheshe’ (‘Prostitutes’) at London’s Scream gallery is as breathtaking as you might expect from this politically confrontational leading contemporary Iranian artist. Typically, Khosrow doesn’t disappoint.
A homage to the Iranian working girls murdered at the hands of an evil serial killer in the north-eastern Iranian holy city of Mashad, in the summer of 2001, this 16 large-scale portrait series works on all sorts of different levels.
Deeply powerful, it shudders you out of any personal comfort zone you might have had. By confronting, jarring and engaging the viewer so, Khosrow invites you to reflect on circumstances surrounding these women’s lives – and deaths.
In April 2002, the killer, Saeed Hanaie, 40, a local builder, was himself hanged for his crimes following a high-profile public trial. The self-confessed moral avenger claimed that when his wife had been mistaken for a prostitute he’d taken it upon himself to cleanse the city. “I wanted to clean the holy city of Mashhad from corrupt women and prostitutes,” he said, adding that killing these women was akin to stepping on cockroaches.
People were shocked at his actions and words but many religious defenders believed his claim that he was carrying out God’s will and a public outcry ensued in Iran over the extent of rising prostitution in their holiest city. However, the irony of his words became clear when his semen was discovered in most of his victims.
Produced the same year, Khosrow took as his starting point the tiny black and white police mug shots of the women published in Iranian newspapers. Blowing them up to much-larger-than-life-size he overlays the dark, inky silkscreen-print-on-paper images with thick brush strokes of bright acrylic.
Repetitive imagery is one of his trademarks and here he uses it to strong effect. In one a woman’s face enshrouded in her headscarf (all the women were strangled by their own headscarves) is repeated, the same image over and over; sometimes it’s cut down so that you only see her eyes, or half her face, but always her eyes look out: that’s 46 motionless eyes staring out at you from the blank gallery wall, in one work alone.
It’s as if the women are challenging you, the viewer, not to look away. And when you do, you feel their eyes burrowing into your back and are drawn to look back. Each work seems to be saying, ‘Don’t forget me.’
Which is exactly the point. “I wanted each portrait to be so bold that no one could turn away from it,” Khosrow says.
His face-slap technique works; it shines the political spotlight on both the plight of these vulnerable young women and female rights’ in Iran today.
Not being given equal rights to work and struggling to survive in a worsening economy, single women are being forced onto the street to support their families. As one newspaper reported, ‘Forced into a line of work they did not want to undertake ultimately led to their deaths by a self-appointed moral avenger.’
It’s to Khosrow’s credit that today, seven years later, these issues are finally seeping into Western consciousness. Hauntingly beautiful, this exhibition will stay with you long after you walk away. These women will not be forgotten, nor their lives lived in vain; Faheshe brands their mark on your soul.
Faheshe by Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Scream Gallery, 34 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QX. Tel: 020 7493 7388