Iranian Artist Pourea Alimirzaee Presents 'Tear Gas' At The Artist Room

by Christina Donoghue on 26 April 2023

Responding to Iran's Woman, Life, Freedom movement last year following the death of Masha Amini, Tear Gas at The Artist Room marks the artist's first UK exhibition.

Responding to Iran's Woman, Life, Freedom movement last year following the death of Masha Amini, Tear Gas at The Artist Room marks the artist's first UK exhibition.

We all remember the nationwide protests in Iran last year (and ongoing), triggered by the death of Masha Amini. Spread across social classes, universities, the streets and schools, never before had a woman's rights issue been considered one of human rights in the country, putting the most significant challenge on the Iranian government since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. For the first time in history, men stood shoulder to shoulder with women in revolt as they discarded, tore and burned their hijabs in the street, calling for an end to the mandatory hijab.

Pourea Alimirzaee, 'Bubblegum Hair', 2022

If wielded well, art as a tool can be instrumental in paving the way for political freedom for many and despite the ongoing protests posing a continuing threat to women's safety, Iranian artists have carried on to create and exhibit work in the face of the country's worsening human rights situation. Soheila Sokhanvari knew this all too well when she exhibited her portraits commemorating feminist icons from pre-revolutionary Iran in Rebel Rebel at the Barbican last Autumn, as do all those involved in this month's Frieze-sponsored pop-up show Realism which brings together the work of 24 Iranian artists allowing them a space to create and exhibit their work freely.

Another promising young artist joining in to carve a more hopeful path for the future of Iran is Tehran-born Vienna-based artist Pourea Alimirzaee. Exhibiting Tear Gas at The Artist Room, opening 27 April until 20 May, the show marks the artist's UK debut and acts as a moving homage to the defiance of Iranian protesters living under such draconian laws. Political sneers are communicated in tender watercolour and oil portraits that are as politically charged as it gets, also exploring themes that deal with fragile masculinity and notions of the self. 'I'm constantly conflicted with how I want to shape my masculinity versus how masculinity is often defined and imposed on me by others – both from an Iranian and Western perspective,' the artist observed to press. 'I've created this character where you're not sure if it's a man or a woman with long hair. The long hair is normally a very feminine symbol.'

Pourea Alimirzaee, 'Chin Chain', 2022

'The choice one makes (or doesn't make) regarding the appearance of their hair is often one of the first things we evaluate and make judgements of each other on' the exhibition's press release notes. And although this pressure may seem benign in comparison to countries like Iran - society's tangled relationship with hair has never failed to intrigue artists both at home and abroad. Framed as a key symbol throughout the exhibition, it stars as the protagonist in many beguiling works by Alimirzaee. In Forty Wigs - the largest watercolour in the exhibition - an unidentifiable figure from behind is depicted with long, dark hair cascading across their back - resembling the tightly laid bricks on a wall. Differently, in Chin Chain, hair strands dress the canvas, creating a semi-abstract composition. Then in ATF, a shadowed figure appears constrained by thick strands of hair acting as rope. 'I wanted to think about, danger, like self-choking, the notion that you're struggling with yourself about certain ideas, and you don't like yourself, you feel you're tied into some sort of a space', noted Alimirzaee.

At the time of writing, Iran's protests are still ongoing, relentless in their search for a freer state where women and men can live freely without the judgement of others. It's clear that even in 2023, freedom still comes at a price for many.

Tear Gas opens at The Artist Room on 27 April until 20 May, 2023.

Pourea Alimirzaee, 'Pech Pech', 2022
Pourea Alimirzaee, 'Tear gas'



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