Sayeh Sarfaraz

Dominique Sirois-Rouleau
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Étrange Dictature, exhibition view, MAI, Montréal, 2013. Photo: © Alexandru Argh
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Étrange Dictature, exhibition view, MAI, Montréal, 2013. Photo: © Alexandru Argh
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Étrange Dictature, detail, MAI, Montréal, 2013. Photo: © Paul Litherland
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Mémoire d’éléphant, detail, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montréal, 2012. Photo: © Rodrigo Perez Lozada
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Micropolitiques, exhibition view, Maison des arts de Laval, Laval, 2014. Photo: © Guy L’Heureux
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Au Pays des Mollahs, detail, Albareh Art Gallery, Bahrain, 2015. Photo: © Olivier Rioux
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Au Pays des Mollahs, detail, Albareh Art Gallery, Bahrain, 2015. Photo: © Olivier Rioux
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Au Pays des Mollahs, detail, Albareh Art Gallery, Bahrain, 2015. Photo: © Olivier Rioux
  • Sayeh Sarfaraz, Au Pays des Mollahs, details, Albareh Art Gallery, Bahrain, 2015. Photos: © Olivier Rioux

Serious Frivolity and the Impermanence of Power

Driven by injustice and the manipulation of the weak, Sayeh Sarfaraz’s art draws from the wellspring of political events that have devastated Iran and the Middle East. Violence, anxiety, and doubt are expressed through a naïve and colourful visual vocabulary. Her drawings and installations evoke the unfathomable gulf between the state and the population it governs, using a refined yet playful, almost childlike process.

Sarfaraz’s distinctive iconography is directly inspired by Persian culture, whose codes she incorporates and interprets in view of historical events. She juxtaposes plastic toys, vibrant colours, and clear shapes and patterns against complex emotions and fierce conflict. This tragic disparity between form and content affords a profound analysis of the political game and its human consequences. With great acuity, the artist explores the strange frontier between playfulness and brutality, subverting recreation to highlight the unspeakable ambiguity of ideological fervour.

Sarfaraz’s practice navigates between memory and facts. Narrative fragments fuel an artificially objective perspective. Her representations are like sketches whose quasi-generic compositions expose the ruthless absurdity of the stories they illustrate. Often bringing together similar viewpoints, the works give a voice to those oppressed by fear and servitude. In this respect, the artist’s references to exile are rather modest, in a sense ensuring the harmonious coexistence of real and symbolic worlds.

Sarfaraz’s various projects forge a coherent and sensitive call for freedom. Her pictorial works and installations arouse empathy through their staging and playful use of scale. The colourful bluster of the mullahs and the anonymous totems of LEGO heads engage in a subtle transfer of power. Absurd yet far from trivial, fury and horror seem fallible and precarious. Creative play thus becomes a critical force and, above all, a bulwark against obedience. Sarfaraz’s work marks a breach in the factitious permanence of power and, in these terms, offers the building blocks for a story of recovery.

[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]

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