Soheila Sokhanvari is a multi-media artist whose work is rooted in her Iranian heritage as a reflection of her experiences of loss of homeland in her childhood entwined with political events and collective trauma. Trained as a Persian miniature painter as a child she is inherently drawn to narratives that combine her Eastern and Western heritage. She describes her work as an aesthetic skin to deeper political layers and narrative.
The Crude oil drawings are a result of a performance in August 2009 when the artist obtained 500ML of Iranian crude oil from Shiraz/Iran oil refinery. This crude oil was then placed in the hold on a BA flight from Tehran, to London Heathrow via Istanbul. The purpose of this action was to address the discourse around the security measures at international airports and highlights the gaps in this constructed narrative. The artist describes these drawings as a witness to that performance, they not only address the politics of the material used but also depict images of Iranians from pre 1979 revolution. These images borrowed from artist’s family photographs signify that like the artist’s family we are all implicated in the story of the crude oil consumption.
The miniature paintings are an extension to the drawing series in that the same crude oil is used to depict the subject’s flesh but the rest of the painting is executed in the traditional technique of egg tempera on parchment (calf skin).
Since 2005 the artist has collected expired passports by acquisition through purchase or by donation by the passport holder. The artist presents these passports as politicized portraits where the holder’s personal information sits within the context of their nationality.
The rubber stamps in the passport are designed by the artist to match the exact stamp that exists in the passport from the official issue centre. The artist redesigns the stamp and then manipulates the wording by replacing the official wordings with lines from found advertising campaigns and posters of Western countries. These hidden messages are related to how branding and marketing function in global politics and how marketing and advertising manipulate and become manipulated in this landscape.
Sokhanvari’s sculptures stand as an abstracted metaphor to the title, which always derive their name from political events in Iran. The relationship between the sculpture and its title is that of a signifier severed from the referent. The object becomes something outside of itself pointing to an event that has it’s roots in the collective traumas of Iran. These sculptures are accompanied by a message by the artist to the viewer to Google the title in order to decode the meaning. This way the viewer is prompted to perform a task and hence becomes a part of the work.