Sepideh Tajalizadeh Dashti: From ‘She-Self’ to ‘She-Other’

March 5 – May 29, 2022
Gallery Stratford

Sepideh T Dashti, Gisoo, 2021

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.” – Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands

Life in diaspora is one always led in-between. It is a balancing act, an attempt not to fall between two stools. Artists are also known to balance between aesthetic, political, social and other ideas and things. When one is an artist and an immigrant the processes of translation, bridging and balancing are completely intertwined and grow more complex. Sepideh Dashti is one such artist who is successfully and poetically navigating different countries, continents, cultures, languages and meanings. Born and grew up in Iran, moving to Canada as an adult where she completed her art education, gave Dashti a truly unique perspective on the idea of Belonging and Being. She is a multimedia artist who traverses the terrain between the moving and still image by centering that image on her own body—a body performing. Feminist politics is also front and centre in the artist’s vocabulary, as she speaks to and about spatial and cultural dislocation, community, female experience, patriarchy, and political subjects. Her feminism is deeply embedded in personal experience which is then overlaid with larger political, social and cultural systems that press upon her body, giving rise in Dashti’s case to an unapologetically outspoken artwork.

As a performance artist, Dashti understands her body well, and uses it to poetically express larger political questions that she encounters both at home (Iran) and now in diaspora (Canada and US). Her work refuses to choose sides, to play into binaries between East and West, Self and Other, Male or Female. Instead, it stays in the void, a space between bodies, languages, politics and cultures. While this position, afforded to Dashti because she is Diasporic, is dangerous—risking being lost or destroyed by it—it is also powerful. Because her work is interstitial, Dashti’s work offers us multiple viewpoints, clearly seeing what each of the cultures she inhabits cannot. She sees the patriarchy as it rears its ugly head in Iran, with the sanctions and severe limitations on women’s rights, and in Canada and US as it exists in the commodification of the body, and fetishization of sexuality. Through performance, photography and video she calls our attention to the particular—her body in its material/physical corporeal presence—while at the same time through that body calls our attention to the ways in which it refuses to behave the way that it is meant to, or forced to, by social systems around her. As she confronts us with her presence, we cannot look away.

In “They fancy my unromantic part” the artist uses a plush white pillow with teddy bear ears onto which she projects a seemingly abstract form which is in fact a closeup of her own belly button slowly rising, changing shape as Dashti breaths. The artist notes that her body has changed after giving birth to her children. This ability of the body to adapt and evolve is astonishing, a testament to female resilience and strength. At the same time, however, that body is rejected by the society as it no longer conforms to unattainable standards of beauty. Reflecting on romantic love and our warped perceptions of it as the title signals, Dashti is interested in the body as a dichotomous place of female strength but also the site of vulnerability—a site that is perceived as abject, grotesque, to be hidden away. “No East, No West” is a photograph in which we see a figure (the artist herself) with face covered by a curious mask. The mask is made out of artist’s own fallen hair collected and shaped into hair balls carefully sewed onto a fabric usually used to make Chador (a scarf covering a woman’s body from head to toe). This strange Chador which only covers the head inverts the meaning of veiling. The veil is made out the very thing that should be hidden (as too sexually revealing) and is now fully visible and grotesque. Furthermore, the artist wears a shirt made from a fabric normally used to make Qafiyeh (the iconic scarf worn by Palestinians and Islamic revolutionaries). The revolutionary symbolism of the scarf is complicated by Dashti’s insertion of her (female) body pointing out that men who often wear Qafiyeh as a revolutionary emblem are also those who seek to control the female body. The artist creates a tension between veiling and unveiling, between revolutionary and reactionary, between the struggle for liberation and the ways in which it betrays women. Dashti skillfully navigates the void between these competing political and social meanings leaving us with a warning that revolutionary potential often excludes women. Even a revolution can be burdened by patriarchy.

Essay – Bojana Videkanic

Sepideh Tajalizadeh Dashti is an emerging inter-disciplinary artist who lives in Memphis, TN. She received her MFA from Western University in 2020, and her BFA from the University of Waterloo. Her artistic practice is related to exploring her body through the use of video, photography, and textile in creating performance and installation art. Through multiple discourses, and contexts, she is always rediscovering, reinventing, and reinterpreting her Iranian identity, as a pivotal point for her creative practice. Dashti is also interested in cross-field appropriation of the dominant philosophy and technology with her lived experiences in the process of making artwork.


Also on view at Gallery Stratford
Cathy Daley: Dans la Nuit
Karice Mitchell: 1b, black legs, 52”
Stuart Reid: Folds of Dreams

And outdoors as part of our Art in the Trees Series
Kriss Munysa: The Eraser


Gallery Stratford
54 Romeo Street S.
Stratford, ON N5A 4S9

Gallery Hours: noon to 6 PM Wednesday through Sunday

Admission is Free
Partially accessible

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Exhibition Info:

Information and Media Inquiries:
Angela Brayham
abrayham@gallerystratford.on.ca
519-271-5271 x 222

Gallery Stratford gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the City of Stratford. Our Free Admission program is supported in part by Orr Insurance & Investment