Conceptual Framework: Artist

Ghazel is a contemporary performance, video and installation artist. She was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1966, studied Visual Arts art from 1988 – 1992 at the École des Beaux Arts in Nîmes, and in 1994 completed a BA in Film at the Paul Valéry University. In 1993, she was awarded a bursary that allowed her to move to Berlin for a time and work there, and in 2000 she received a French ministry of culture grant to support an art project in New York. She has since become known internationally as an artist who challenges society’s preconceptions about identity in relation to Ghazel’s own female, Islamic, French culture.

The artist is currently based in Paris; as part of her work, she juxtaposes eastern and western elements that form her sense of self. Dealing with feelings of being both an insider and outsider in the East and West she creates work that refers to her nomadic status; wandering from home to home. Her work is also strongly influenced by previous social work (art therapy) in France, New York and Tehran, with street and delinquent children. The artist has given herself a name from her Islamic culture: ghazal or gazel is in Islamic literature, a lyric poem, generally short and graceful in form and typically dealing with love.

Conceptual Framework: World

Ghazel is an artist of Iranian origin who finds herself an outsider. “My work talks about the outsider I am in the West and the outsider I am in Iran”. This is a precarious world for her as she attempts to negotiate social, cultural and political circumstances which are difficult, complex and often disturbing. In 1997 the French Immigration Office denied her permit to stay in France where she had gown up and been educated and asked her to leave. This was a similar challenge faced by many other people across the world who have become dislocated. Her response was to go public and produce a poster where, beside the obligatory photo of herself, was the text: "URGENT, Woman, 33, artist of Middle Eastern origin and WP (without permit) seeks a husband, from EU, preferably France, contact e-mail ..." and so forth. In a contemporary, seemingly uncaring world, the artist sought an individual solution. Her world is one of personal relationships and personal reflections and personal responsibility in a world of culturally displaced; Chinese in Australia, Kenyan in London, Russian in America and Ghazel, Iranian woman, in France. This is the great community of "others" in which Ghazel finds herself.

Conceptual Framework: Artworks

Ghazel’s early works centred on happenings, installations and pamphlets as a means of reflecting her own nomadic lifestyle. From 1997 on, she began work on a series of filmed self-portraits, using irony as a technique to enter into a critical dialogue with the social norms and pressures prevalent in Iran.

Me 1997-2000
Video Installation,
3 X 24 inch monitors, each show about 13 minutes of the film.

Critical Analysis using the Cultural Frame:

Ghazel's videos function as self-portraits; dressed in the traditional Iranian chador she executes a number of different acts, from boxing and sun-bathing to water skiing. A visible paradox is evident as this woman wrapped in fabrics insists on conducting physical activities of a kind that requires the body to move freely. The short descriptive sentences written across the screen underline the absurdity of things. There is a touch of slapstick comedy, drawing on the obvious humour of silent film. The point of departure for the videos is the position between two poles, or the outsider role, which Ghazel has found herself in, not feeling quite at home in France where she lives, nor in Iran where she was born and grew up. The works revolve around identity, discussing the common view that identity is defined via general references to a person's nationality, family relations, culture, gender, and age. Ghazel refers to her videos and films as her parallel life, or moving snap-shots, and here she lifts the veil to expose some of her paradoxes, desires, dreams, the past, the present, and her visions of the future.

Practice: Ideas

Ghazel's work is about identity. Ghazel, as a culturally dislocated person, questions the values on which are founded the myths of "first" and "native" ones, not to say "indigenous" peoples in whatever country. To her it had become obvious that cultural identity is constructed, a necessary invention, but a fiction none the less.

The “Me” films are autobiographical; directly inspired from her everyday life and observations. She lives her life and then lives it again in front of the camera. “My films are like home movies; like ‘moving-snap shots’ documenting my life, my mind, my observations, my ideas, my thoughts, my trophies, my fears, my desires, my souvenirs, my wishes, my experiences, my present, my past, my future, my emotions, my hopes, my passions, my energy, my feelings, my obsessions, my complexes, my paradoxes, my identities, my dreams, my memories, my memory…They are my parallel life."

Practice: Actions

Ghazel constructs her video sequences in the fashion of a silent film comedy.

'My films are like home movies and are filmed with a consumer model Hi-8 camera placed on a tripod. I film; I act and I edit. I play with reality and fiction. This work is an obsessive work – and my life and films are one. All the paradoxes that make me: make my Me films; and my films are my parallel life.' Ghazel.

The artist, dressed in a chador as she wore in her youth, presents herself in parodist scenes: dancing, doing sports, smoking a cigarette, and in symbolical daily situations etc. Ghazel attempts to connect at least three traditions (authentic-local, global-contemporary and good behaviour family stereotype for little girls) in most of her performance videos. In her ongoing “Me” series, Ghazel re-enacts moments from her personal diaryusing the traditional Islamic costume for women, the chador, as her ever-present costume. Each scene is accompanied by a caption in French or English, neither of which are her mother tongues. Full of irony and surreal humour, Ghazel's performances highlight her position as an outsider both in the West and in Iran.

They show the fragmentation of the culture firmly rooted in traditional virtues and the young woman who seeks modernity of her own life.

Conceptual Framework: Audience

The audience for Ghazel’s works can be either art informed or not and still be able to interpret some of the meanings of her artmaking. What she is attempting to say about identity, gender and displacement speak a universal tongue. She challenges her audience to be open to and think about her messages.