Threads woven in colourways tracing invisible lives and histories. Worn well, treaded down by repetitive of footsteps of the past. The palimpsest of individual stitches concealed and covered. Painted over. Redacted. Embellished. Artist Sepideh Mehraban describes how, “to me carpets are objects that carry stories of people”. In a sense also using Persian rugs as dual canvas and signifier of her Iranian roots. “It’s an object that links me to where I’m from – telling more stories from my homeland and what is happening there at the moment. It’s very sad because everybody just sees the politics and we forget that the ordinary lives of people involved.”
Her work resists the traditional aesthetic of protest, claiming that, “I don’t want to create propaganda because that’s exactly what I’m opposing. I want it to be more sensual and more about the feeling and experience of what it means to constantly self-censor yourself”. The process of navigating censorship is visually represented through overlays of paint – an abstracted performance of self-censorship. In contemporary geo-politics and heightened moment of nationalist fervour, Mehraban is well aware of the force of, ‘where were you born?’ and how the answer to that question can impact your entire life’s experience.
In response, she’s interested in exploring parallel narratives and art as a means to transcend borders. After formal training and graduating MA in Persian painting from Alzahra University (Tehran, Iran) she relocated to Cape Town and pursued a second masters. The focus of this research and her current PhD is a comparative analysis between post-apartheid South Africa and post-revolutionary Iran. “I’m interested in the personal experiences of people who have been caught in political turmoil…how these personal histories are not necessarily told in textbooks taught in schools or official histories. In a way I’m using art to bring back these memories.”
As a curatorial debut, Cape to Tehran, (2018) Mehraban invited nineteen artists from Iran and South Africa to respond to their experience of political changes and how they respectively narrate their personal experience through different mediums. Although the context of Iran and South Africa are different, there are shared threads of empty promises and a woven tapestry of inter-generational trauma and inherited change. Through engaging artists from different generations and geographies – the aim of her larger project is to document voices which have otherwise not been heard – generating an archive of oral and visual histories. Interested in how textured histories are perpetually reimagined and art as a form of knowledge production is valuable to both her research and practice. To echo Maya Angelou’s words, “history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced again with courage, need not be lived again”.