Running from April 5 through 18, Roya Khadjavi Projects brings Iranian woman artist Zeynab Movahed to High Line Nine Gallery 9.1 in New York City. Movahed’s work celebrates women’s freedom in moving about her day, including social and family commitments in the Tehran metropolis of her residency by women clearly in control of their present and future.
Reflecting the unstable societal situation present in Iran and worldwide, the artist takes us on a Joycian tour of places where women socialize in Iran. Realizing that a reflection can be a memory of the past or an immediate vision of the present, that cellphone reflection becomes a past vision as soon as it is recorded or sent, with the present taking over immediately afterwards. The paintings show the artist’s reflection in her cellphone image and society’s reflection of her.
By painting women together and alone in cafes, Movahed cracks the glass to reveal women freely associating in cafes, amid burgeoning foliage, unafraid and undeniably visible. The women are careful to mask, protecting their health during covid, but rarely veil to satisfy religious demands. They hold their cellphones in front of them, surveilling, but only allowing those to whom they speak and show their face to see them. We become those chosen to see their painted thoughts, dreams and reality. Unlike the story of Anarkali in Lahore, women are no longer immured if seen enjoying themselves, but here are seen taking full part in society and by themselves.
Clearly, the paintings challenge what is seen; the woman in the car, seat belt unbuckled, water bottle next to her, out for a joy ride or voyage alone, or the woman, hair askew, unveiled, sitting unaccompanied at a café counter, tapping away at her phone, communicating with someone on the other end of the phone, or the lone unveiled women, partaking of fruit displayed for only her on a brick patio.
The work is the essence of the independent woman, challenging Iranian stereotypes. The only paintings in the show not of sole women include two women, talking together in sisterhood amidst ancient, monumental buildings; two women clearly at home behind trees growing large and strong, with bookcases filled with models of modern houses, perhaps to be lived in without companions, and one of children in a car, honoring the mother’s commitment to carpooling the children amidst the social and professional lives they lead.
We are observing the full lives of women during the pandemic, carpooling, socializing, carrying on normal domestic duties of washing dishes, working professionally and reflecting on all that is and will be.
(“Zeynab Movahed: Unstable Conditions” runs from April 5 through April 18 at High Line Nine Gallery 9.1, 507 West 27th St., New York, N.Y.; the show’s opening reception will be held on Tuesday, April 5, from 4-8 p.m. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon-6 p.m. For more information, visit https://highlinenine.org).