Iranian-American Tackles Big Brother with Performance Art

Iranian-American Tackles Big Brother with Performance Art ... 30/10/2016 Fun

Keywords:#American, #Amy, #Big_Brother, #CIA, #Iran, #Iranian, #Iranian-American, #Middle_Eastern, #Paris, #People, #Persian, #Persian-American,, #US, #United_States

Kara Weisenstein — Oct 30 2016
Level Five, Eyes Open, Photo by Corbin Ordel

* * * Advocacy, coupled with an interrogation of her cultural heritage, is at the soul of Persian-American artist Amy Khoshbin's video and performance art. She’s currently in residence at Mana Contemporary, as part of Mana BSMT, the museum’s collaborative hub supporting emerging artists, where her performative installation The Myth of Layla is on view through November 12.
The artist grew up hearing stories of Iran from her dad that today sound like fairytales. In his youth, the country was a bohemian idyll. “When my dad was living there, it was like Paris. There were artists going there all the time. Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, and all these people... It was a really cool time to be in Iran,” Khoshbin tells The Creators Project.

Photo by Penn Eastburn. Courtesy the artist

* * * But by mid-century, Iran was barreling towards an ultimately authoritarian religious regime, partly instigated by a CIA-backed coup in 1953, which led to the Iranian revolution in 1979. Fearing for his safety, Khoshbin’s father fled to the United States. He’s never been back.
“The story of my dad’s immigration to the US always stuck with me, I think, because being here and being Middle Eastern, you see how right now in American culture [...] we’re in a time when the Middle Easterner is a terrorist,” Khoshbin says. “If you say terrorist, you’re pretty much talking about the Middle Easterner. So hearing that, growing up and especially right now, that was always a part of my wanting to be an activist.”

Photo by Penn Eastburn. Courtesy the artist

* * * The protagonist of Khoshbin’s new work is Layla, an idealistic Iranian-American activist living in a sci-fi, not-too-distant future ravaged by simultaneous energy and refugee crises. In this world, a big-brother media conglomerate called The Network has taken over the US government and is at war with a fictionalized Middle Eastern country akin to Iran. When Layla posts a viral video protesting the slaughter of refugees by government drones, The Network capitalizes on her fame by creating a reality show called Activists in Sexy Solidarity (ASS) and roping in Layla as a contestant.
“This project, to me, is weirdly happening at this very specific moment. We’re heading into the presidential election, and this world that I’ve built parallels the fact that, ok, there may be a time in the very near future where a reality show host is our president,” Khoshbin says. “He’s saying fucked up, misogynist things all the time. People are disgusted but also kind of eating it up.”

Video still from Amy Khoshbin, The Myth of Layla, 2014

* * * It’s satire, but The Myth of Layla mirrors a lot of the ethical ambiguities of real-life politics. A taping of ASS, the narrative framework for the piece, is frequently interrupted by commercials, like one for an extermination service offering to rid citizens’ lawns of “pesky refugees,” and terror alerts from The Network instructing civilians to adopt ridiculous defensive postures. The video vignettes are meant to be campy and surreal, but the fact that their messages theoretically resonate with non-fictional Americans is unsettling.
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