GNYP Gallery is delighted to present the first exhibition in Europe of the Iranian artist Hadi Fallahpisheh (born 1987). Fallahpisheh, a recipient of the Bard College scholarship who currently lives and works in New York, explores the possibilities of the photographic medium as a construction and a translation of meanings and values.
His recent series, which he presents in Berlin, grew out of the idea of a “mockumentary” and parafiction. This project centers on the term Hadji, a fictional Middle Eastern character, who carries the title that was originally given to a Muslim person who has successfully completed the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, and in the meantime has become a common way of addressing any older Muslim. Recently, however, the term Hadji has developed into a derogatory term to denounce Iraqis, Arabs, Afghans, or Middle Eastern people in general; a symbol of a specific traditional lifestyle, formed by the media into a cliché of the simple-minded religious person.
Fallahpisheh instrumentalizes the term Hadji to provoke critical discussion of the issue of “Middle Easterness,” as a material, constituent and as a socio-historical representation. His first name Hadi is similar in pronunciation and spelling to this term, which the artist took as an opportunity – both as author and as a fictional character –to explore cultural and social (mis)constructions. Navigating through remembering, rediscovering, and again re-forgetting the repressed, the artistic process offers many moments where positions between the Hadji and Hadi shift or switch. Found prayer rug jpegs from the Internet are downloaded, printed to a negative form and exposed through an enlarger in the darkroom onto the light-sensitive photographic paper. In complete darkness, Hadi then puts six pieces of paper together in order to create a larger tableau, which is similar to the size of a formal prayer rug and just big enough to kneel above the fringe on one end and bend down. Reworking the photographic paper in the darkroom on the floor is a ritualistic warm-up for the artist akin to praying for the Hadji. The artist writes texts and draws on the designed photographic sheets using color markers and flashlights. This is the moment when the Hadji gets a life as an ambiguous representation of Middle Easternness. At the same time, the creative process forms a response to artist’s intimate world, in communion with contemporary life, rather than reacting to cultural or institutional demands.
Central to this series is the notion of the translation of images rather than appropriation. While appropriation forms an act of aggression, a hostile take-over, a translation has the seemingly practical purpose of mediation through the translator who functions as a medium, an in-between. As such, his power is of a different kind: it is more subtle and tricky since both sides of “translation” don’t actually know how their values, words, images are being converted. Through re-creations, re-making, re-presenting, and re-valuing Fallahpisheh lays bare mechanisms of miscommunication and misinterpretation.
The other element essential to this series is the joke. Fallahpisheh embraces the joke of which the primary function is, to quote Glenn O’Brien, “criticism with a vengeance. A revolution of the mind. Rearrangement of social orders by altering people’s perceptions. The transformations of the serious into the funny.”