Narges Mohammadi, Laila Tara H: Hastan (هستن)

14 Sep-10 Nov 2023
PV 13 Sep 2023, 6-8.30pm

London SE1 0EP


Hastan (هستن) brings together work by Narges Mohammadi (circa 1993, Kabul/Tehran) and Laila Tara H (1995, London). 

The domestic is inherently political for both artists and carries within it the idea of a home or the lack of it, the idea of leisure time or the lack of it and the need to make "home" in another country. 

Badkamer van stro, or "Bathroom from straw" is literally made of hay, rope and adhesive using one of the oldest human building techniques. As her family fled Afghanistan when she was young, Narges' work often deals with the inability to build a real sense of home, using unusual materials to fabricate domestic settings. So uncertain was her childhood that her true age and place of birth remain unknown as she was born in a moving train between Tehran and Kabul. This work sets up the contrast to her lived experience, using this humble agricultural material to make a luxuriously proportioned bath to reflect on who gets to have peace, who gets to have the luxury of time, space and calm. While the form speaks of rest, sharp stalks protrude across the bath's surface piercing any invitation to relax like the noise, closeness and bustle of poverty. 

Laila's work draws on tradition to portray scenes from the home, but in her case appropriating the lavish Persian Miniature tradition. 
"It’s difficult to understand revolution as it happens, I always believed I’d be there. Somewhere up front screaming "death til victory" but instead I’m in bed', Laila writes. Through the complex symbolism detailing the pillows and duvets of her latest works, she explores the disconnect in witnessing the women led uprisings in her homeland from her bed in London, and the contrasting feeling of paralysis that being absent creates. 

As well as what is depicted in paint there is a material symbolism in these works. Sapele wood frames are chosen to resemble home furniture while freshwater pearls on pins point to irritation and visual compliance. Produced by inserting sand into an oyster which coats the sand to protect against irritation, the commodity is then removed and sold. Laila writes, 'this feels like “womanhood” - like acceptability and the walls and facades. It feels like the commodification of discomfort in the west and the battleground/female body back home. It is social etiquette and blow dried hair, it is blow dried hair under a headscarf pledging allegiance on TV, it is the obscenity of survival and propaganda.' 
Both artists come from countries that have been marred by conflict, revolution, and turmoil. Both can account a significant part of that instability directly to Britain as a repeated agitator, in one form or another, directly and indirectly. 

While Laila’s current home is in England, it had been the intended but never reached destination of Narges' family on leaving Afghanistan. Traveling with her all the way were Narges’ little pair of gold earrings. All the way to the Netherlands where she became stranded and now to Britain, they were the only item not bartered, lost or taken along the way. This little bit of potential commodity in a small weight of gold was kept just a little safer from thieves and thugs along the way, hanging on the ears of a young girl. A new work made for the exhibition will see that transformation completed on her arrival to London -- an earing melted and its potential value realized. Just as migrant and refugee families are required to conform to local standards, so too will the gold, attempting but not quite managing to hold the form of a British coin. The destruction of the only thing, besides herself, to have survived the dangerous journey and witness the horrors along the way might appear as sacrilege -- the destruction of a precious relic. But with this comes a relief: carrying one less physical embodiment of that specter. The shadow of what the cast coin once was sits with it as an empty mold, and with it the hopeful release and sharing of some of those memories.