Monday, 15 September 2014

Review of Maryam Najd: Accuracy & Balance – West at Galerie van de Weghe, Antwerp

Maryam Najd: Accuracy & Balance – West
Galerie van de Weghe, Antwerp
5 September – 4 October 2014

Maryam Najd was born in Iran in 1965 and grew up there. She studied art at the University of Tehran but, after the revolution in 1979, life on many levels had become restricted. It was no longer permitted to see naked bodies and so life drawing was never part of her syllabus – at least, the models were always fully clothed. In 1992, she moved to Antwerp having been accepted to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Apart from a few years spent in Berlin and New York, she has been there ever since.

“For me, nudity was something that I had never seen before in Iran. I was touched by it from my very first day in Belgium. It has had an impact on me. The first month at the academy, we had to draw and paint all these models and I was shy even to look at them. I was shocked to see how the nude was represented in society.”

Since then, Najd has found herself repeatedly wondering, in this culture where nudity and naked bodies are so prevalent and where the female form is plastered all over magazines, billboards and television, whether this is part of women’s emancipation, or whether it is, on the contrary, a new form of suppression and shackles – a pressure to look and present oneself in a certain way; a pressure to perform myriad roles, as wife, mother, businesswoman, gym bunny, sex bomb; a pressure to both conform to and stand up against being the object of male desire. Maybe freedom is something beyond all of this. Moreover, Najd wonders where the line is drawn between pop stars, models and performers, who wear tight bodices or scanty outfits and flaunt their bodies provocatively (think Madonna, Rihanna and Beyoncé, to name but a few), and porn stars, strip-club workers, or prostitutes. “Someone like Rihanna, she goes almost naked on to the stage, and we call them ‘artists’, not ‘prostitutes’,” Najd says incredulously. “Do you really need to go that far?” Following this line of curious intrigue, she has been working on a series, or project, the first part of which is currently on show at Galerie van de Weghe, called Accuracy & Balance – with this first instalment carrying the subtitle “West”.

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