Taklif: Ideas of Femininity and challenging dominant Western Feminisms

By Nicholas Raffoul

Taklif: Ideas of Femininity is a collective exhibition organized by Taklif, an organization that is an “imaginary space and a traveling library for radical imagination dedicated to learning and unlearning, and relearning practices through art and dialogue.”

The exhibition transforms the main space of Concordia’s FOFA Gallery into a collection of personal narratives and histories of Iranian women conveyed through several mediums. According to Elham Beygi’s commentary of her work at the exhibition, Jashn-e-Taklif is an Islamic ritual appropriated by the Iranian government which claims to celebrate the coming of age of nine-year old girls. Beygi’s research describes how the aesthetics of ‘the ceremony of being dutiful” acts as a tool to implement a state agenda on the feminine body and womanhood.

Upon entering the main space of the gallery, I was encircled by pastel and shiny fabrics hanging from the ceiling at varying lengths. According to Kanwal Syed, a PhD Candidate of Art History at Concordia, the fabrics represent traditions of resistance and memory within South Asian Culture, in which the textiles contain a mystical agency to retain power of the communities and women who have produced them.

Some fabrics had images of Iranian women of varying ages stitched on, depicting young girls and women participating in a diverse set of activities. Some women were walking, one girl was being presented an award by an older woman, some were praying, and one woman was recording an event with a large news camera.

Minoo Derayeh comments on cultural productions of Iranian women creatives and argues that they have not received sufficient attention from Western scholars. Derayeh notes that recent scholarship has homogenized Iranian women, and especially ignores those whose work is in search of an Islamic feminism.

At the center of the circle is a small collection of non-fiction books that dealt with ideas of femininity and masculinity in modern and historical Iran. These books embody a bridge between intellectual activities and research with emotional and artistic intuitions. The showcase contains commentaries by graduate students across Canada discussing their research related to the topic of gender and femininity in Iran, ranging from different fields including art history, equity studies, international law, and psychoanalytic studies. Taklif: Ideas of Femininity  brings together many different disciplines with the intention of linking the worlds of research, art, and reality to represent the multi-dimensional Iranian feminine experience. The exhibition creates a space that conveys that the arts and academia can work together to elevate understanding and represent certain narratives.

At one end of the circle, a film was projected behind a shiny translucent overlay fabric depicting a row of girls in a performance on stage. The Farsi chanting voices filled the space, reflecting the  exhibition’s intentions of raising new ideas, voices, and perspectives of femininity while showcasing alternative feminist theories and histories that challenge dominant culture.

Taklif: Ideas of Femininity is on view at Galerie FOFA from November 8 until December 14, 2018. Admission is free.

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