Obituary: Shirin Aliabadi (1973–2018)
By Julee WJ Chung
Shirin Aliabadi, a multidisciplinary artist whose works investigated the influence of modern consumerism and globalization on Iranian youth and popular culture, died in Tehran on October 1.
In her nearly two-decade-long career, Aliabadi worked in a variety of media, examining the emergence of subcultures and transculturalism in her home country, with a particular focus on young women. Her photographic series “Girls in Cars” (2005) comprised candid shots taken at night while stuck in traffic of women riding together. Aliabadi said later that “this image of women chained by tradition and the hijab is not even close to reality here. They all had music on and were chatting to each other between the cars and making eyes and conversation with boys in other vehicles.”
The series that brought her widespread acclaim was “Miss Hybrid” (2008), in which she reframed the public identity of the modern Iranian women through highly polished studio shots of bold and proud young girls in hijabs chewing bubblegum, biting a lollipop, toting designer handbags, or donning small plasters on the bridge of their noses. For the artist, these aesthetic elements are a “passive rebellion” that attempt to subvert the restraints of societal regulations: “Banal as the symbols of consumer society may seem: Starbucks, bags by Goyard, or iPods, in Iran they become a subliminal instrument of the so-called cultural invasion from the West, which the Iranian authorities equate with the ‘great Satan.' [. . .] This is the moment when fashion is not only fashion [ . . . ] in the context of the society in which we grew up, within an educational system that has different values to those in the West, the phenomenon of fashion turns into an interesting paradox. But ultimately, these young women’s concern is not to overthrow the government but to have fun.”
Born in Tehran in 1973, Aliabadi moved to France to study art history and archeology at the University of Paris. She commuted between the two cities throughout her career, but was mainly based in her home city, and was represented by the Dubai-based gallery, The Third Line.
In an announcement of the artist’s passing, The Third Line said: “Shirin will always be remembered for her kind soul, the depth of her work and the mark she has left on the world. She was widely recognized for her multidisciplinary practice, which looked at the behavioral hybridity of her home country’s youth and the women’s empowerment expressions that emerged in the face of adversity.” The cause of death was cancer, the New York Times reported.
Aliabadi’s works have been exhibited in group exhibitions of Iranian art including “Magic of Persia,” at the Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, UAE (2012); and “Iran Inside Out,” at the Chelsea Art Museum, New York (2009), as well as in shows at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow; Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; and Kunstverein Munich. Her work is held in international public and private collections, including the Farjam Foundation, Dubai; Bristol Museum & Art Gallery; and the Collection of Deutsche Bank AG in Germany.
Shirin Aliabadi is survived by her husband Farhad Moshiri, a fellow artist and collaborator.
Julee WJ Chung is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.
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