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Kheirkhah Maria

Born in 1961 in Iran. Lives and works in the UK.

Maria Kheirkhah is an artist whose practice has evolved in the last decade to embrace a nuanced interrogation of notions of “difference”. Through a complex set of strategies, she has embarked upon an exploration of human experience, employing the tools of language and politics to unpick prevailing notions of authenticity and the positioning of the “other” within individual and global discourses.

This investigation of systems of knowledge, power and culture, has led Kheirkhah to focus upon two extensive bodies of work: The Anatomy of Ignorance and Portraits of a Belly Dancer. These projects set out to explore curiosity and knowledge in relationship to both historical and contemporary global contexts.

In her recent show The Psychology of Fear, Kheirkhah explores Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, Frankenstein (1831), proposing a new set of metaphorical readings for the ‘Creature’ within a contemporary social and political context. Kheirkhah says of this project; “My intention was to draw parallels between what is a recognised subject and object of fear and with the Middle East being the focus and the Muslim body being animated as the ‘other’ ”.

Kheirkhah’s fascination with Shelley’s text lies in its ability to scrutinise the morals, judgement and values of a society which was for the first time being confronted by the terrifying potential afforded by the expansion of scientific knowledge. The fictional speculation, not only around the consequences of bringing a new life form into being, but also around the ways in which the inherent “difference” of that life form came to be read, provides a metaphorical lens through which societal framing of the “other” could be explored.

This fascination on Kheirkhah’s part extends to an examination of the popular horror film genre which emerged following World War I. A society traumatised by the new reality of mechanised warfare, with it’s millions of casualties, and the spectre of the disfigured returning home from the Front, gave rise to a fantastic exteriorisation in films of the horrors and morality of war. This can be seen in the emergence of the cinema character of the “mad scientist” in films such as Frankenstein (1931), The Magician (1932), The Raven (1935) and The Black Cat (1941). Thus, the medium of mass communication graphically explored the various moral issues raised through the exteriorisation of fantastic horror, cementing the role of the “outsider” and the “other” within the then contemporary discourse. It is through the interrogation of these themes that Kheirkhah mobilises her practice as a means of highlighting the multiple ways in which discourses around the notion of “fear” come to permeate the popular imagination.

Keith Piper, 2009
Keith Piper is a British artist, curator, critic and academic.

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