Home Studio with Farideh Sakhaeifar

Images by the Asco art collective - see more information below.

How have you been?

Not good. 2020 started pretty intensely; many things happened that I needed to reflect on. I migrated to the U.S. eleven years ago. As an immigrant, one always has two homes, two worlds, in my case, two countries to be worried about. In early January, the conflict between Iran and the U.S. got rampant with Trump's assassination of Gen. Ghassem Suleimani, a major Iranian general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It was the closest time I ever thought the war between the U.S. and Iran could happen, to watch the news to check when your new country bombard your country is traumatizing. I remember a few days later, on January 7th, I was sitting on the sofa in my living room in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. I was eating my cold Kabab bowl when my roommate walked out of his room, worried about something he just saw, showing my partner something on his phone. I knew, immediately, it's news about Iran and U.S. conflict. Words came out of my mouth with no control: what happened? What happened? Did the war start? My roommate, hardly able to speak, mumbled, Iran attacked two U.S. bases in Iraq in retaliation. This is what we know. It's 4 am in Iran. We can't call our families, and there is no point in waking them up. They've been living in fear for the past few months, let them be in peace, at least in their dreams. The attack apparently had no casualty.

 

My generation, those born in the 80s, lived our whole lives in fear of the U.S. attacking Iran. I don't remember a day I woke up, and it didn't cross my mind; this nightmare is an undeniable companion of us.

 

2020, followed by the coronavirus's spread and the global pandemic we are in right now, another major anxiety for me and my family in Iran. People in Iran have been impacted dramatically from both the country's mismanagement during the pandemic and the lack of economic and medical resources due to the U.S. unilateral sanctions. 

 

The situation in the U.S. is not any better. The White House's reluctance to take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of the virus and the admin's obvious stupidity, insufficient resources and lack of better management led to over a hundred fifty thousand deaths. 

On a local scale, my neighborhood, East Flatbush, among many others such as Wakefield in the Bronx, Flatbush, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, and Jamaica in Queens, are drastically impacted by Covid-19, mostly People of Color (POC) low-income and immigrant communities. Besides, the city has neglected many neighborhoods, and there are not enough services like sanitation, transportation, and more. The schools in central Brooklyn POC low-income communities, where I have taught all sorts of grades in the past few years, were already struggling with years of disinvestment. Now, all of a sudden, the city's education budget is cut drastically. Inequality in receiving medical and public health services is apparent in the majority POC low-income communities. Neighbors can't afford rent, and the unemployment rate is rising rapidly, a lot of small businesses are gone, and the list goes on.

University professors like myself had to work more hours, learning all sorts of new gadgets to continue teaching their classes and spend numerous hours staring at computer screens with teary eyes and tired students, in turn receiving minimum wage to barely survive. Let's not talk about the fact that most of us artists cannot find a way to survive (and I'm not talking about growth) with only practicing art, with or without a pandemic financially. Many artist friends lost their second jobs, folks who used to work at restaurants, shops, museums, and other arts/culture centers.  

 

I was feeling hopeless, angry, devastated by the world around me. Murdering of Goerge Floyd shook me, tore me, and left me paralyzed for a few days, but the national uprisings and the BLM movement gives me hope. People's presence in protests is inspiring; there is a lot to learn about race, racism, and how to be antiracist allies from black leaders and the ongoing movement.

Farideh Sakhaeifar, photo taken in NYC during the pandemic, 2020

What are you working on?

As I mentioned, I'm busy learning and reflecting during the pandemic days. I've been reading and thinking about public space. Staying home and not being present in the public space encouraged me to reflect on an art collective and series of collaborative works by some artists from the west coast. I learned about Asco in Coco Fusco's book, "Only skin deep, changing visions of American Self" a few years ago. The book as is described in Fusco's website "thoroughly investigate the impact that photography has had on race and racial identity in America-among the most profound and explosive issues in our nation's history and everyday life.”

Asco, an East Los Angeles based Chicano artist collective who was active from 1972 to 1987, is discussed in an essay by C. Ordine Chavoya Called No Movies, The art of false documents. Asco's work, politically motivated, and experimental, ranged from graffiti to performance art to photography, responded explicitly to socioeconomic and political problems surrounding the Chicano community in the United States and the Vietnam War. I am fascinated by Asco's staged performances, which, as Chon Noriega describes in his essay, "intervened in a situation overdetermined by police violence, political surveillance, military recruitment, and biased news media that structured and regulated social space in the Chicano community." 

 

I learned about series of collaborative art projects concerning police killings, brutalization of women, and the lack of recognition and rights for undocumented immigrants by David Avalos, Luis Hock, and Elizabeth Sisco is San Diego, California. Their methods and mediums to engage with public space, using billboards as well as advertisement spaces in San Diego public transportations, their messages, engagement with the communities which led to their participation in some projects, and the controversy around their use of the NEA grant were some of the topics I've been interested in studying in their works. 

As I'm learning about artists intervention in public spaces, I wonder in a city that private owners own every inch of it, and every foot of the walls costs thousands of dollars if not more, and public spaces filled with commercial advertisements, where is the representation of people's stories, their struggles, their needs, and their voices’ right on the city's walls?

 

I ask myself if our voices, our demands, our bodies, and our fights are not visualized, then where is the common ground to identify each other to join the mutual fights? 

Can an individual artist or independent collective rent out billboards, advertisement slots in MTA, or around the city to represent socio-political issues? To talk about affordable housing, free health care, and free education? To create a billboard that talks about racism, sexism, immigration policies, war, and the refugee crisis? Can we afford it? Do we need institutional sponsorship, and what does that even mean to be radical with corporate donated money?

 

I am sketching some ideas around digital intervention in public space. I took some shots of the city during the pandemic, thinking about how the city can become the platform where advertisement slots and the city walls become spaces for representing radical and critical posters, billboards, and murals. I want to collaborate with artists and activists worldwide to identify the issues we deal with locally and globally, create posters, and montage them into photographs of public spaces.

I am imagining if there were a representation of people's struggles in our public spaces, then we would more often engage in conversations around these issues, in the subway, bus stop, or at home. We would educate ourselves, learn from each other, share, and care more. 

www.faridehsakhaeifar.com
Instagram: @faridehsakhaeifar

All images courtesy of Farideh Sakhaeifar.
Interview conducted by Klaudia Ofwona Draber.

Farideh Sakhaeifar, photo taken in NYC during the pandemic, 2020

Farideh Sakhaeifar, photo taken in NYC during the pandemic, 2020

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