Who is Taravat Talepasand? Iranian-American artist's art show closed after Muslim students say it caused them 'deep pain'
SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA: An exhibition by 44-year-old Iranian-American artist Taravat Talepasand that opened January 27 at Macalester College's Law Warschaw Gallery was closed after a group of Muslim students took offense at the artwork. The students claimed that sexualized women in niqabs caused "deep pain" The exhibition included works such as a sculpture reading "Woman, Life, Freedom" in English and Farsi, which has become a slogan in Iran's recent protests against the treatment of women. On the other hand, there were some sculptures showing the exposed bodies of Muslim women wearing a hijab or niqab, and two drawings titled 'Blasphemy X and Blasphemy IX" showed a niqab-clad woman pulling up her robe to reveal lingerie underneath. The college responded by closing the exhibition for a weekend and temporarily covering the works with a black curtain after students signed a petition saying Talepasand's works caused "deep pain" and "perpetuated harm."
According to DailyMail, the students wrote in the petition, "Though we respect the principle of academic freedom, we are also simultaneously aware that freedom, like art, does not simply exist in a vacuum. The decision to display and continue to display this exhibition despite the harm it perpetuates is a deeply problematic issue. It is targeting and harming an already small community that exists on this campus." And added, "The lack of action on the part of the administration is unacceptable, but unfortunately not surprising. The administration's decisions continue to ignore the deep pain felt by many of their students." The exhibition contoversy comes after an art history professor, Erika López Prater, was dismissed for showing two depictions of Prophet Muhammad from the 14th Century in a world art course, reports Associated Press.
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Macalester's exhibition closes, then reopens
The college took the decision to shut the exhibition but later, issued an emailed statement on Monday, February 6, that it will reopen the gallery with the modifications in place. The statement read, "The Law Warschaw Gallery reopened today after a short pause over the weekend. During this time, we had several conversations with students, faculty, and staff to consider multiple perspectives from Muslim communities on campus, worked with the artist, and supported gallery staff. We also prepared the gallery to prevent unintentional or non-consensual viewing of certain works and added a content warning." The college further stated, “We recognize and support the value and importance of artistic expression, including provocative art used in protest and social activism. Therefore, the exhibit will remain open. We also recognize community impact and understand that pieces in the exhibition have caused harm to members of our Muslim community,” reports MPRNews.
Who is Taravat Talepasand?
Born and raised in Oregon, the artist, activist and educator has exhibited nationally and internationally and is represented in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the de Young Museum, Tufts University, the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts and the Orange County Museum of Art, according to Lewis & Clark. As an Iranian-American artist, she explores the cultural taboos that reflect on gender and political authority, the YBCA said.
Talking about her art, Talepasand describes, as quoted by EscapeIntoLife, "I am from a Muslim background, but I have a fascination with popular culture and its accessibility to modern day Iran. Still, boundaries exist. Youth in the age of media and internet growing up within the confine of strict tradtional society. The decision to engage with painting was dependent of the intent to blur boundaries between tradition and the avant-garde. I am very interested in giving expression to Iranian modernity and experiences-how we, as Iranians whether living abroad or under the flag of the Republic can claim our modern experiential existence while still owning our traditions. If the work is about anything, it’s about lived experience and how to claim that experience." She also tells, "To create art, it is imperative for me to be vulnerable—extracting the personal truths driven by my Diaspora, history, nostalgia, self-awareness, and rebellion. Much of my work revolves around the struggles of womanhood and navigating personal identity as a hyphenated individual. However, I believe that art must possess an element of vulnerability in order to provoke change—socially, intellectually and morally. In a world where ideas of culture, political and intellectual activities are evolving, what will this change mean for generations to come?” quotes YBCA.