Sheida Soleimani (b.1990) is an Iranian-American artist who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. The daughter of political refugees who were persecuted by the Iranian government in the early 1980s, Soleimani makes work that melds sculpture, collage, film, and photography to highlight her critical perspectives on historical and contemporary socio-political occurrences in Iran and the Greater Middle East. She focuses on media trends and the dissemination of societal occurrences in the news, adapting images from popular press and social media leaks to exist within alternate scenarios. Soleimani’s research and work critically references the Eurocentrism that pervades the study of art and art history. She is specifically interested in the intersections of art and activism, as well as how social media has shaped the landscape in current political affairs and uprisings. Her work has been recognized internationally in both exhibitions and publications such as Artforum, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Interview Magazine, VICE Magazine, amongst many others.
Hello Sheida, can you tell us 5 facts about yourself?
- I’m one of three wild bird rehabilitators in the state of Rhode Island. I rehabilitate wildlife, with a specific focus on birds. It’s my way of coping with how gross the art world + academia is.
- I can imitate the calls of most North American songbirds
- I’ve been playing violin since I was 5
- All of my dreams are in Farsi. Haven’t had one in English yet
- I have around 200 house plants. My coffee tree has fruited for the past few years and I’ve made my own coffee from it
How did you get into art and activism?
Having parents who are both political refugees that shared their horrifying experiences with me as I was growing up definitely motivated me to want to share these kinds of conversations with others. Growing up as a Middle Easten girl in the Mid-West, I quickly learned how Eurocentric the educational system here is, and how the news only focuses on issues that directly affect the United States. By using visual language to communicate the magnitude of human rights issues in the Greater Middle East, I try to create awareness throughout a range of demographics.
While sincere and politically charged, humor plays a big part in your work. What are your thoughts on humor and satire, why are they important to you?
Accessibility. When we are confronted with hard truths via the news and media, we shy away. The aesthetics of tragedy and horror are bleak, and alienate many audiences. The images in my most recent series, ‘ Medium of Exchange’ present socio-political occurrences through using humor alongside the aesthetics of advertising to create palatable and seductive totems, that slowly unpack and expose a variety of truths. The viewer is left having to contend with dismantling the hierarchies within each image based off of their own conditioning and understanding of political issues, challenging them to not remain complicit in these events.
Do you have any advice for young artists/activists?
comfort = death
Who are the artists that have influenced you the most in the beginning of your career, and how?
Yamini Nayar. When I was a sophomore in college, she was a visiting artist at my school and gave a talk on her work, and I had a one on one crit with her. I have always built and constructed scenes for the camera, but never had thought about actually making them into dioramas or stages,- Yamini was the one who really pushed me into thinking more complexly about set design alongside how to weaving in familial and political histories into my images.
Liz Cohen, my ‘art-mom’ and one of my best friends has always told me that being uncomfortable is a good thing, and that it pushes you to make better work. She gives a really kick-ass, psychoanalytical crit, which is just what I needed when I was making work in grad school. We call each other a few times a week to talk about our newest ideas and give one another pep-talks.
Do you have any bad habits, do they effect your studio practice?
I wouldn't exactly call it a 'bad habit' but almost every time I work in the studio I end up dancing around for a good half hour or so before I get any work done. Blasting my music and dancing around always helps to get me focused, but also distracts me a little bit at first before I actually dive into working.
What artwork have you seen recently you find different or inspirational?
Recently, a friend showed me this amazing short film, called ‘The Attendant’ by Isaac Julien. The film explores a queer relationship based in a museum in England which is devoted to the history of slavery. After hours, sexual fantasies come to life via the paintings in the museum, enacting sexual hierarchy as well as racial. It’s a visually decadent piece, with a nod to the AIDS crisis as well as the ever continuing presence of divides in society then and now.
Are you working on any new projects these days?
I just started a new series of images, based off of the idea of ‘Reparations Packages’. I’m thinking a lot about how can one place value on deaths, goods, and destruction as a result of warfare? Using the list of demands from countries in the Greater Middle East that have been in conflict with the West, I’m creating symbol oriented still-life photographs that depict the contents of each package. For the first two, I have constructed sets, but am also thinking about moving into making images outside/in the real world through contructed ‘on location’ scenes.
For more of Sheida Soleimani: http://sheidasoleimani.com