How an Iranian artist reminds viewers of their humanity
A Canadian lynx missing its paws, a bumblebee with no wings, a wolf pack howling in the night with no legs to stand on. This is what climate change is leaving us with; endangered species upon endangered species, decaying as the planet is dying.
At least, that is what Shabnam Zeraati wants you to feel and think about in her newest exhibition, Side Effects, at Atelier Circulaire in the Mile End. Side Effects is not only an exhibition concerning wildlife and the dangers climate change poses on them, but what a decaying planet means for human beings as well.
Zeraati’s animal drawings are scattered across the gallery, but the most striking installation is the white plaster hand coming out of a black puddle, positioned in the middle of the room, as if it were drowning and asking for help — which is exactly what she was going for.
“In all of my projects I try to invite the spectator to think and be sensible towards everyday occurrences, and what is happening in the world,” she said.
Zeraati was born in Iran and is now based in Montreal where she has shown her work in places like MAI, Maison de la culture in Longueuil, Musée historique du Madawaska, Atoll art actuel in Victoriaville, and Articule. Her works often showcase her desire to cross different techniques in her art, from screen printing, to engraving, to moulding.
Her artistic journey led to her leave Iran in 2003, with no intention of going back. Prior to moving indefinitely to Montreal in 2011, she studied in France, though she admits she didn’t particularly feel quite at ease there.
“It’s hard, living in France as a stranger,” she confessed. “I couldn’t progress artistically like I wanted to. In Canada, there are a lot of opportunities for artists, and it coincided with what I was looking for.”
“In high school, I knew I didn’t want to continue in sciences, whether it were in biology, human sciences, or physics,” she added. “So my choice was to go in graphics in university. That’s when I felt that I wanted to go more into drawing, and visual arts.”
Side Effect, she stated, was an idea born out of a migratory mammal encyclopedia she had created in 2017. Zeraati primarily describes her pieces in Side Effect as a narrative. “My prime objective is to make art as comprehensive as possible for everyone, not just for elitists,” she explained.
“Shabnam Zeraati plunges us into a near future, already clearly perceptible, in which the shift away from our responsibilities is the greatest threat,” said Gauthier Melin, the communication manager for Atelier Circulaire’s executive board.
Zeraati’s animals, receding into the gallery walls, move from a beige colour to an invisible white. But it is the presence of the plaster hands on the floor, reaching for help, that adds an layer of meaning to her work.
“These outstretched hands cry for help, condensing the stereotypes used in media representations of migratory movements over the past decade, and in particular the treatment of the Syrian refugee crisis,” said Melin, “as a result, the work brings us to another reality of global warming: climate refugees.”
Gripping, disturbing, raw, and, most of all, painfully realistic, Zeraati’s works not only invite the viewer to ponder over the reality of climate change, but calls for them to remember their humanity.
Photos courtesy of Atelier Circulaire.