Soheila Esfahani / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani'
The exhibition 'In-Between' addresses tensions that come when immigrants try to integrate one culture within another; the struggles that everyone feels when trying to maintain their identity within a different cultural setting.
Esfahani's practice navigates the terrains of cultural translation through two theoretical frameworks: Walter Benjamin’s understanding of translation as a departure from the original, by creating reasonable equivalents and Homi Bhabha's concept of the 'third space' as a negotiated space of 'in-betweeness'.
Esfahani explains, "My own experience as an immigrant influences my application of these theories. I have departed my original home (Iran) and now live in the third space, identifying as neither Canadian nor Iranian, but someone in-between.
Since the third space hinges on an act of negotiation, the audience’s interaction with my art is crucial. Viewers’ unique experiences and cultures inform their 'reading' of the work, thus allowing them to enter the third space by engaging in cultural translation: the viewers carry their culture across onto my art and vice versa. In my work, I emphasize the notion of translation in its etymological meaning as the process of 'carrying across' or 'bringing across.' Therefore, cultural translation occurs as the act of 'carrying or bringing across' units of culture."
In one of her pieces, Esfahani works with a poem by Nokyoung Xayasane, an emerging Canadian poet, as an example of difficulty in translation. She creates renditions of the originals by filtering the text through software, translating it from English to Farsi to Google to calligraphy. The process alters the text turning it into an image that becomes 'equivalent' of the original.
Esfahani uses laser cutting to create arabesque designs depicting various versions of a lotus leaf in numerous, small wooden panels that comprise the 'Made in Iran series'. The design has, as most of Esfahani's work, a meditative and repetitious quality.
Soheila Esfahani, A trace of the Traceless series, Glasgow / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, A trace of the Traceless series, Waterloo / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, A trace of the Traceless series, Regina / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, A trace of the Traceless, Regina, detail / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, A Trace of Traceless series / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, Found Text Composition I / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, Found Text Composition II / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, Found Text Composition series / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, Installation view of the exhibition / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani, wall installation / Courtesy of Soheila Esfahani
Soheila Esfahani grew up in Tehran, Iran, and moved to Canada in 1992. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario and her BA in Fine Arts from the University of Waterloo. She is a recipient of grants from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund. Esfahani’s work is represented in public and private collections including the Canada Council’s Art Bank. She is a recipient of 2016 Waterloo Region Arts Awards (Visual Arts category) and was nominated for the Jameel Prize at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK in 2015. Currently, she is a member of the Red Head Gallery in Toronto and works from her studio at Kitchener’s artist–run centre, Globe Studios.
The exhibition opened at Durham Art Gallery, Ontario, Canada on September 15 and will run until November 13, 2016.