Humour is a perfect weapon against ideological suppression, but it can also generate new ones. How to make fun of something in a way that is at once politically radical and entertaining, as well as warm and magnanimous? If anyone can handle this difficult art, without falling into either the politically correct or incorrect side, it is Roxy Farhat. Few artists manage to treat such severe and grave subjects in a manner so liberatingly non-moralist and aesthetically seducing.
In her slippery, non-frontal critique of both fallocratic and racist cultures of objectification, she often combines visual strategies from pedagogical instruction videos as well as from the world of film, advertising and music. In the video work Middle Class Paradise (2010), she parodied both the gangster paradise of Coolio and the Swedish art school system, by letting Magnus Bärtås, noted professor of Konstfack, take on the teacher role of Michel Pfeiffer, while Farhat herself and the other students portrayed the school’s privileged middle class.
And with what ease does she not slide out of the academic straightjackets of the post-colonial discourse when she makes fun of cultural and sexual stereotypes as Iranian femme-fatale singers in I’m a girl from Iran (2008), servile hotel maids who celebrate their own submission in HOUSEKEEPING (2009), or burka-dressed female decency police acting like nothing less than MTV Mamachitas in The Decency Squad (2009)? ”I’m not your bitch. I don’t cook. Make me a sandwich,” she and her female peers declare in United Color Of Bitchaton – Not Your Bitch (2014), while racing through an eerie Aladdin-landscape filled with dolphins, poodles, manga figures, flames, American dollar bills, flying meat axes, men lying in pools of blood, and men getting spanked on their butts. Even the flying carpet has been changed for a man. Laughter has been a feminist tradition ever since woman understood that the best way of bringing a man down, is to laugh at him.
But the parodic feminism of Farhat is not only mocking patriarchy, but also feminism as such, in a spirit that seems to carry the torch on from the high-conceptualist institutional critique of Andrea Fraser as well as the non-didactical para-feminism of Amelia Jones’ and Roxane Gay’s liberating Bad Feminism. In Bitchaton, it is the women who are being castrated. Their cut-off, singing heads suddenly turn up in a woman’s hairy armpits. The medusas’ heads are rolling in the university corridors, wrote Hélène Cixous in The Laugh of the Medusa in the seventies to announce a new era. They no longer emerged as a reaction to something. They were no longer negating death masks or symbols of the castration complexes of men, but a sign of the liberation of women. The new medusas were beautiful, they gave life, and they laughed, with a transformative, healing laughter. What is the result of combining these three elements into one? Beauty, life and laughter? La femme vitale. A positive sex symbol. And that is precisely what Farhat delivers to us in her carnevalesque tribute to the incessant morphings of both gender and culture. In the work How was your morning? (2018), she takes laughter to a whole new absurdist level, where the kitsch is sublimated and the narratives are emptied of their meaning, to the benefit of empty, prerecorded laughters.
Farhat’s art also entails darker, more melancholic dimensions, with video works reflecting over her parents flight from Iran (What are your intentions here? 2011), or activist films on how one as a youth today may begin to take responsibility for the society we live in (HUR 2017). When all comes around, there are only two types of artists. Those who are happy with just interpreting the world, and those who attempt to change it. Farhat definitely belongs to the latter.
– Sinziana Ravini, art critic and editor in chief of Paletten Art Journal
translated by Benjamin Wagner