“Home away from home” is a concept familiar to many. Rooted in the Greek word Apoikia in relation to the European colonies established throughout and since the 15th century (Pauker), it has evolved over the centuries and come to transcend the originally Colonial sense of the word in various ways. One way one can inhabit a “home away from home” is through displacement. Displacement is a multifaceted and multilayered phenomena with layers and sides that remain rather opaque, unrepresented and unacknowledged. To me, and I would like to speculate many others, displacement comes with a piled mass of the unentitled, the intangible and the unspoken. One that I have to this day struggled to label and make sense of throughout the second half of my life as an immigrant, mostly in my own headspace, trying to accept and embrace it, at times, as a part of where I live; dismissing it, at others, as a self-indulgent, nostalgic and convenient subversion to the conventional norms of my new home; and finally, one that I will begin to unpack on my thought paper – equipped with new tools of analysis. A pivotal theme, I expect the notion of paradox to continually come up as I weave the multiplying, sometimes contradicting questions in my head to the wealth of readings I can draw from, contemplate the irony behind having found validation to an inner conflict through the very apparatus I longed to question, and tie this all into a navigation of one of my favourite contemporary artists Hedieh Ilchi’s painting titled ‘Quiet Invasion 4’.
Displacement is a widespread phenomena. As Magnolia states in her lecture on post-colonialism, “in many ways the displacement and reconfigurations of diasporic identities characterize the contemporary global landscape.” As diverse as this experience can be, losing one’s voice is perhaps one of the common realities of migration. Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci defines his coined term ‘Subaltern’ as the person “socially, politically and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure. He goes on to consider such individuals as “subordinated groups [lacking] the unity and organization [literacy, education and economics] of those in power.” (Pauker) In an attempt to “understand the power and continued dominance of Western ways of knowing,” the post-colonial theory acknowledges that “in order to be heard, the subaltern must adopt Western thought, reasoning and language.” (Pauker) Spivak, similarly, holds that subalterns have no way of speaking since they “can never express their own reasoning, forms of logic or knowledge, [rather] they must conform their knowledge to Western ways of knowing, speaking and listening.” (Pauker)
In the artist statement shared on her website, Ilchi touches on her preoccupation with “the notion of duality [as an] ongoing necessity [for her] to comprehend [her] multifaceted cultural identity as an Iranian-American immigrant.” (Ilchi) “My paintings function as metaphors for the complexities that emanate from such polarized cultural experiences,” she goes on to share. (Ilchi) Her fascinating synthesis of the abstract conventions of the Western contemporary art demonstrated through the explosive and dripping paint patterns and the meticulous ornamentations of the Persian art of ‘Tazhib’ directly translatable as the “art of illumination” through what she calls the “contemplative precisions of the hand”, (Ilchi) creates an elaborate contrast that effectively symbolizes the paradox present in the shared experience of migration.
Ilchi’s choice of title for this work, as well as her decision to allow the white and grey paint to bubble up unrestrainably to stain and erode the intricate patterns can be read as a commentary on non-European traditions that are rapidly fading, giving way to the dominating, modern and ever changing conventions of the Western world, largely perpetuated by the various forms of social and mass media stretching across the globe.
Another observation one can make is that the paint patterns seem to be bringing some texture to the otherwise flat scenery of the image presented and in doing so present an edge. So, while the vibrant, recurring patterns are made to come across as soulful, reassuringly stable and more intelligible, the loose paint blotches manage to introduce a multidimensional appeal to the experience, standing out to dominate by implying to possess advanced characteristics. This inevitably reminds me of Frantz Fanon’s observation on Colonialism. In his book ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, the Martinique psychiatrist and revolutionary psychologically analyses the ways in which Colonialism “induces the black man to adopt white ways, […] enforcing an internalized sense of inferiority and in suppressing native traditions and histories.” (Pauker)
Furthermore, looking at the surgical colour palette employed in the creation of the paint stains in ‘Quiet Invasion 4’, the colour white may be acting as a reference to the process of ‘whitewashing’. This reading fits the central and considerable space the foamy fluid occupies, in relation to the way in which the traditional illustrations are being ‘drowned’ or pushed to the margins. This is reminiscent of the homogenizing effect of ‘multiculturalism’ covered in our Post-colonialism lecture which considers that “multiculturalism may in fact erase real differences in terms of experience, history and social understanding,” (Pauker) undermining the diverse cultural identities through tokenism and creating an environment where the pressure to fit in and belong leaves society members as either homogenized masses or marginalized, alienated ‘others’.
Combined with the white and milky patches, the grey/ silver shades in Ilchi’s work can represent the shine (appeal) and reflection (superficiality) of modern phenomena such as scientific and technological progressions. In fact, one can argue the paint patches’ resemblance to foggy, rapidly spreading clouds of smoke from what is portrayed as an explosion can be a reference to weapon’s of mass destruction and, by extension, all acts of war and Imperialism that bring about human suffering and destruction.
As my thoughts pause to rest within the confines of this paper, I remain torn in several ways. I have now traced and can acknowledge the cognitive dissonance resulting from how I am a subject to and, as Althusser puts it (53), have become interpellated into the Western way of logic and analysis. I am, in a way, empowered – equipped with clear, concise and intelligible theories and terminologies, to address notions of marginalization and disempowerment within a racial and diasporic context. Keeping bell hooks’ observations in mind (20), I will walk away more vigilant of how I am situated not only to be dominated but to dominate in my own capacity and therefore exert a degree of influence on others’ quality and experience of life.
Utilizing this mode of discourse within the “Ideological State Apparatus” (Althusser 51) of an Emily Carr course paper to tackle the less visible corners of displacement, cultural domination, as well as the loss of voice and identity, I wonder if this makes me an ‘ex-subaltern’? As fulfilling as it feels to begin to adopt this mode of inquiry and expression, and as tirelessly as I have worked to earn it through what has sure been an intensely fast-paced course, does this new found voice belong to me? Can I add to this body of understanding the pieces it is missing? Would Foucault’s notion of the “author function” (۹۲۴) play a part in the space my contribution will occupy? Does my finding this Western mode of knowledge a refreshing new privilege stand to contradict post-colonialism? Am I subjugated to the Eurocentric gaze and is this new mode in fact functioning to sustain me as a subject? Could I have found such a voice in my own natural mode of communication? What does this tell me about my own views on dominance and of those not fully fluent in asserting themselves? Is a part of me entitled to value purity over hybridity? Does adapting to and surviving/ growing (depending on one’s resources/ privileges) in a foreign setting truly as fulfilling of a life experience as thriving on one’s own roots and identity? Can it distract and hinder one’s life trajectory towards their full potential? Can Spivak’s notion of double displacement (1121) and hooks’ emphasis on the “eradication of all forms of domination” (۱۹) be combined and extended to address the oppression of displaced individuals that also happen to be coping with mental disabilities?
I remain torn on how I would answer these questions and many more. And I remain torn, as a composite, “split subject” (Pauker), for I have lived thirty years, only to turn fifteen twice.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1970)” A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, eds. Antony Easthope and Kate McGowan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988. 50-57. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. PDF.
Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” Art in Theory. Eds. C. Harrison and P. Wood. London: Blackwell, 1992. 923-928. Rpt. in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2015. PDF.
hooks, bell. “feminism: a transformational politic,” Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, (Boston: Between the Lines, 1989), 18-27. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. PDF.
Javanshir Ilchi, Hedieh. “Artist Statement.” N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.hediehilchi.com/artist-statement.
Pauker, Magnolia. Forum 6: Postcolonialism/Otherness/Alterity Lecture. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. audio file.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorti. Who Claims Alterity (1989), Art in Theory, 1119-1124. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. PDF.