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Shirana Shahbazi

[Monochrome]-03-2008] and [Octopus-01-2008], 2008
C-print and silver gelatin print on aluminium, diptych
90.0 x 70.0 cm each
In a hallway, by a room, towards the entrance, in the conference rooms, the magnetic presence of Shirana Shahbazi’s photographic prints forces the eye to stop and take notice. With a precision that is akin to microscopy, her still-lifes, with their Caravaggian contrasts, seem to throw off their inertia and assume unexpected life. Elsewhere the ornamental features of flowering vegetation elegantly stand out against a dark red background, like a hint of an old wallpaper motif.

The artist is perfectly adept at joining her knowledge of art history to her technical skill in terms of turning out a finished work of art. It is the tradition of 17th century Dutch painting that provides her with her themes and a pictorial reference, which she strives to carry over into photography. A human skull surrounded by a pink background, for example, and completely isolated from any connection to any probable narrative, to any reality that would explain its presence, offers us a rereading of classical painting.

Along with the still-life and the bouquet of flowers that are just beginning to wither, these images partake of the same theme, namely, the flight of time. It is a subject that is expressed metaphorically by vanitas paintings, which combine fruit, skulls, and insects, those delicate, precious elements that are doomed to disappear. This gesture of quoting and reviving earlier forms and genres isn’t literal, however, for the pictorial qualities of the golden age of painting are blended with the contemporary technique of photography to give rise to images that are almost objective.

Her timeless black-and-white landscapes and animals frozen in a now immobile movement owe as much to the German photography elaborated by Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky in the 1990s, as to the lessons that can be gleaned from the painters Francisco de Zurbarán and Édouard Manet. The butterfly whose silky bluish wings stand out from an orangey background might just as well be an image meant for scientific study by an entomologist. The artist also seems to be returning to the old tradition that associates the butterfly with an emanation of the human soul, personified, for instance, by Psyche.

Shirana Shahbazi thus transcends the state of documentary perfection through her underscoring of polychromy, the bright shine of the textures and the emphasis seen in the pictorial care that she lavishes on detail. A trajectory takes shape between the black-and-white landscape, the contrasting still-lifes, the geometrical shapes and the monochromy: each composition calls and answers according to a presentation – how and where the piece is hung – that is carefully thought out and designed by the artist herself.
Shirana Shahbazi, [Monochrome]-03-2008] and [Octopus-01-2008], 2008