In the midst of researching differences and similarities between Iranian and American culture for her new project, Bay Area artist Taravat Talepasand found her readings inundated with a certain word: "westoxicated."
Religious Iranian historians and political writers espoused the anti-Western term to criticize and denounce anything with a strong Western influence. Talepasand, on the other hand, saw purpose in the term past divisive rhetoric.
“I thought it defined that psychological feeling that both Iranians outside and inside the country felt -- what it means to be influenced by the West while under Islamic rule,” Talepasand says.
Talepasand’s years of research come to fruition in her show Westoxicated, which sheds light on the ways Iranian women actively resist conservative ideals to ensure their democratic rights -- efforts not far removed from our own current situation.
Defiant cultural taboos make up the bulk of this mixed-media show, at times both irreverent and humorous. Westoxicated features nude portraits of female Iranian professors and writers, women making rude and suggestive gestures while decked in long, black chadors, and Kim Kardashian's notorious crying face transferred onto a silk tapestry.
The show also tackles the darker and lesser-known outcome of such conservative rule: large glass pipes represent the epidemic in Iran of methamphetamine, a drug touted as a weight-loss tool for middle-class women struggling to exist under an oppressive regime.
"There are a lot of similarities in our current contemporary culture, especially in the darker rooted problems between the U.S. and Iran," Talepasand says. "I wanted to blur the lines that have been drawn by political and religious leaders."
This reminder of our shared humanity and our shared vices is particularly important today, especially in light of President Trump's recent Muslim ban.
Talepasand herself comes from a family of Iranian immigrants -- an aunt is currently staying with her parents in Portland with a green card, trying to earn money to support her family back in Iran.
"I was first in total shock and tears at the ban," Talepasand says. "She's either stuck here, or she has to go back and can never return."
Despite the administration's devastating immigration order, Talepasand believes it only fuels her to create more work that pushes back against the ideas set by Islamic and American politics of Iran as a country draped in black. She sees the recent community protests and marches as an example of power in numbers, which she hopes to extend to her own work.
"I want to create and bring together other artists from the Middle East - to coexist together and exhibit together and explain the diversity and strict adjustments in our own countries," she says.
'Westoxication' is on view at Zevitas Marcus in Los Angeles through March 18. Click here for more information.