Colorful, Cartoonish Constructions of Masculinity: A Review of Orkideh Torabi at Western Exhibitions

Orkideh Torabi, “They Are Calling Your Mom,” 2016. Dye on stretched cotton, 24 x 18 inches

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Orkideh Torabi confirms the construction of masculinity as a farce. In her first solo show in the United States, she has assembled twenty of her silkscreened monoprints that mimic official state portraits. Each painting caricatures a male patriarchal figure in the guise of an “innocent” cartoon that one would think belongs in a comic book. Patriarchy is a global system of domination where anyone who is not a cis-gendered male is configured as a subservient individual; it exists in Iran and also in the United States. In this structure, women, queer, femme-, trans and people of color are erased and their perspectives are deemed insignificant. That is why Orkideh subverting the apparatus of imaging is all the more powerful—her profiles are muted yet colorful; some have tile backgrounds, others blocks of color accented by smears and printing marks. These distinguishing marks reveal the fabrication process of the silkscreen portraits and remind us that the power behind these figures is also constructed.

Figures who usually are imbued with authority now have “cute” cartoonish characteristics by outlines or colorful silkscreened patches. They are dethroned because they seem approachable; this interaction coyly masks the formidable and violent mechanisms of living in a patriarchal society because these figures, in reality, still hold immense power. Which parts of ourselves do we make palatable in order to survive this social order? What elements of our personality do we render as docile so that we can be seen as unthreatening?

Orkideh Torabi, “Who’s Next,” 2016. Dye on stretched cotton, 24 x 18 inches

Rendering in vibrant yet muted block colors, all of the stares—expressions ranging from silly, sarcastic to hollow—over time imbue a menacing tone, a sense of being surveilled, being put into a compromising position by these figures, which seem only momentarily trapped in these portraits. Torabi delicately crafts these assemblages, layer upon layer, letting us peer into these immutable figures, compelling viewers to engage with the forces that created them. (Hiba Ali)

Through August 13 at Western Exhibitions, 825 West Washington

Published in Newcity Chicago.