Artist Profile – Morehshin Allahyari

Published on 2018-05-03

Artwork featured in the salon: 'South Ivan Human Heads: Bearded River God' (2017) 3D Printed Sandstone, 'Dead Drop' Files and Electronic Components. Edition 3 + AP Courtesy ofUpfor Gallery

Morehshin Allahyari unearths artifacts of an older world — medieval sculptures, Iranian conservatism, Middle Eastern spirit figures — then reimagines them for brighter, weirder, more participatory futures. The speculative archaeologist has won significant attention, from her installation at The Armory Show 2018, to artist talks at Dallas Museum of Art, to Eyebeam and BANFF residencies, to being named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Global Thinkers of 2016, plus countless other appearances and cultural contributions. 

3D printing forms a major part of her practice. In 2015, she and Daniel Rourke released The 3D Additivist Manifesto, a call to harness 3D printing as an artistic, speculative practice. In 2016, after over 100 collaborators shared files for printing, reading, cooking and living “in this most contradictory of times,” Allahyari and Rourke edited and compiled The 3D Additivist Cookbook. In their introduction, they write “Recipes are one of the primary modes of making, learning, sharing, and revising (im)possible worlds.” This type of creation is Allahyari’s specialty. 

Her recent project Material Speculations: ISIS presents 3D-printed replicas of structures destroyed by the islamic state. She painstakingly researches and recreates them, then embeds them with archival data and shares her CAD files widely online. The subject matter is dark, but its expression is hopeful and inventive, rather than nostalgic. “With each download to a hard drive, the narrative rewrites itself,” writes Paul Soulellis. “How might we characterize these copies? Will the sculpture of King Uthal be brought back to life? Perhaps, in the same way that a meme is alive. As the files are posted, downloaded, and printed, different each time, the nature of the thing remains unsettled.”

Her Dark Matter series 3D-prints humorous hybridizations of the commonplace objects forbidden in Iran: Barbies, neckties, dogs, dildos, satellite dishes. The pieces middle-finger the oppressive regime she grew up under (she moved from Iran to the U.S. in 2007), but also meditate on how alternative contexts reshape the meaning of such objects. 

At the 2018 Armory Show, Upfor Gallery presented 4 selections from She Who Sees The Unknown, a series of 12 female icons inspired by Middle-Eastern and North-African jinn, or figures that represent possessive spirits. She 3D-modeled, scanned, and printed her reinterpretations and created video essays on contemporary forms of oppression for each character. She describes her open-source, informative practice as a counterexample to “digital colonialism” — the digitization of historic cultural sites in a way that is not open to the public. And in her artistic refiguring and fabulation, she draws on feminist traditions of building alternative narratives of the past and the future.