The compressed, hyper-stylized images in Sheida Soleimani’s first New York City solo show bring a critical eye to the tense relationship between the US and Iran, as well as the corruption that characterizes the Trump and Rouhani administrations alike. Her photographs of staged tableaux zero in on the places where these power relations and abuses make themselves visible: in the pronouncements of politicians, the movements of commodities, and most acutely, in the observable devastation of communities and ecologies.
In her Levers of Power (2020) series, Soleimani situates cut-outs of Iranian and U.S. politicians’ disembodied arms, frozen mid-gesture during public appearances, among overt and oblique symbols of the horrors for which they are responsible. In the titular work, “Hotbed” (2020), the arm of Iranian health minister Iraj Harrchi, reaching to wipe his forehead as he downplayed the coronavirus pandemic to the public, is limned with lime powder used to dissolve dead bodies and set against a quasi-abstract aerial view of the mass graves of those he failed to protect.
In a group of four slick still lifes, each named after a type of crude oil, Soleimani considers the networks of political corruption through which the substance flows and the environmental despoliation in which it traffics. She poses products made from petroleum byproducts — bubble gum, rubber gloves —against print-outs of oil fields ripped from the internet. The strategic lure of the images’ advertorial aesthetic and candy-colored palette likewise indicts the role that our own unremarkable consumption also plays in perpetuating irreparable harm.
Sheida Soleimani: Hotbed continues through December 23 at Denny Dimin (39 Lispenard Street, Manhattan, New York).