Entering the Salle Alfred-Pellan at the Maison des Arts des Laval, the viewer’s gaze meets a large mural of sutured concrete covered in swirls. As details emerge, drawn rifles and small tanks, it becomes clear that many of the figures arrayed along an arcing line are in fact hanged, and that masses of figures painted in green contain and, in places, attack other figures painted blue. The piece suddenly possesses a narrative. Is it a battle, is it the repression of a demonstration? Punctuating the green and blue figures, occasional flashes of gold leaf provide a shimmer, calling to mind the tradition of Persian miniature painting or illuminated manuscripts.
Behind and around the large painting are small niches cut into the columns and wall of the gallery. Installed there are a number of Lego assemblages. These Lego scenes, populated by ‘minifigures’ are of incarceration, with stacked piles of Lego heads, weapons, and soldiers. They culminate in a large Lego installation with a huge circular garden of Lego flowers which is itself surrounded by a dizzying variety of minifigures that seem to be holding hands. At the margins are armed green Lego soldiers and in the centre of the garden lying face down is a solitary minifigure with a small, red, paint-smeared hole drilled into its back.
The sum effect of this work is destabilizing. The Lego installations and the painting are in dialogue with each other. The toys, in their well-lighted spaces with their huge variety of colours, are a welcome jolt that pierces the otherwise darkened gallery. But the narratives of the Lego works are chilling and one’s reactions shift rapidly back and forth from play to violence. The painting is more overt, if not fully defining the narrative, in portraying the violence of repression. The whole work is enchanting, but in a way that calls one back to Bruno Bettelheim’s darker interpretations of fantasy as a place to work out fears and decode a turbulent world.
Sayeh Sarfarez, born in Iran and trained in France and Canada, draws on the recent political upheavals in Iran (the stifled Green Revolution) and the broader uprisings in the Arab World. It was a useful coincidence that President Viktor Yanukovich fled his office on the weekend of the gallery opening because the culmination of the violence in Ukraine was a salutary reminder that Sarfarez’s themes are not geographically, nor temporally, limited. Her painting and assemblages present a powerfully-felt engagement with the politics of these times.
Micropolitiques, at the Maison des Arts des Laval, 1395, Boulevard de la Concorde Ouest
To April 27, 2014
Seth Messinger is an anthropologist working at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is currently living in Montreal and is affiliated with the Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence of Concordia University. His research interests include memory, patienthood and recovery from trauma and violence.