Setareh Shahbazi’s practice defies categorization. Her projects often begin with photographs: images from private collections, snapshots taken by the artist, family photos, film stills, postcards and newspaper clippings. But the outcome seldom resembles the source material. With a playful irreverence to the sanctity of a photograph as a mirror of reality, Shahbazi drains details out of images.
Using digital manipulation, she breaks down images into visual components, and seamlessly reorders what she extracts into new compositions that are at once familiar and strange. Ancient, classical and modernist structures sit side by side with depictions of birds, foliage and family members, muddling our sense of time and place and activating our imagination to suggest the possibility of infinite narrative variations.
Shahbazi’s early drawings exude slickness. Reminiscent of comic strips, subjects are rendered graphically and set against flat solid colors. Her site-specific work is installed like a stage set, a nod to her scenography background. Large- scale two-dimensional cutouts are arranged in the exhibition space to create an enigmatic psychologically charged atmosphere. Shahbazi’s most recent work takes an introspective turn. Through a series of photomontages that are based on hundreds of roughly scanned family photographs, Shahbazi delves into the loaded history of her family’s exile from Iran following the revolution. Like the rest of her work, which is built on the logic of free association, these images resist a literal or a linear reading and simultaneously speak of and surpass the context from which there were born.
Setareh Shahbazi was born in Tehran in 1978 and moved to Germany in 1985. From 1997 to 2003 she studied Scenography and Media Arts at the State Academy for Art and Design in Karlsruhe. Her solo exhibitions were held at Tarahane Azad, Tehran (2017); Gypsum Gallery, Cairo (2016, 2013); 98weeks Project Space, Beirut (2010); Contemporary Arts Forum, St. Barbara (2008); Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg and Montgomery, Berlin (2006) and Karlsruher Kunstverein (2004). Her group shows include From Ear to Ear to Eye, Nottingham Contemporary (2017); Sharjah Biennial 13 – Tamawuj, curated by Christine Tohme (2017); A Heritage Transposed, Box-Freiraum, Berlin (2016); Complicity, Sultan Gallery Kuwait (2016); The Way We Live, Kunsthaus Wien (2015); When It Starts Dripping from the Ceiling, Kadist, Paris, curated by Bassam El Baroni (2012); Whenever it starts, it isn’t the right time!,Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, curated by Chus Martinez (2007). A one-year DAAD postgraduate residency brought her to Beirut for the first time in 2003 to collaborate with the Arab Image Foundation. Shahbazi received a publication grant from Stiftung Kunstfonds, Bonn for her artist book Spectral Days (2011) and her catalogue Oh, no, no, ... – The Crystal Series was awarded The Most Beautiful Swiss Books (2005). Shahbazi was shortlisted for the Abraaj Group Art Prize in 2014. She lives and works in Berlin and travels regularly to Iran.