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  • Writer's pictureGEM LAB

Works-in-Progress: Labour of Oil, Petrocultural Imaginaries, and Colonial Modernity in Iran, Novembe

Tuesday, November 5, 2019, 6-7:30pm in the GEM Lab (FB 630.15)

Sourced from BP Archive PLC

My practice-based research traces the processes of the early 20th century modernization in Iran and their entanglements to other forms of colonial modernity and media infrastructure. Particularly, I look at the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) -currently British Petroleum- whose ethnographic and documentary multi-media production became a staple feature of the British petrocapitalist modernization project amassing an extensive filmic and photographic archive in which one can gather fragments pertaining to the material conditions of oil production and representation of modernity during the British colonial presence in Iran (Damluji 2013, 2105). Informed by my formal trainings in studio arts and film production and through research-based non-fiction film projects, I seek to find the intersections between the visual and cultural infrastructures enabled by the colonial modernity in Iran and the role of archives as the “systems of material and symbolic power” (Burton, 2005). I ask what are the potentialities of these visual repositories as a means to identify with a postcolonial present by acknowledging the colonial experience itself? As a media maker, I am interested if image making can be both an analytical and a creative tool to approach these visual materials without reiterating the seemingly evidentiary state of the archives. By conducting interviews with the former workers of the oil refineries, along with textual analysis of the AIOC’s first English magazines, photographs, films, finished and unfinished architectural plans, I seek to return to the margins of the archives in search for gaps, absences and possibilities for “interventions” or “aspiration for a collective project” as suggested by Arjun Appadurai (2003). Various implications of collectivity instilled in these archives stand as the point of departure from which I creatively and critically unpack the politics of representation and address the power relationships within them. My current engagement with these archives includes a series of short films, critical text, and an ongoing oral history project with which I explore their conditions of visuality with and through images and address the limitations and challenges of identification with a colonial past.

Sanaz Sohrabi is an artist and interdisciplinary researcher currently pursuing her practice-based doctoral studies at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University. Her doctoral work consists of a series of video-essay, critical text, and installation concerning the historical photographic archives of the British Petroleum, and looks at the intersection of colonial modernity and visual regimes of oil in Iran. Having received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on a merit scholarship, Sohrabi has participated in European Media Arts Festival, Athens International Film and Video Festival, Videonale 16 Bonn, Fiva 06 Buenos Aires (first prize for short film), Images Festival Toronto, and Beirut Art Center, among others. Sohrabi has been awarded fellowships and residencies from Transregional Academy at the American University of Beirut, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Est-Nord-Est résidence d’artistes, and Vermont Studio Center.

About WIP:

The workshop is meant to showcase new and developing projects by the Fine Arts graduate community (and beyond), creating a space for interdisciplinary critique and feedback. Encouraging the engagement of workshop participants, the emphasis will be on research methodologies and future directions. We aim to create a space for alternative methodologies and practices, investigating research trends in the humanities such as visual anthropology, digital ethnography, field recording and sound experiments, approaches to information technologies, and other on the ground research practices. The 2019-2020 program is convened by Ylenia Olibet, Lola Rémy, and Patrick Brodie.

For more information on this and future workshops, visit:

- Ylenia Olibet, Lola Remy, and Patrick Brodie

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