Today we are talking to film maker Sadegh Aleahmad, a young Iranian-born artist living in the UK whose practice examines the construction of his diasporic identity in relation to both spectator perception, his religious upbringing and his current status as a Muslim and a migrant. Sadegh also discusses his inspiration for his film Moment of Encounter, which is currently featured in our Looking to the Future online archive.
Image description: a blue landscape poster depicting a mans face lying under a cover covered in text, the artists hand reaches out to the man in the centre of the frame. Bold white text in the centre reads Sadegh Aleahmad, underneath in a smaller font reads @sadegh.alef.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your work?
My name is Sadegh Aleahmad and I am a multi-disciplinary artist. My work explores how various Islamic doctrines could be taken out of their personal, religious and socio-political context, and syncretised with the ethics and aesthetics of artmaking that I have acquired by living in diaspora. My practice generates new understandings of Islamic diasporic identity and tackles the climate of paranoia against Islam that has dominated the West.
What methods and processes do you find most interesting when approaching art making?
My practice is performance-based. I usually don’t have a particular idea to begin with. The idea emerges through experimentation and paying attention to the process of making. In general, my process of exploration involves attaching cameras to my body and objects and capture movements and encounters from unconventional perspectives.
You have described how your work explores your identity in relation to spectator perception. How do these two ideas work with or against each other?
I understand identity as a social construct we continuously perform in relation to the others. How we are being perceived in the society influences how we understand and perceive ourselves. In the context of my performances, I am very interested in how my presence and activities as an immigrant and a Muslim affect and challenge the spectators’ perception of Islamic identity in the context of European contemporary culture.
Sadegh Aleahmad, Like the Smell of Your Exile in My Body, video, 4.38min, 2017
What drew you to creating this kind of work?
My work explores the nuances of my diasporic identity. This field of inquiry emerged through my own personal experiences of being a target of Islamophobia in the aftermaths of Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris (2015) and London Bridge terror attack (2017). I understand my practice as an existential endeavour to explore what it means to be a migrant and live in a society where a person is judged by their colour of skin and their cultural ties to their place of birth.
You describe that your work de-territorialises various Islamic disciplines. How do go about achieving this?
My practice appropriates various Islamic activities and discourses and separates them from their personal, religious and socio-political connotations. My practice fuses Islamic discourses with various notions I have learnt by living in diaspora in the UK. I create this transgression by staying playful and paying close attention to the process of making.
What one thing would you like to change about the art industry today?
I strongly believe we need to question why institutions don’t promote the work of artists whose practice explore their marginalised cultural and gender identity as a way of generating empowerment rather than referring to themselves as underdogs and victims of society.
We recently showcased your short film ‘Moment of Encounter’ as part of the Looking to the Future film screening. Can you tell us more about how your ideas manifested into your film?
The movie was a documentation of performance I did in Kelvinside Parish church as part of my residency in Glasgow in 2017. I was very interested in what would happen and how the worshippers would react and perceive me if I perform my identity and sing ‘Maddahi’ (Islamic genre of singing) in this location.
Sadegh Aleahmad, Moment of Encounter, video, 4.41 min, 2020.
Why do you chose to use performance and singing over other forms of art making?
In my practice performance and singing allow me to express my identity and establish a relationship to an environment in the presence of the spectators. It allows for the immediate spectators to encounter it as an experience in the moment rather than something that can be placed at a gallery space in its entirety.
Much of your work appears to function like documentations of experiences. Would you agree with this?
Yes and no. I agree that my work can be understood as a documentation of an experience. But the presence of cameras and the angle which the experience is recorded makes it go beyond documentation of a performance. In my performances camera has an active role rather than operating as a passive apparatus that only documents an event. I understand these recordings as performances for cameras.
Sadegh Aleahmad, Forgotten Letters from the Canal - Broadway Market, video, 4.44min, 2021
What are you working on now and what might you be doing moving forwards?
I have been engaged with creating mirror sculptures that I can carry in my performances for camera. These sculpture operate as an immediate and unique means for responding to my environment; they displace the direct gaze of the performers, spectators and the camera. Furthermore, they visually fragment the architecture of the site of performance, generating a mise-en-scène in the narrative of my performances for camera.
Sadegh's work alongside others can still be viewed in the Looking to the Future digital archive here.