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The Intrinsic Code of Language: A multicultural depiction of experiences

Laureen Andalib stands in front of one of her works featured in The Intrinsic Code of Language exhibit.
By Arlana Shikongo and David Stern

“This is about my grandmother,” Laureen Andalib said pointing to an instalment of a small dining table with pomegranates decorating the center and Polaroids submerged under water in wine glasses. Andalib was inspired by Polaroids taken by her grandmother during the Iranian revolution that she sent to communicate with her husband who lived in Turkey for his diplomatic obligations.

“It’s difficult to share openly, and as publicly as I’d like, because governmental relations between the U.S. and Iran have been so sensitive for so long, and also for the wrong reasons. I became obsessive about recreating her portraits, and reincarnating her spirit meaningfully because of their hidden power… Rather than distributing them as proofs,” Andalib said.

On April 7, Andalib hosted the opening reception for her exhibition, ‘The Intrinsic Code of Language’, at Cornell University’s Olive Tjaden Gallery. The exhibit featured six installations of various mediums including live portraitures, videos, sound, and photography, and was on display from April 5-8.

Andalib explains that the exhibition represents her cultural identity and her experiences. She uses the stories of her grandmother’s own experiences to create context and demonstrate the implications language has in the various aspects of her identity.

“It’s got a lot of hidden meanings. I don’t know why, but there’s a thrill to making these hidden metaphors. Maybe it’s for myself, maybe it’s for people to decipher,” she said.

According to Andalib, the exhibit is comprised of various installations that were created independently. She said that her previous works of art had no cohesive, thematic pattern, however, she later realized how they were all culturally immersive and related to language.

“Initially, my frustration was that all my work is so cultural, so I thought, how will people even relate because they won’t understand,” she said. “But now I realize my work is about everyone having a chance to be familiar with culture and just stripping out ideas like universality.”

Andalib explained that her inspiration mostly came from three artists, one of whom is an Iranian artist who depicts women in a style that reveres 19th century portraiture but in some way contradicts the conventional style.

“She makes them dress in burqas but then she adds these modern props referencing technological advancement, like putting a cellphone on a table while they are dressed in that,” she said, explaining that this was what inspired the moving portraiture instalment.

Andalib discusses research she has done on artists who make use of moving portraits and found that it was a good way of speaking on the language of the gaze that exists in the viewing of art.

“I love the idea of the gaze and also tricking people. There’s also a lot of performance art, where it’s like, how long can you sit there without cracking?” she said.

Andalib explains that she prompted the intended facial expressions on the models’ faces by posing the question, “if you could say one thing to your country without thinking of any forms of people who might oppress you or try to accuse you of anything, what would you say?”

“I said, say it through the eyes and they thought about it for many weeks; and they came to the shoot and they went for it. I really wanted to communicate the intense language of the gaze,” she said.

Michael Chishti, Andalib’s cousin and the only family able to attend the reception, expressed that he was impressed by the exhibition and the amount of cultural context it provided to both a public audience and himself.

“My favorite of them all would be this piece right here; The Intrinsic Code of Language,” he said, pointing at the moving portraiture installation of the exhibit. “I think, in terms of her personal relationship to our family and our background it’s a bridging between cultures and what it represents,” he said.

Chishti explained that he and Andalib are legacies of colonialism and he appreciates that the art encapsulates that inner conflict. He hopes that anyone who sees the exhibit will take away something about what it’s like to come from both worlds.

“I hope that anyone who comes here can see that and see that both worlds can be reconciled,” he said. “I hope they’ll learn a little about the rest of the world too, about the interactions of different cultures and how often times they were pretty violent but sometimes they were really beautiful.”

In her dissertation, “Situating Censorship: A Study of the Politics of State and Self in Literary Translations in Iran,” Shahin Marjan Nanaje explains the difficulties that life in Iran pose.

“Life in Iran has consequently been transformed into a cat and mouse game, as authorities periodically clampdown on the public, while they in turn continue to explore new avenues both for expression and information,” she wrote.

Andalib will be presenting the process and research behind her exhibition to a panel at Stanford University later this month.

“I don’t get to present it as an exhibition space. It’s just talking about it and showing images. More talking about the thought process and the research,” she said.

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