Sanaz Sohrabi: Spectral Images: Colonial Archives of Oil Production and Passageways to Collective Memory in Contemporary Iran

Sohrabi’s practice-based research traces the processes of early 20th-century modernization in Iran and their entanglements with other forms of colonial modernity and media infrastructure. Particularly, she looks at the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), currently British Petroleum, whose ethnographic and documentary multi-media production became a staple feature of the British petro-capitalist modernization project amassing an extensive filmic and photographic archive in which one can gather fragments pertaining to the material conditions of oil production and representations of modernity during the British colonial presence in Iran (Damluji 2013, 2105). Informed by Sohrabi’s formal training in studio arts and film production, and through research-based non-fiction film projects, she seeks to find the intersections between the visual and cultural infrastructures enabled by colonial modernity in Iran and the role of archives as “systems of material and symbolic power” (Burton 2005). She asks what the potentialities of these visual repositories are as a means to identify with a post-colonial present by acknowledging the colonial experience itself. As a media maker, she is interested in the question of whether 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 former workers of the oil refineries, along with a textual analysis of the AIOC’s first English magazines, photographs, films, finished and unfinished architectural plans, she seeks to return to the margins of the archives in search of gaps, absences and possibilities for “interventions” or the “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 Sohrabi creatively and critically unpacks the politics of representation and addresses the power relationships within them. Her current engagement with these archives includes a series of short films, critical texts, and an ongoing oral history project through which she explores their conditions of visuality with and through images and addresses the limitations and challenges of their identification with a colonial past.

References:
Appadurai, A. (2003), “Archive and aspiration,“ in: Information is Alive , pp. 14-25.
Burton, A., “Introduction,” in: Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History, ed. Ghosh, Durba, et al., Duke University Press, 2006.
Damluji, M., “The image world of Middle Eastern Oil,”in: Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas, ed. Appel, H.et al., Cornell University Press, 2015, pp. 147-64.
Damluji, M., “The Oil City in Focus The Cinematic Spaces of Abadan in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s Persian Story,” in: Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 33.1 (2013), pp. 75-88.

Sanaz Sohrabi is an artist and interdisciplinary researcher who works across moving and still image practices and video installations to analyze the status of moving image as a gateway to a larger investigation around the role of archives as the materials of times and spaces of spectatorship. Sohrabi looks at visual traces, acts of viewership and their reciprocal dis/re-appearances to investigate the impermanence and malleability of archival records and historical narratives.
She received her BFA and MFA from the University of Tehran and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago respectively. She is currently pursuing a practice-based PhD at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University, Montréal, where she works across Visual and Cultural Studies and Studio Arts.
She has been awarded a number of fellowships and artist residencies, including at ZK/U Berlin (2018), SOMA Summer School Ciudad de México (2017), Est-Nord-Est résidence d’artistes (2016), Vermont Studio Center (2015) and Chicago Artist coalition Bolt Program (2014-2015), among others. Her appearances at exhibitions and festivals include Videonale 16 Bonn, Fiva 06 Buenos Aires (first prize for short film), Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival 2017, Images festival 2017 Toronto, Transart Triennale 16 Berlin, Expo Chicago 2013, and Beirut Art Center, among others. She is co-curator (along with Sima Kokotovic and Giuseppe Fidotta) of the year-long project “The Politics of Alternative Media” based at the Global Emergent Media Lab at Concordia University, Montréal.


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