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Shabnam Shabazi: ‘I’m on a trip to convert more people to art’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:37 23 August 2017

Shabnam Shabazi, Picture: Jason Haye

Shabnam Shabazi, Picture: Jason Haye

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Shabazi’s Body House (vers. III), is being performed at Rich Mix as part of the Certain Blacks Harlem Festival in September

Shabnam Shabazi's Body HouseShabnam Shabazi's Body House

When she was nine years old, Shabnam Shabazi was forced to flee her home at height of the Iranian Revolution. For weeks she lived in a car with her mother, grandmother, cat, dog and goldfish and when she arrived in the UK she didn’t speak a word of English.

It is unsurprising then that artist Shabazi’s work centres on the concept of home, often bringing in the life experiences that led her to where she is now. Her latest piece, Body House (vers. III), is being performed at Rich Mix as part of the Certain Blacks Harlem Festival in September.

The piece is an evolution of a body of work that first had its inception in 2011.

“It was driven by wanting to work more directly with my own story and my own autobiography,” says Shabazi, who lives in Hackney. “I turned to live art or performance art because in contemporary art or visual culture broadly I think they’re more direct strategies than working with raw material.

“At some point it’s probably going to make a book because I feel like the performance work has been a conceptual embodiment of moments of memory and experience and having to leave my country of origin very abruptly and moving around a lot. The inspiration of home comes from very direct experiences.”

The Body House series includes a live body casting and began as part of a larger immersive piece, but became a more theatrical pursuit in its second incarnation. For version III, she is stepping off the stage and directing the casting of another artist, Vivian Chinasa Ezugha. The piece also incorporates spoken word, music and video mapping.

“I always bring technology into my work and it was very low tech in versions one and two in that it was hand held projectors and live feeds,” she says. “This time I’m collaborating with someone and feeding them the content, bringing in video mapping, projection mapping, which is a 360 degree experience. I’m very excited by that.”

Body House is an exploration of the redundancy of the home as being a singular place in the 21st century: with such movement and displacement, how can we settle, and could this be a liberation rather than a loss?

The piece was originally inspired by Louise Bourgeois – namely her “Femme Maison” sketches – who has played a large part in Shabazi’s own work as the “theoretical linchpin” when she was doing her MA.

However, the first encounter with Femme Maison was accidental, when she was interviewing family members in Los Angeles for a project.

“I was in a rush going from one place to another and I found a house, I think it was made by somebody’s child, a cardboard box house, which I then proceeded to put on my head,” she says. “I then quickly asked my cousin to take a photo. I actually didn’t know about Louise Bourgeois’ Femme Maison then, but I became aware of that body of work and its connection to feminism which is also a big part of my own matriarchal history. From there, I went on this journey.”

The fact that every performance is different to the last is an important aspect of the work and, as Shabazi says, an important aspect of the live art aesthetic in general: “Of course, everything is new each time, each version will continue to be different and if there is a version four and a five, they’ll continue to be different.”

Alongside her performance, Shabazi is keen to keep up her community and collaborative work.

“The next generation has always been at the heart of my practice and diversity,” she says. “It’s about creating opportunities for people to create their own work and form their own creative communities. I’m on a trip to convert more people to art. I do believe that if more people were involved in creativity, the world would be a better place. It’s a small drop in the ocean for sure, but it’s what I believe in.”

Body House (vers. III) is on September 8 at Rich Mix. richmix.org.uk

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