YSL / New Waves
Fragment from a Conversation
Jörg Heiser In discussions of the political in art, two objections are often raised: art is suspected of being decadent, and political activism is suspected of being puritanical. Your work is quite different. Can you describe the point when you realized that this is a false opposition?
Nairy Baghramian For me, to reject any kind of art in pictorial or sculptural form and consider social or political activity as a substitute for art is a real problem. Where do art and political engagement overlap, and what form should this take? I have to make sure I reflect on my own role here, without exploiting myself.
JH But you do credit your artwork with a political dimension?
NB Absolutely. Documentaries, and direct speech, and direct use of the body are not the only forms that communicate a political dimension.
JH In the 1990s, there was much talk of utilizing the political potential of identity for artistic production.
NB At that time, as a migrant with an Iranian-Armenian background, I was expected to transform the stigma associated with my status into something positive.
JH Later you made the photographic diptych YSL / New Waves (2001) where you play with this idea: you’re beside the sea and you’re wearing a balaclava, with an Yves Saint Laurent tie whose label is revealed by a gust of wind.
NB That was a response to the way one is stigmatized and how one uses oneself. By the way, I also made this to be an homage to Yves Saint Laurent shortly before his final couture collection in 2002.
JH That was the only time you’ve worked with a self-portrait?
NB And a double portrait at that. Like twins. The movement between the two images is only noticeable because of the tie and the shifted gaze.
JH This representation of you sets off a reaction in most viewers’ minds: Iran, face covered, the veil, but also terrorism—and then there’s the tie, which is Western, fashionable, male. Was the work one last comment on the aforementioned identity-based notions of political art you were confronted with in the 1990s?
NB Yes. I wanted to come to a conclusion; to tell myself that it was now dealt with, cut and dried.
Nairy Baghramian, "YSL / New Waves: Fragment from a Conversation." Excerpt from "Room to Live," interview by Jörg Heiser, Frieze, no. 131 (May 2010). Online at: https://frieze.com/article/room-live.