Pearls On The Ocean Floor

Pearls On The Ocean Floor


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

What is life like for women in Iran? To Western eyes, it's summed up by the black chador, whose symbolic value as a tool of oppression far outweighs its real significance to most of the women who wear it. These women have in turn come to symbolise all that is dangerous about fundamentalist Islam, which, ironically, itself elides their individual significance and threatens to silence their voices. Whether they are commenting on the status of women itself or simply see themselves as contributors to their country's long and magnificent artistic traditions, they have plenty to say, and this insightful documentary finally gives them the chance to speak to a new audience.

Exploring the work of women who live and work in Iran as well as some of those in exile, Pearls On The Ocean Floor takes in Shadi Ghadirian's inventive images of women (sometimes with household objects substituted for faces), Shirin Neshat's video installations and Parastou Forouhar's evocative line drawings, as well as the challenging photographs of Gohar Dashti, many of which which explore the intersection between day to day life and the backdrop of war. Negar Ahkami's vivid paintings mix traditional and contemporary imagery whilst Sara Rahbar's startling reinvented flags effectively challenge some Western taboos and Afshan Ketabchi brings a queer sensibility to images of history. And there's more.

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With so much impressive art to draw on, this film is a visual treat, but what really elevates it as a documentary is the strength of the interviews - strong voices with sometimes clashing agendas, each offering a unique perspective on a country "which seems to have a revolution every 30 years." Iran is in flux and none of the women speaking here is sure what the outcome will be, though many are hopeful. Looking back, they have differing feelings about the 1979 revolution. To some it was a tragedy, nipping women's freedom in the bud. Others show some sympathy for the argument that the chador can be a liberating alternative to the objectification of female bodies seen in the west. There is one common factor: in creating so much social turbulence the revolution seems to have triggered a fresh wave of artistic creativity, especially among women who feel forced to be inventive in order to find ways of expressing themselves at all. It's often said that suffering makes a great artist, and this film suggests that the suffering of a nation can have a similar effect.

To anybody who feels jaded when faced with the minimalism of much contemporary Western art, Pearls On The Ocean Floor will be a sensory delight. This combination of the sensual and the political with the acutely personal makes for compelling viewing. The film will probably attract only a niche audience, but they'll leave satisfied - and full of further questions.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2011
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Leading female Iranian artists discuss the social and political importance of their work.
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Director: Robert Adanto

Starring: Shadi Ghadirian, Shirirn Neshat, Parastou Forouhar

Year: 2010

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2011

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