If there’s a contemporary “can’t miss” exhibition in Toronto this month it’s Sanaz Mazinani’s Frames of the Visible. Showing until June 9 at the Stephen Bulger Gallery, these wall-sized photo collages truly rethink photography as they rigorously explore new ways of seeing and representing conflict through photography.
Until now, I admit to not being a fan of her work. I haven’t liked the form of it and haven’t felt that the photos conveyed what she wanted to say. She’s described her work as an exploration of “the relationship between perception and representation by drawing on concepts such as censorship, scale, and the body as a site of action or violence.” Honestly, I don’t get how her earlier works did that. But this set actually shows how we see and how photographers represent what we see – in reality, and not just in theory.
These awesome sculptural pieces involve the use of two or three photographs shrunk down, duplicated, mirror-imaged, repeated and rearranged almost endlessly with a clear goal in mind: To revitalize and hence rethink the wars in the Middle and Near East. Redacted (above) uses imagery from a U.S. military funeral, including men on parade, coffins and black boxes, to contemplate the cost of war. Its perfectly ordered presentation, like the perfectly ordered men (their faces redacted), and the perfect, flag-covered coffins, mirrors how real deaths are reported/redacted in this well-ordered and distant war. I doubt there’s another image that shows how we report on war as well as this one. Not only that, but this singular image (seen from afar) has a forbidding muteness about it. It looks to me like a child of Janus and the Sphinx, looking both ways but with eyes facing front that say little. And then there’s the colour and the sheen of it – really, I could go on and on.
Together We Are (above, with detail below), creates a butterflied mandala out of two incongruously matched icons: Paris Hilton and a female suicide bomber. I found myself reacting at first to Paris’ naked arrogance and then to her naked vulnerability; then from the bomber’s ferocious violence to her profound commitment. This one actually does demonstrate “the body as a site of action or violence”. It’s not just an idea. I can feel it. Afterwards I found myself thinking about how it is that our opposites frame the pattern of our lives. As an image, Together We Are is an explosion, hurtling it’s black and white shards from the middle outward, through bodies of flesh.
I love that the act of exploring these works leads us inward to find out what each pattern is made of. That’s a perfect analogue for how we think, discover and process ideas. But the works also delve emotionally into feelings about violence, vulnerability and culture. We are a world apart and yet, we are all together. Brilliant. I can’t wait to see her next work.