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Maria Kheirkhah In Conversation with Ope Lori     July 2013


Maria: I am really interested in the intimate space and your use of the colour red in

your video Red Shift .Could you talk a little more about this work and your choices of

colour, space and people in it?

Ope: It’s interesting that you picked up on this intimate space and that was my

intention with using a red tinted light to shoot the image. There are two reasons

behind its’ function. Firstly, red symbolizes, love, passion, heated situations and

aggression and amplified the situation where these two women were engaged in a

play fight. This intimate space, or what the black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde would

call ‘the power of the erotic’, with her assertion in the erotic as a life force for women

and using that as a creative energy for empowerment and reclaiming our own

language, in the fight against systems of oppression. I would like to think I am

suggesting a romantic notion of women’s liberation, by bringing black and white

women together.

Secondly the red acted as a smoke screen for hiding the differences of skin colour of

the women. I wanted to give this work a kind of ‘colour-blind aesthetic’, to play devil’s

advocate in asking the question, “what if skin colour was irrelevant, how then would

we engage with ideals of beauty and gender between women of different skin

colours, without being able to tap into colonialized and thereby racialized ‘ways of


M: Yes, I picked up on the red as I have used it in a number of my own works as a

way of enclosing the space and making reference to emotionally claustrophobic

spaces. However, what struck me and I found very interesting about your work was

this ‘colour-blind aesthetic’, as you say, and the questions which it poses to an

audience. Speaking here of the audience, who do you think your audience might be

and are they who you are hoping to reach or is that not important to you?

O: The very fact that I call it a ‘colour-blind aesthetic’ is to make it accessible to

everyone, regardless of our own racial baggage that we bring to reading the image.

In one respect, through combating the dominant gaze in media representations, film

and popular culture, which I see as being white and lodged in a phallocentric order, I

have created an oppositional gaze, where as a bi-product, a black and queer

aesthetic has formed. From this viewpoint, my audience then is for black women, in

celebration of black beauty and re-empowering our bodies in the spheres where we

have been left out of. On the other hand, through the association with white and

black women, due to my own past experiences of being in an interracial relationship

with a white woman, this enabled me to see that there are always many sides to the

story, and that in as much as black women are under represented, white women are

overly objectified. My audience in this respect is for women in general, and is about

empowering us, raising awareness in our joint struggle for liberation.

Of course I can not limit these discussions to just women, black people, lesbians, or

white men and women, as we all are part of society and all conditioned into seeing in

particular ways. This is why I intentionally aim to challenge the viewer and confront

them with their misconceptions, playing with the use of stereotypes as a strategic

device, in understanding the value we place over skin colour in a visual economy of

beauty and women.

M - It is very interesting that you talk about the dominant gaze as white and

phallocentric in relation to the female black body. I think what is interesting about thisargument is that Laura Mulvey, in her paper Visual Pleasure and Narrative

Cinema (1975), poses the audience largely as male and the female, on screen, as an

object of the gaze –which equally I am arguing for within the context of my research

as a term which I have come to develop and use as "Islamo-Orientalised" female


However, your work Red Shift also reminds me of Steve McQueen’s Black and white

film/video Bear,1993 currently showing at Tate Britain, showing two naked black men

wrestling and the work shown within a dominant white space. So here I’d like to ask:

are we really here talking about some kind of power hierarchy and whomever owns it

also has the power of the gaze?

O: I can understand seeing a resemblance to Steve McQueen’s Bear, as both use

the wrestle as a erotic, yet violent device. When I was actually making the piece, I

had in mind the classic homoerotic wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan

Bates, in Women in Love. For me, this image of the two men, naked, fighting, cast

under a fire lit ambience really did the trick for me, I knew I wanted to do something

similar but, rather, through women.

You are definitely right about this being a power hierarchy and it operates across

both racial and sexual difference, and due to that, in the sexual politics of looking that

Mulvey puts forward, black women are relegated or in fact non-existent in the

hierarchy, being twice removed on ground of our skin colour and sex, within a white

phallocentric order.

Therefore I don’t actually agree that whoever holds the power has the power of the

gaze. The gaze which I am critiquing is systematic and institutionalized - however,

there are other gazes and what I am showing you with my work are a series of

oppositional gazes, which aim to empower. I think the more and more you get

alternative images out there, these representations eventually begin to stick and

once they become embroiled within society, then that’s when one has power of the


M: Yes, I agree with you about dissemination of alternative images of the other which

aims to empower rather than categorise. This point is also something which you

extend to your body of work Beauty and Privilege, Can you tell me a little bit about

your intentions with these works?

O: Beauty and Privilege (2012-2013) is a series of photographic poster styled black

and white images that play with power hierarchies, representational visibility and

makes a correlation between beauty and it’s privileges. Without wanting to say too

much, because I would love to hear how you read the images, essentially it is a

game of power played around expensive cars, black women who pose in front of the

cars, who are a fixed requirement of the work and the owners of the cars, within a

discourse that talks about the link between beauty as an ideal and it’s privileges,

within media representations.

M: Okay, perhaps it's time to end this conversation and to give your audience the

chance to experience and add their own reading as and when they come to see your

work. Thank you & I look forward to seeing the work in the space and continuing our


© maria kheirkhah 2013 - In conjunction with the exhibition "I Want Me Some Brown Sugar" @198 by Ope lori

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