Mahsa Merci’s textured paintings reference the multi-dimensional nature of queer identity

Since Mahsa had no formal art training when she began painting, she also began to use her materials in quite unconventional ways. “When I first started to paint a portrait with oils, I poured the color straight from the tube and onto the canvas,” Mahsa explains. “I was instantly fascinated by the texture.” Soon, this use of paint, layering and “sculpting” became the central method to Mahsa’s work. But, rather than simply being an interesting visual effect, the method is also one that directly references Mahsa’s subject matter, and their use of texture also references the queer experience. They use impasto – rough and heavy-painted brush strokes – to reference the complex and often unpredictable nature of being a queer person, as well as “transitioning identities, queer aesthetics and violence against queer bodies” Mahsa lists. Additionally, they strive to draw attention to defining features of each individual, hair, clothing, accessories and tattoos. “By highlighting these features, the paintings combine two dimensional and three dimensional effects, a metaphor to emphasize the queer community’s presence in society.”

While interacting with Mahsa’s experience in Iran, their work also looks to highlight the country’s complex history. Their ongoing Mirror series is inspired by the book Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards: Gender and Sexuality Anxieties of Iranian Modernity by Afsaneh Najmabadi, an Iranian-born American historian, gender theorist, archivist, educator and professor at Harvard University. “According to the book, being queer was not forbidden in Iran back in the 18th Century. After European imperialism, our culture was altered,” Mahsa details. Therefore, the project – which sees portraits surrounded by a mirrored frame shaped in “traditional Islamic forms” – is to reflect back to Iran’s once more liberal, un-Westernized approach to gender, body, politics and society.

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