She Who Sees The Unknown (2017-2021) is a research-based project by Morehshin Allahyari, that uses 3D simulation, sculpture, archiving, and storytelling to re-figure monstrous female/queer figures of Islamicate origin; using the traditions and myths associated with them to explore the catastrophes of colonialism, patriarchism and environmental degradation in relation to the Middle East.
As a 2016-2017 resident at Eyebeam, Allahyari developed the first iteration of She Who Sees The Unknown through evocation of the figure Huma, a jinn known in various Middle Eastern tales and myths pictured as a demon with three heads and known to bring heat to the human body. Repositioning her power “through poetic and metaphoric narrations,” Allahyari materializes Huma into a figure balancing injustices. Upon completion of her residency, Allahyari presented the event “Re-Figuring” to fabulate an activist, feminist practice that reimagines the past in order to create alternate futures. While in residence, She Who Sees The Unknown was presented as a solo show at TRANSFER gallery and prefaced what became an ongoing research project. As a Rapid Response fellow in 2020, the project’s fruition accumulated through Allahyari’s development of an extensive web-based archive.
Morehshin Allahyari (Persian: موره شین اللهیاری), is a NY based Iranian-Kurdish artist using 3D simulation, video, sculpture, and digital fabrication as tools to re-figure myth and history. Through archival practices and storytelling, her work weaves together complex counternarratives in opposition to the lasting influence of Western technological colonialism in the context of SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa). Her work has been part of numerous exhibitions, festivals, and workshops at venues throughout the world, including the New Museum, MoMa, Centre Pompidou, Venice Biennale di Architecture, and Museum für Angewandte Kunst among many others. She is the recipient of The United States Artist Fellowship (2021), The Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant (2019), The Sundance Institute New Frontier International Fellowship (2019), and the Leading Global Thinkers of 2016 award by Foreign Policy magazine. Her artworks are in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Current Museum. She has been featured in The New York Times, BBC, Huffington Post, Wired, National Public Radio, Parkett Art Magazine, Frieze, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and Al Jazeera, among others. Morehshin was a research resident with Eyebeam in 2016-2017 and a Rapid Response fellow in 2020.
How do you characterize the media you work in?
I choose the medium that fits the project best. I work primarily with time-based media, digital fabrication, specifically 3D printing, and processes like 3D scanning and 3D simulation, which have been an important part of my process. Creative writing is also a significant component of my work.
How does your practice engage with technology?
In the past eight years, my practice has focused on the nonbinary relationship between history and technology, wherein history is not considered to be the past and technology is not considered to be the future. Through archival practices and storytelling, my work weaves together complex counternarratives in opposition to the lasting influence of Western technological colonialism in the context of SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa).
What was your focus during your time at Eyebeam?
When I began the Eyebeam research residency in 2016, I had just begun working on She Who Sees the Unknown, which became a five-year project. The project, which looks at female or genderless monsters and Jinn in the mythology of Persian and Arabic origin, involved studying rare manuscripts, researching, and gathering material. For five main figures, I created a 3D-printed sculptural element, an installation, and a written story connecting their mythological power to something in contemporary life or an alternative future. The project also had public events and performances. As a Rapid Response fellow, I worked on the archival aspect of this project while continuing to question digital colonialism and how we can give access to knowledge while also protecting it from colonial powers.
Was there a culminating project?
The project archive lives on the website shewhoseestheunknown.com.
How has dialogue or collaboration with Eyebeam artists and alumni factored into your work?
A lot of times I think about building community and collective work as not necessarily a collaboration, but rather, this question of how you position yourself in conversation with other people, how other people position themselves in conversation with you and your work, and how those experiences become part of the voice that you are trying to amplify or the problem that you are trying to challenge.
How do you think about the role of the artist in society?
The work that we do as artists comes with a certain responsibility. Regarding working with technological tools, I have always thought that it is my role to show other people the limitations and other possibilities of these tools. As an artist, I’ve always been interested in ways in which my work can go beyond the white walls of galleries and museums, and ways in which I can build spaces and platforms that other people can build on. All those things are what makes being an artist exciting to me.
Interview with Cassie Packard, 2022.