Targeting ISIS in Her Art: Morehshin Allahyari Shows in London

The Iranian-American artist Morehshin Allahyari won herself an important accolade last year: she was voted one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2016 by Foreign Policy magazine. Allahyari was recognized for “saving heritage on a Zip drive” through her acclaimed project “Material Speculation: ISIS,” in which she used 3D printing to reconstruct Iraqi and Syrian cultural artifacts destroyed by ISIS. She recreated 12 of the ancient art pieces destroyed in Mosul in 2015; each of them was 3D-printed in plastic, and embedded with a zip drive containing printable files.

Thirty-two-year-old Allahyari – a leading advocate of technology-based art as a form of activism – has just opened her first solo exhibition, “She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’Jooj Ma’Jooj” at London’s prestigious Photographers’ Gallery. Her work, shown on the gallery’s Media Wall, is an exploration of dark goddesses and female Jinn figures of Middle Eastern origin.

These figures “are from a mix of eras and traditions – pre- and post-Islamic,” the artist explained in a January 2017 interview with Ibraaz, an online magazine covering visual culture in North Africa and the Middle East. “I’m taking them out of their context in order to create the space to build new stories around them. Collaging texts and re-appropriating material, I want to create a counter-reality that is critical of both the Western technology industries and [of] Islamic iconoclastic claims over heritage.”

Allahyari is currently in the middle of a one-year artist-in-residency program at New York’s Eyebeam, a nonprofit space dedicated to experiments with technology. Her work there is focused on reimagining the jinn and other forgotten female deities of Middle Eastern origin.

The artist was born and raised in Tehran in a liberal, non-religious family. At 16, she published an award-winning book about her grandmother’s life, and how it was shaped by tradition and taboo. After getting a B.A. in social science and media studies from the University of Tehran, she moved to the U.S. in 2007, where she got a Master of Arts in digital media studies from the University of Denver, and a Master of Fine Arts in new media art from the University of North Texas.

Allahyari has participated in numerous exhibitions around the world, including the Venice Biennale, and shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Queens Museum (NYC), the Pori Museum (Finland), the Ex Teresa Arte Actual museum (Mexico City) and the Frankfurt Museum for Applied Arts.

She co-authored the 3D Additivist Cookbook (published in December 2016) with London-based writer-artist Daniel Rourke. Together, they coined the term “additivism” – a combination of the words ‘additive’ and ‘activism’ – to describe the use of 3D printing and technology to preserve cultures and heritage.

“She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’Jooj Ma’Jooj,” at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, ends July 16.