Fifteen Twice

Quiet Invasion 4 - by Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi

Quiet Invasion 4 – by Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi

“Home away from home” is a concept familiar to many. Rooted in the Greek word Apoikia in relation to the European colonies established throughout and since the 15th century (Pauker), it has evolved over the centuries and come to transcend the originally Colonial sense of the word in various ways. One way one can inhabit a “home away from home” is through displacement. Displacement is a multifaceted and multilayered phenomena with layers and sides that remain rather opaque, unrepresented and unacknowledged. To me, and I would like to speculate many others, displacement comes with a piled mass of the unentitled, the intangible and the unspoken. One that I have to this day struggled to label and make sense of throughout the second half of my life as an immigrant, mostly in my own headspace, trying to accept and embrace it, at times, as a part of where I live; dismissing it, at others, as a self-indulgent, nostalgic and convenient subversion to the conventional norms of my new home; and finally, one that I will begin to unpack on my thought paper – equipped with new tools of analysis. A pivotal theme, I expect the notion of paradox to continually come up as I weave the multiplying, sometimes contradicting questions in my head to the wealth of readings I can draw from, contemplate the irony behind having found validation to an inner conflict through the very apparatus I longed to question, and tie this all into a navigation of one of my favourite contemporary artists Hedieh Ilchi’s painting titled ‘Quiet Invasion 4’.

Displacement is a widespread phenomena. As Magnolia states in her lecture on post-colonialism, “in many ways the displacement and reconfigurations of diasporic identities characterize the contemporary global landscape.” As diverse as this experience can be, losing one’s voice is perhaps one of the common realities of migration. Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci defines his coined term ‘Subaltern’ as the person “socially, politically and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure. He goes on to consider such individuals as “subordinated groups [lacking] the unity and organization [literacy, education and economics] of those in power.” (Pauker) In an attempt to “understand the power and continued dominance of Western ways of knowing,” the post-colonial theory acknowledges that “in order to be heard, the subaltern must adopt Western thought, reasoning and language.” (Pauker) Spivak, similarly, holds that subalterns have no way of speaking since they “can never express their own reasoning, forms of logic or knowledge, [rather] they must conform their knowledge to Western ways of knowing, speaking and listening.” (Pauker)

In the artist statement shared on her website, Ilchi touches on her preoccupation with “the notion of duality [as an] ongoing necessity [for her] to comprehend [her] multifaceted cultural identity as an Iranian-American immigrant.” (Ilchi) “My paintings function as metaphors for the complexities that emanate from such polarized cultural experiences,” she goes on to share. (Ilchi) Her fascinating synthesis of the abstract conventions of the Western contemporary art demonstrated through the explosive and dripping paint patterns and the meticulous ornamentations of the Persian art of ‘Tazhib’ directly translatable as the “art of illumination” through what she calls the “contemplative precisions of the hand”, (Ilchi) creates an elaborate contrast that effectively symbolizes the paradox present in the shared experience of migration.

Ilchi’s choice of title for this work, as well as her decision to allow the white and grey paint to bubble up unrestrainably to stain and erode the intricate patterns can be read as a commentary on non-European traditions that are rapidly fading, giving way to the dominating, modern and ever changing conventions of the Western world, largely perpetuated by the various forms of social and mass media stretching across the globe.

Another observation one can make is that the paint patterns seem to be bringing some texture to the otherwise flat scenery of the image presented and in doing so present an edge. So, while the vibrant, recurring patterns are made to come across as soulful, reassuringly stable and more intelligible, the loose paint blotches manage to introduce a multidimensional appeal to the experience, standing out to dominate by implying to possess advanced characteristics. This inevitably reminds me of Frantz Fanon’s observation on Colonialism. In his book ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, the Martinique psychiatrist and revolutionary psychologically analyses the ways in which Colonialism “induces the black man to adopt white ways, […] enforcing an internalized sense of inferiority and in suppressing native traditions and histories.” (Pauker)

Furthermore, looking at the surgical colour palette employed in the creation of the paint stains in ‘Quiet Invasion 4’, the colour white may be acting as a reference to the process of ‘whitewashing’. This reading fits the central and considerable space the foamy fluid occupies, in relation to the way in which the traditional illustrations are being ‘drowned’ or pushed to the margins. This is reminiscent of the homogenizing effect of ‘multiculturalism’ covered in our Post-colonialism lecture which considers that “multiculturalism may in fact erase real differences in terms of experience, history and social understanding,” (Pauker) undermining the diverse cultural identities through  tokenism and creating an environment where the pressure to fit in and belong leaves society members as either homogenized masses or marginalized, alienated ‘others’.

Combined with the white and milky patches, the grey/ silver shades in Ilchi’s work can represent the shine (appeal) and reflection (superficiality) of modern phenomena such as scientific and technological progressions. In fact, one can argue the paint patches’ resemblance to foggy, rapidly spreading clouds of smoke from what is portrayed as an explosion can be a reference to weapon’s of mass destruction and, by extension, all acts of war and Imperialism that bring about human suffering and destruction.

As my thoughts pause to rest within the confines of this paper, I remain torn in several ways. I have now traced and can acknowledge the cognitive dissonance resulting from how I am a subject to and, as Althusser puts it (53), have become interpellated into the Western way of logic and analysis. I am, in a way, empowered – equipped with clear, concise and intelligible theories and terminologies, to address notions of marginalization and disempowerment within a racial and diasporic context. Keeping bell hooks’ observations in mind (20), I will walk away more vigilant of how I am situated not only to be dominated but to dominate in my own capacity and therefore exert a degree of influence on others’ quality and experience of life.

Utilizing this mode of discourse within the “Ideological State Apparatus” (Althusser 51) of an Emily Carr course paper to tackle the less visible corners of displacement, cultural domination, as well as the loss of voice and identity, I wonder if this makes me an ‘ex-subaltern’? As fulfilling as it feels to begin to adopt this mode of inquiry and expression, and as tirelessly as I have worked to earn it through what has sure been an intensely fast-paced course, does this new found voice belong to me? Can I add to this body of understanding the pieces it is missing? Would Foucault’s notion of the “author function” (۹۲۴) play a part in the space my contribution will occupy? Does my finding this Western mode of knowledge a refreshing new privilege stand to contradict post-colonialism? Am I subjugated to the Eurocentric gaze and is this new mode in fact functioning to sustain me as a subject? Could I have found such a voice in my own natural mode of communication? What does this tell me about my own views on dominance and of those not fully fluent in asserting themselves? Is a part of me entitled to value purity over hybridity? Does adapting to and surviving/ growing (depending on one’s resources/ privileges) in a foreign setting truly as fulfilling of a life experience as thriving on one’s own roots and identity? Can it distract and hinder one’s life trajectory towards their full potential? Can Spivak’s notion of double displacement (1121) and hooks’ emphasis on the “eradication of all forms of domination” (۱۹) be combined and extended to address the oppression of displaced individuals that also happen to be coping with mental disabilities?

I remain torn on how I would answer these questions and many more. And I remain torn, as a composite, “split subject” (Pauker), for I have lived thirty years, only to turn fifteen twice.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1970)” A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, eds. Antony Easthope and Kate McGowan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988. 50-57. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. PDF.

Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” Art in Theory. Eds. C. Harrison and P. Wood. London: Blackwell, 1992. 923-928. Rpt. in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2015. PDF.

hooks, bell. “feminism: a transformational politic,” Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, (Boston: Between the Lines, 1989), 18-27. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. PDF.

Javanshir Ilchi, Hedieh. “Artist Statement.” N.p., n.d. Web. <

Pauker, Magnolia. Forum 6: Postcolonialism/Otherness/Alterity Lecture. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. audio file.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorti. Who Claims Alterity (1989), Art in Theory, 1119-1124. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. PDF.


Postcolonialism, Orientalism, Otherness

In his book ‘Orientalism’ Edward Said expands upon the Eurocentric, white male perspective on the postcolonial subject of the Oriental as one that has “centuries of experience and no wisdom” (۶۴) and belongs “to the system of rule,” that ensures, as one “ignorant of self-government” not to be left independent. (63) Said touches on the “primitiveness” of this state as a “reductive definition”, one that gives the subject “an aura of apartness, definiteness, and collective self-consistency such as to wipe out any traces of [individual] narratable life histories.” (۶۴)

As for Spivak, she describes what she introduces as the “disenfranchised female in decolonized space” as “an object of knowledge [and] a native-informant style subject of oral histories who is patronizingly considered incapable of strategy towards us”. (۱۱۲۱) Spivak further “references the diasporic, post-colonial as slippery and ever-evolving subject position.” (Pauker)


Orientalism – According to Edward Said Orientalism “is a system of representation famed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later Western empire. Said states that “Orientalism is a school of interpretation whose material happens to be the Orient, its civilizations, peoples, and localities. (60)

Alterity – Alterity is “the state of being different” or the state of otherness with English derivatives such as the words alternate, alteration or the alter ego. (Pauker)

Gendered Subaltern – The gendered subaltern is one that is “doubly displaced” due not only to its cultural position but also its gender. The subaltern in general is a notion introduced by the Italian Marxists Antonio Gramsci. It refers to the “politically uncoordinated popular masses [or] subordinated groups [lacking] the unity and organization, [as well as the literacy, knowledge and economic means] of those in power.” (Pauker) According to Spivak, furthermore, the subaltern does not have a voice of its own, as, for it to be heard and understood, it first needs to be interpellated into and adopt the Western knowledge and mode of discourse. (Pauker)

As to how I view and understand myself in a postcolonial subject position, I can best relate my overall experience to the notion of Logocentrism. In her audio lecture, Magnolia talks about Spivak and her view on power being “harnessed when complexity and readability are made accessible through logocentrism”- the notion of language holding the ultimate authority. (Pauker) While I am sure this complex premise requires much more exploration and deciphering on my part, I can recall countless instances where I have come across as righteous, credible or worthy of being heard, only as a result of adopting the relevant mode of communication. What is interesting is that I have been reluctant to question this reality until now, dismissing the inner voice that questioned the unworthiness of those not versed enough to have a voice.

Works Cited

Edward Said, from Orientalism (۱۹۷۸), in A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, 59-65

Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, Who Claims Alterity (۱۹۸۹), Art in Theory, 1119-1124

Pauker, Magnolia. Forum 6: Postcolonialism/Otherness/Alterity Lecture. Rpt in SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. audio file.




 While bell hooks acknowledges the importance of addressing patriarchy and sexual oppression as one of the earliest forms of domination one comes to encounter, learn and accept within the family as “the most intimate sphere of relations,” (۲۱) her stance on feminism goes beyond asserting the “simplistic notion” of man and woman as the enemy and the victim respectively. (20)

As an African American woman of the working class raised in the white-supremacist United States (20), bell hooks stands to challenge the proposition that the issue of gender inequality – most commonly promoted by the privileged, white women of the middle class – takes precedence over or is the root for other forms of domination, be it classism, racism or the even less visible discrimination on the basis of ability.

She further shines light on the fact that focusing solely “on patriarchal domination [… can become] the means by which women deflect attention from the real conditions and circumstances of our lives […, or] cooperate in suppressing and […] inhibiting our capacity to assume responsibility for transforming ourselves and [our] society.” (۲۰)

As a middle class female and first generation immigrant, I find hooks’ viewpoints on this topic refreshingly authentic and tangible. In fact, I have rarely come across anything I have so intimately identified with. Hooks’ essay states facts that, while quite real, have, for the most part, stayed invisible and in the shadows, perhaps overpowered and itself dominated by what she calls the ‘false consciousness’(۲۰).

Furthermore, pondering over this essay made me recall an old artwork of mine that came about quite naturally a few years back in response to the assigned topic of feminism and ’gender relationships’. I remember my first instinct was a sharp urge to refuse focusing on the gap between the two genders, and I expressed what felt at the time like a barely developed, politically incorrect statement in the form of the artwork I have attached below.

At the beginning of her essay, Bell hooks points to the “insistence on difference […] which becomes the occasion for separation” (۱۹). “To understand domination”, she goes on to say, “we must understand that our capacity as women and men to be either dominated or dominating is a point of connection, of commonality.” (۲۰) It is only with this awareness that we can achieve a higher level of solidarity and of course remain true to the belief that one’s gender does not define his or her capabilities, humanness or moral tendencies. Sharing this underlying belief was perhaps what informed my own choice to pull a piece of the shiny screen aside, perhaps to show the true circumstances surrounding the women holding the gender equality boards.

Works Cited

bell hooks, “feminism: a transformational politic,” Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, (Boston: Between the Lines, 1989), 18-27.



the cumulative-oriented, uncertain mind

that’s precisely what makes me who I am, with a circle this small, wings obviously so short, and a mind so severely self-censoring,

staying where no one else perhaps would, persevering for way longer than anyone perhaps should,

does that make me dormant, naive and unambitious, insecure or broken, pathetic? obsessive, unintelligent, dumb or weak, severely lacking self respect? there is no end to the list of reductionist labels that intimidate and yet, scream ‘valid’.

Or can it be instead that I’m single-hearted and affectionate, worthy of my human label?

Now, how do I explain my tendency to be  so indecisive and unassertive, is that to be blamed on poor self esteem? lack of vision?

Or is it perhaps proof of how small and unaware one is in the grand scheme of the universe and everything it carries within its past, present and entire shimmering existence,

why have I been molded into an explanation machine? To constantly bear the pressure of  thinking critically, articulating my ideas, defending my tendencies. turn into a self-critical trainwreck  heading for its explosion.

I will certainly keep floating, uncertain,  unsettled, always searching.

let that keep me a lost stranger.