Where’s home?

IRANIANS who fled their homeland during the 1979 Revolution bare their souls in the exhibition Áváreh.

Featuring video art, live performance, audio works, painting and sculpture, the exhibition looks at the emotional disorientation of being an émigré and the contradictions faced by their children.

Áváreh was created by The Second Generation Collective, a group of Iranian artists who left during the Revolution and their children born in WA, including founders Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson and Asha Kiani.

Eshraghian-Haakansson’s mum fled to Australia after being religiously persecuted during the 1979 “Islamic” Revolution, which saw the secular monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi replaced with a theocracy led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“Our parents play a huge role in this exhibition, especially our mothers,” Eshraghian-Haakansson says.

“Navigating themes of grief, loss, longing, nurture, became such a pivotal point in understanding their stories, thus this exhibition became an acknowledgment, a dedication to them.  

“Our parents and elders who fled persecution, who found strength in faith and family, and have showed us the nobility of the human spirit, it became apparent this needed to be heard. 

“We found through this connection – intergenerational love is as potent as the trauma we feel. 

“The art in the exhibition was a direct response from the workshops we hosted during which we heard our parents’ stories and thus, this is their story expressed through our eyes, unified with our second-generation experience.”

The exhibition also reflects the complexities of being a second-generation migrant growing up in Perth.

“Like many second-generation migrants, there is an ever-present push-and-pull of cultures,” Eshraghian-Haakansson says. 

“When your parents speak to you in Farsi, and you ask them to speak in English out of a need to fit in (fish and chips at Cottesloe beach in the summer eased this need to ‘fit in’). 

“We feel difference when the first thing we are asked is ‘Where are you from? No, where are you really from?’.

“Our childhood, place of birth, the passport we hold, our heritage, our social and traditional values, all tie into this conversation.

“This clash between two very distinct cultures is visible yet there is a dialogue in finding ways to unify the two within growing up as Iranian/Persian and Australian.”

When Kiani’s parents arrived in WA more than 40 years ago, the physical dangers of the revolution were replaced by slow-burning psychological ones.

“Our elders have shared the feelings of hope and gratitude they had on arriving to Perth – hope and gratitude that the persecution that had been experiencing, the feelings of fear and hiding would be over and not present in their life anymore,” Kiani says.

“Parallel to this, we learnt about the struggles of assimilating whilst grappling with feelings of ‘otherness’. 

“A common thread seen in their stories is the inherent belief in the oneness of humanity and the embodiment of ‘love thy neighbour’ that they held which helped them adapt to life in Perth as this outlook led to human connections and through connections, we find safety, we learn, we increase empathy, and we feel supported.”

Áváreh is showing at the Pakenham Street Art Space in Fremantle until May 15.

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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