Morehshin Allahyari, Moon-Faced, 2022

In ancient Persian literature, ماه طلعت (Moon-faced) was a genderless adjective used to define beauty in both men and women. In contemporary Iran, it refers to the beauty of women only. Something similar happened, in the world of images, to the Qajar dynasty portrait paintings: the modernization of Iran, the influence of the European tradition of realistic painting, and the use of camera technology and therefore photography as a model, overshadowed and ended the queer representation of genders that historically characterized these paintings, largely known for their gender-undifferentiation. For her project, “ماه طلعت، Moon-faced,” Allahyari uses a carefully researched and chosen series of keywords with a multimodal AI model to generate a series of videos from the Qajar Dynasty painting archive (1786-1925). Through this collaboration, the machine program learns to paint new genderless portraits, in the effort to undo and repair a history of Westernization that ended the course of nonbinary gender representation in the Persian visual culture. The installation is accompanied by music composed by Mani Nilchiani.

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