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  • Of Shifting Shadows
  • Mike Leggett
Of Shifting Shadows by Gita Hashemi. Exisle Creations, Toronto, Canada, 2000. CD-ROM. Available from lt;> or through InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre.

That intimate space existing between a book and its reader, the computer monitor and its viewer are locations where intense feelings of both attraction and revulsion occur, amplified by the physical proximity of the events depicted on the screen and on the page. This intimacy is completely separated from the real events occurring around the subject who is so immersed—sunlight dapples the grass in the garden, kids play in a neighbor's house, as on-screen people are bound in white sheets, buried up to their waists in the ground and then stoned by a convulsive mob.

Of Shifting Shadows takes us back more than 20 years to the trauma of the Iranian Revolution and, in trying to recover the complexities of events, relates the unseen effects on individuals to the present day—the status of exile, banishment from one's country of birth and culture, the lot of a forced nomad seeking hospitality and protection in a country of refuge. The stories of three women are related here, with the artist Gita Hashemi adding her voice and multimedia-authoring talents. The narrative is constructed in 48 segments, layered with video, audio, animated text and graphics, combining original and reconstructed material in English and Farsi.

Movement through the work has both a symmetry and an element of chance well suited to the need to bear witness in a cultural context hybridized by personal histories. The three identities remain anonymous; they do not address us directly but instead use allusion and poetic forms, all speaking with the same voice (that of Hashemi). Each introduces a segment with video, maybe taken from news archives of the time or cut with street scenes of urban Canada (where the women now reside) or of a performer—a dancer gestures with hand signals, indicating a contemporary presence. At the completion of the segment, a window opens, where either a word-phrase collage echoes some of the spoken pieces or documents of the time brief us on the sequence of historical events.

The events, which continue to reverberate today, were the beginning of the most recent phase of Islam reasserting its authority. Marxists and fundamentalists joined forces to depose the Shah, the puppet of the West and its oil interests, maintaining Iran as a bulwark to communism to the north and east. We are reminded of one of the slogans of the time—"Neither the East, Nor the West / Islam is Best"—which eventuated in the Ayatollah Khomeini being returned from exile in 1979 to inspire and help install the religious state, kill or eject hundreds of thousands of erstwhile allies and, in short order, commence a 6-year war with neighboring Iraq, which was to kill millions and impoverish the survivors.

Women, including those represented in Of Shifting Shadows, were at the forefront of the Iranian Revolution. However, with the eventual victory of the fundamentalists, they were also the victims, required to wear the sadi veil and, in transgression of aspects of the Koran, punished through public floggings and death by stoning. I remember that at the time these were lead stories in news bulletins, but nothing as callously brutal as the footage displayed here was ever allowed to drive home the horror of the scene nor the terror that this instilled in the Iranian female population.

For refugees from this terror, survival in the appeal courtrooms and tribunals of cold northern climes became the raison d'etre. Time to meditate, for survivors (and for the subject navigating this work), upon the dualities of presence and absence, singularity and plurality, origins, territories, histories and memory—"The story is the nomad's arrival." As we navigate through this piece, we move like nomads around this place of images and sounds, locating the place where we can arrive at an understanding of the depth of these experiences, their impact upon individuals, their effect upon the social structure of local and national communities across the globe.

Of Shifting Shadows deals with transitory realities as they pass...


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