Artist statement

Labkhand (Labbie) Olfatmanesh

Photography creates a variable of distance between the photographer and the subject. It is distancing and drawing near at the same time. Through my work I tell intensely personal and intermingled stories about my subjects, myself and my relationship to identity both in Iran and in the United States. This is a healing methodology expanding from the nature of constriction and expectation in order to mold it towards confrontational vulnerability where I can move beyond identity into larger themes within my practice. Video, performance, sculpture and installation also subsequently follow from this center point. The approaches I take, no matter the medium, have a relationship to this blending which incorporates fictionalized narratives and documentary technique to explore intimacy, humor, psychology, gender, and transitory states that bridge one identity with another.

First, going back: My childhood in Tehran was punctuated by the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War which left its larger social impacts through political, cultural and general familial turmoil among all families in the 1970s and 80s, an environment of absences and the anxieties of ongoing bombings, dramatic social upheaval in the governmental and social transitions, and war.Painting, drawing and sculpting served as a private refuge of open expression as a healing and behavioral therapy.  Our public culture suffered from a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and my father did too, personally and within our socially impacted family unit dynamic roles we fell into: favored son, distant father, distracted mother, and daughter… who was I? I felt alienated from these roles and that I did not belong in either place. 

My practice has grown from these concerns and ideas of inclusion, identity, representation, role playing, gender representation, and art-as-healing. I am most interested in my work relating and honoring uncanny reactions towards unexpected experiences, the places where the unreal becomes real for participants and viewers. Some early projects, such as Inner Demons,my first solo exhibition when l lived in Iran, created a ceremonial space with sculpture and performance with masks, and pyramid and cylindrical forms containing cast resin sections of my body along with the photographic documentation; I researched ritual historical use of masks - how people change their different masks and appear in different situations and set ups based on what is beneficial or safe.

My current (and always evolving) multidisciplinary series Baby-Maybe returns to the body and playfully integrates performance, video, photography, installation, social practice and public participation as a serious self-inquiry as navigated around my own process of deciding whether or not to bear a child in dialogue with issues including immigration, border family separation, economic hardship and sanctions, climate change, resource management and the “pro-life” anti-choice movement. Baby-Maybebegan as photojournalistic street portraits featuring myself, subjects, and willing passersby holding life-like real baby (reborn) dolls of various races, ethnicities and genders to simulate the physical and social outward experience of motherhoodfrom alleyways and streets to grocery stores and cultural landmarks around the world from Tokyo to London to Cyprus to Los Angeles, and I have started collaborating with a Tehran- based journalist to capture interviews with child-free women in Iran between 35-50 while holding life like dolls I have sent to the country as well as developed a friendship with a woman who has been an active participant in the project and suffers from a distinct condition within endometriosis which causes the belly to take on a pregnant-like form, further deepening the conversation to be around reproductive health, misperceptions, and support systems of care. Research, relationship building, self-understanding and interpersonal understanding all come to the forefront within this project.