Toronto-based Iranian artist Mahsa Merci’s solo exhibition culminates two years of creation and the examination of the restrictiveness of social norms, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Walking into the exhibition space, one is struck by the sheer range of both scale and media. Human-sized sculptures coexist with tactile paintings and video animation that reinforce the artist’s aim to show different aspects of gender, identity, sexuality, and beauty that upend patriarchal norms through multimedia. One sees portraits depicting members of the LGBTQIA+ community: gender fluid, confident, directly facing the viewer. From the stubble of facial hair to a small tattoo on a forearm, the minute detail draws one in closely and intimately. She recounts what led to this microscopic exploration: “I was staring at myself in the mirror for a long time and touched my face, my skin, my pimples, nose, my lips, my scars. They were me, my beauty and imperfections, a combination of qualities, shapes, colours, and textures.”
Then, there are the disembodied heads: one on a tall transparent pole, another held in a giant hand like a morbid trophy. There is a certain grotesquery, sometimes underlying and sometimes speaking over beauty. Another sculpture head peers into a mirror encircled by a small wax figure. This is not so much about a quick check in a moment of self-consciousness brought on by the onslaught of superficial media images but a portal to the unconscious, to find Merci’s reality of identity—which is never just light and pretty. In witnessing this moment of privacy, of looking in a mirror tone’s one’s inner self, the viewer experiences a fast bond with the artist’s figures and ultimately the artist herself.
Merci invites viewers to come closer, even to touch, and discover the range of emotions her figures convey. Like reading a novel, the viewer follows the characters—interprets them, interacts with them, and ultimately relates to them. Proximity and the permission to touch provide an openness to the viewer that is the cultural exception, reminding us of the safe distance and the non-disclosure the LGBTQIA+ community must often keep, in some cases, simply to stay alive. References to Islamic architecture frame some of the portraits as well, a reminder of both cultural identity and the oppression of LGBTQIA+ cultures in a society in which Merci faced censorship and oppression as an artist and a queer woman
In this exhibition, Merci’s figures are no longer Others in straight society. The exhibition opens boundaries, mixing beauty and the macabre for the sake of reflection rather than spectacle—a dramatic contrast to the spectacular but cold and distant stream of sex and violence that is the internet.
Mahsa Merci, born in 1990 in Tehran, Iran, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Tehran University of Art and a Master of Painting from the University of Manitoba, Canada. She has exhibited her work in over thirty-five solo and group exhibitions in the US, Italy, UAE, India, Cyprus, Canada, and Iran. Her artworks have appeared in a range of visual art publications in Iran, the UK, the US, and Norway.
October 28 - January 15 | 11 AM - 6 PM
165 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V 1C6