Elles font tourner les ciels (They Make Skies Turn)
vidéo, 2023, color, sound, 21 min et 30 s
From November 16, 2023 to January 20, 2024
Dazibao, Montréal

Photos : Dazibao

Leila Zelli is interested in notions of the Other and elsewhere, specifically within the geopolitical terrain commonly but disputably referred to as the Middle East. She creates installations using images, videos, and texts often sourced from the Internet and social media. Reflecting from a position of both distance and belonging, Zelli's work confronts the viewer with a tension between pleasing or so-called beautiful images and the situations of political crisis and resilience with which they are associated.

The artist’s most recent work Elles font tourner les ciels is a montage of videos found on Instagram between 2021 and 2023, the course over which, in Iran and around the world, occurred many acts of protest surrounding the mandated wearing of the hijab and, subsequently, the killing of Mahsa Amini. This shared content, a constellation of moments portraying contemporary Iranian life, is edited together almost compulsively as though on the brink of either disappearance or revolution. In an initially disorienting whirlwind, different scenes come together, at times festive or playful, and at others, as urgent calls for uprising. Collating diversely sourced videos, Zelli employs accumulation to circumvent ambiguity and deliver a narrative of determination, refusal, and the pursuit of freedom. In utilizing the supercut, the artist shifts the meaning of the images. A bucolic portrait of a woman, back towards the camera, running through a stunning landscape as her scarf billows in the wind, re-read through the work’s other sequences, signals the woman’s fear of being recognized and the risk of persecution. The anonymity of those depicted thus becomes an agent of disruption, paralleling the way in which mass uprisings in Iran prevent the regime from targeting individuals, confronted instead with masses that are virtually impossible to control.

While demonstrating social media's capacity as a source of information and, in crises, an invaluable means of communication, Zelli also points to certain paradoxes or reverse effects, seen over the last few decades; namely, social media used for controlling the message, identifying dissidents, and even isolating communities. For her part, Zelli exploits social media and the proximity it affords her, following closely however geographically far. Painting a striking, highly poetic portrait of "Woman, Life, Freedom," the slogan chanted by thousands for over a year, the artist celebrates Iranian women and their traditions, while at the same time challenging the power that restricts the expression of these traditions. Zelli responds to the voices reprimanding women for removing their hijabs with effervescent images of freedom, bodies moving freely, open horizons, an endless sea and an infinite sky.