Growing up in the 90s, my childhood obsession with a much-loved, bitten, and bashed-about batman figurine was somewhat of a running joke. Batman accompanied me to nursery, to school, to christenings and even funerals, “nananananana BATMAN!” cried a miniature version of me, beaming amongst the pews of mourning relatives. But Batman soon gave way to Barbie and as the years passed by I began wishing not for Batman's lycra, but for Barbie's long blonde hair and a hot pink convertible.
As a half-Iranian girl growing up in rural North Wales, there was more I lacked in common with my inanimate idols than a driving licence and enviable outfits. Batman and Barbie did not have names that teachers mispronounced on the register. They were aesthetically fair. Their grandmas did not periodically turn eastwards, adjusting their prayer mats to face Mecca. And, so far as I could tell, their clothes did not smell of the delicious green herbs that make up ghorme sabze.
Perhaps it was this upbringing — this cultural clash so dramatised by academics such as Samuel P. Huntington and his ‘Clash of Civilisations’, or the British TV soaps in which a young muslim woman in love faces the wrath of her foreign family — that makes the work of Melodie Hojabr Sadat so striking to me, that makes me feel so very seen and so very at home.
Born in Paris in 1989, Hojabr Sadat was uprooted to her parent’s homeland of Iran as a teenager and lived there for seven years. Her movement between these two geographical spaces has had a huge influence on her work which invokes both abstract illustrative styles popular with contemporary Western artists alongside Iranian symbolism and stylistic elements which hark back to her (and my) country of heritage.
Featuring my beloved Batman, Persian Style is a Hojabr Sadat print which in one fell swoop summons meme-culture, traditional Persian miniature art, and playful abstract line drawing. By merging these influences she shows how her cultural inheritances combine rather than clash; they create rather than collide. In this way she presents a rare, non dramatised view of a cultural reality in which I share.
With three dancing Batmans emerging from a forest of green creatures, faces and figures, the piece is emblematic of the complex, bright and whimsical ways in which mixed racial identities manifest. Batman swiftly delivers me to my childhood in Britain, all while the Persian miniature influence transports me to my Iranian family member’s homes, replete with miniature wall hangings, geometric clocks and tablecloths, in Tehran.
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Nostalgie, another of Hojabr Sadat’s prints, features Superman in another guise. With a traditional Iranian man’s name, the artwork features the all-American superhero’s Middle Eastern alter ego: Super Rostam. This invented character is central to the piece, leaving us wondering why a brown and bearded Iranian Superman is at both times comical and poignant. I had been so used to seeing Middle Eastern men portrayed as villains that the image jolted me into an instant reimagining of my own community and our place in the eyes of the West.
Despite progress, our perception of ourselves as Middle Easterners in Europe is vociferously tainted by the images we are fed by popular culture and tarnished by the dominant narrative of whiteness as heroism and goodness.
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What if, instead of Batman or Barbie I had a Super Rostam (or even Super Rana) figurine growing up? Nostalgie, with its pomegranates, persian script, Zoorkhaneh clubs and Iranian architecture, is a sharp nod to the rich culture of my father’s homeland. But the print, with a reimagined DC Comics character as the central focus, feels like a small piece of my British home too.
Hojabr Sadat’s art helps me reconcile the shifting understandings I have of my own cultural dualities and both the beauty and heartache they bring. The French-Iranian artist has a way of touching on issues that cut to the bone of the discrimination faced by Iranian diasporic communities, while at once showing her audience that being Iranian and French (or in my case, Iranian and British) can be confusing and contradictory, but, that contrary to popular belief, it is beautiful, heartwarming and mostly — a lot of fun.