Since she moved to Australia in 2009, Iranian-born artist Nasim Nasr has emerged as one of the most distinctive voices of Australia’s contemporary art scene. Although she started out with a focus on painting and drawing, her creative output has been dominated by the mediums of video and photography – a result, she says, of the greater artistic freedom afforded to her as a resident of a more liberal Western country. Within these mediums she excels, producing beautifully poetic and meditative works that are both enchanting and challenging. Echoing the anxieties of her past and present cultures, Nasr’s works resonate with a tension that imbues them with an air of instability and anticipation. Her deliberate acts of ‘censorship’ – cropped torsos, masked faces, isolated hands, and omitted gazes – make her work remarkably enigmatic.

Looking at her oeuvre from 2009 onwards, the unique voice of Nasr’s practice becomes abundantly clear with a desire to inform and inspire, rather than condemn or accuse. She transcends the boundaries of ideology, race, gender, and tradition by using motifs, images, and symbols drawn from both East and West that clearly and fluently communicate a specific idea or concept, but at the same time are open to wider interpretation. Just as importantly, her works are also aesthetically pleasing, opening up a world of mystique and beauty that manifests itself within a framework that addresses some of the most important and pressing issues of our time. The penetrating power of her highly refined practice takes the viewer to unexpected places and creates memories and thoughts that linger for long after.

Do the wonderfully evocative images of her face in the work Forty Pages (2016), gradually becoming blackened with stamps gleaned from her passport allude to state or self-censorship? Are the drum faces printed with Persian calligraphy warnings of impending strife or celebrations of a cultural ritual? Is her grandfather’s use of the Farsi word for “Home” to identify his wife on the back of a passport photo an act of endearing affection or an act of disparaging belittlement? The fluid nature of the questions that are raised by the works in this exhibition exemplifies Nasr’s search for meaning and significance from what is asked rather than what is told, while the dynamism of her pictorial vocabulary testifies to her profound ability to frame images as questions. Working with a visual language that is wonderfully restrained both visually and materially, Nasr teases out and elucidates the often-dichotomous threads of the human condition, with an elegance, intelligence, honesty, and imaginativeness, that is rare.

Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art critic, and head of Visual Arts at BLOUIN ARTINFO.

“In my grandparents’ 1950s photo album, there is a passport photo of two female family members—with the word manzel written on the back. This refers to the habit of a man, in public, calling his wife— manzel (home), rather than by their name.

In The Home, The Habit, I am presenting a series of photographs with the Farsi words manzel (home) and adat (habit) digitally drawn and laser etched into them.

This series relates not only to my homeland but also this way of referring to married women during 1950s and 1960s. In this context, ’the home‘ relates to everything one man had (property, wife, children, etc.).”

- Nasim Nasr, 2017