SADEGH TIRAFKAN at A Space Gallery (401 Richmond West, #110), part of the Images Festival, to April 22. 416-979-9633. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Every man ought to be a macho, macho man. To live a life of freedom, machos make a stand. So said the Village People, but despite the rainbow of manly flavours they came in, the question remains: what makes a man in other cultures?
In Sadegh Tirafkan 's show Manhood, a series of sharp digital prints and a video offer a view of masculinity in Persian culture. The Iranian photographer shoots in a zor khaneh, a traditional men's gym, where men don a red sash called a lo-ng and wrestle bare-chested. One image captures five young men posing with dangerous-looking traditional body-building equipment. In the foreground, three men, one with a very serious look on his mustachioed face, bend one knee while the other two spar behind them.
In Sacrifice, the sober video projection, an older and a younger man grapple against the sound of their skin slapping. In a reference to the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, the older of the two holds a knife to the younger man's throat.
The most intriguing photographs feature the artist himself covering his head and torso with his bright red lo-ng in various poses. Here, manliness itself is called into question as Tirafkan employs the crimson fabric of Persian manhood to explore traditionally female hiddenness, sensuality and vulnerability.
It's easy to forget that Tirafkan's work carries a political charge in Iran, where images of the body and even the zor khaneh tradition are all but verboten by the ruling religious fundamentalists.
This work could never hang in a public institution in Tehran.
Which brings us back to the Village People. More than just an intriguing look at a Persian tradition, these works take a stand for artistic freedom.