Artist Interview: The Safarani Sisters on Performance Art

Performance art is a form of fine art that has had a notable role in many artistic movements in the twentieth century. It has been a way to express ideas without the limitations presented by traditional two- and three-dimensional mediums, vital to radical artistic movements and conveying emotional and political messages.

The Safarani Sisters are twins hailing from the University of Tehran in Iran who are completing their graduate studies in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Northeastern University. They are traditionally trained painters who began exploring new mediums, which led them to video and eventually, performance. In 2015, they performed Cocoon in the Plaza Black Box at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The Safarani Sisters performing "Cocoon" at the Boston Center for the Arts

The Safarani Sisters performing "Cocoon" at the Boston Center for the Arts

In this interview, they explain the reason an artist may choose the medium of performance, and what we, as the audience, can experience with a performance that is unique to other forms of art.

How did you transition from traditional painters to performance artists?

We did our undergrad in the University of Tehran. During that time we were helping other people with their performances in the theatre department. Because we were painters, we could do painting for scenes and décor.

We started doing more experimental work from there. Then when we came [to Boston], we incorporated video with painting. Because we had some background in performance and video art, we started making our own individual videos. We did a performance called “Cocoon”, and it was very successful, which encouraged us to do more with performance and video art.

What was the story of Cocoon?

Cocoon is the story of a person who turns into herself, like a butterfly forming in a cocoon. She is tangled inside her apartment—all of the shots are inside of her room. She doesn’t want to come out because she doesn’t want to contact the world around her before learning who she is through herself.

We made a video of this, and with ourselves as the subject. The video is about one hour, and we performed it in a black box in the Boston Center for the Arts. We had live music—six musicians watching the video and playing impromptu. On the stage, we were both sitting and sewing a very long tulle as if it is the cocoon she is sewing for herself, and at the end of the video I started to wrap my sister in that tulle on stage. Because we are twins, people will think that these two subjects of the performance are one subject, which means that I have been sewing this cocoon for myself, and at the end I wrap it around myself.

Why did you choose to tell this story through performance?

We didn’t want to do a performance just to do a performance; we thought that the most effective way to tell our story was by performing it. The subject is the most important thing you have to think about. What form of art can tell that story better? We still do painting and videos, but when we have a subject that we can’t do through painting or video, we do performance. We think that there are different forms of art, and everything is meant for a specific statement.


You also have to know the audience in the context. What makes performance different is that when we were performing in the black box, the audience was very engaged with what was happening on the stage. We created an atmosphere of a very dark place that people could imagine that they were also within. It was more mental. The concept was “cocoon”, so we thought if we performed that in a black box, people would feel like they were also in a cocoon, and could better understand the subject.

The Safarani Sisters performing Orpheus (2010)

The Safarani Sisters performing Orpheus (2010)

What draws you to performance art as a medium?

It’s a temporary context: a specific moment for the audience to experience a personal connection. There was a moment in our performance of Cocoon that was fifteen minutes, only me and my sister gazing at each other—a connection that could not be captured. Sharing and engaging the audience in this creates a beautiful moment with them. Then that moment disappears when the performance is over.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?

We have another video performance coming up that is different from Cocoon, called The Extent, which we are hoping to get a venue for. The video is almost complete; it is filmed in Iran. The Extent continues from Cocoon and follows the narrative of the same character. The subject of Cocoon was a woman who turned to herself in order to know herself without being distracted by the world. In The Extent she comes out of her cocoon and walks to explore the world. She is upset to find that life is a short journey just from womb to tomb.  Thousands of questions come to her mind regarding the fact that people are fighting on the earth, and for what reasons. To depict this narrative, we have filmed the subject in two different places. One is the cemetery where there are thousands of empty tombs waiting to be filled with people, and the other is the roof of a building where the texture of other buildings looks like the cemetery, filled with the people who are going to fill the tombs. Birth to death is just a moment between womb and tomb, and it is never worth depriving each other of this beautiful moment just to have a bit more space to stand.

Come meet the Safarani Sisters and view their video paintings at the opening for Abigail Ogilvy Gallery's group show, Dualisms on Friday, March 4, 2015 from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016: Puloma Ghosh