Presence of an Absence

Samira Hodaei
November 19  —  December 17, 2021

“Presence of an Absence” is a series of installations that began with collecting gloves of oil-refinery workers, and setting them on the façade of the Abadan Apprentice Training Center Museum in the spring of 2019. Later on, it developed into putting the installation up on the exteriors of buildings related to oil and its history. Aiming at reviving the largely unnoticed role of workers in the oil industry, each version of the installation has sought to underline one aspect of the long history of oil in Iran. Now as a semblance of normalcy has returned, the space of Pasio has turned into a new setting for the fifth incarnation of the installation; a space that seeks to exhibit installation works and is meant to go beyond the conventional shows inside four white walls.

The installation consists of nothing more that used safety work gloves, a pile of cloths, yarn, and a little blackness. For Samira, the story is quite different though: she was born in the land of oil and lived as a child in its illusive shadow, witnessing thousands of workers that hoped to share in the benefits of their years of hard work in the dark labyrinths of oil refineries. The coalescence of the gloves is a thread-like symbol for the enormous chasm between the oil’s deceptive fantasy and people’s empty plates. There is a hidden contradiction woven into this simple, seemingly insignificant object: work gloves are supposed to help workers, turning oil into bread, not only for them but for all people. When the balance is disrupted, the old glove becomes a metaphor for hard, pointless labor.

The space of Pasio, which has made the installation look different from its previous renditions, is an appropriate context for Samira to redefine and explore the vast gulf between oil’s reality and dream. By intermingling gloves, workers’ documents, and an oil rig, she seems to place their manual labor against the capitalist system in order to question their relationship. Following the four previous installations, Samira is still seeking to bring back into the space (whether in a gas station at the Darvazeh Dowlat or an art gallery in the city’s uptown) those absent presences, who used to have a share of the space, but their share has been significantly reduced.