Words about M.
by Kathrin Becker

In the video i? (2004) by Shahram Entekhabi appears for the first time the character of the so called Migrant, which becomes, from that moment on, an important factor in his artistic work. the character, represented by Entekhabi himself, wears a cheap suit, a buttoned up shirt and cheap old-fashioned shoes. Through a conscious gesture Entekhabi adopts in this way certain attributes which characterise the figure as belonging to the so called group of “guest-workers” as they have been recruited in germany since the economy miracle of the 50s.

At the same time Entekhabi carries to the excess the figure in slapstick manner by freezing his face in an inexpressive statics, using a special make-up and also giving his ambulation a strange unarticulated character through rolled-up-at-high-watermark trousers, which remind of film characters of the 20s, as Buster Keaton for example.

In this way Entekhabi refers to the past, but at the same time he lets act the character in an absolutely contemporary and actual situation. In a certain way he opens up the question about how the image of the guest-worker in the western society has changed or if it is not rather subordinated to an extreme static situation. By representing this character himself, as Iranian citizenship living in Berlin for more than 20 years, he thematizes the complex and dichotomic relationship of the self-perception and how others perceive you, the question about seeing and being seen.

In his newest works Entekhabi has split up the character of the migrant – like in the case of a multiple personality disorder – and has developed new versions of the figure radicalising his initial concept. Representing the cliché imagination of migrants he aims to hold a mirror before us and reflect the negative conceptions of chauvinism, terrorism and criminality which have been cultivated in many cases in the western society – particularly after 9/11.
At the same time the aggression potential which emerges from the characters is sometimes considerable. For example Mladen, which acts like the prototype of a Balkanic procurer, limits to threatening gestures, handling a claps knife on the street.

The Islamic Star as a version of the orthodox Muslim goes on public street and wears a green Islamic star stitched on his shirt which carries the letter “M” and remind of the obligation of identification through the “Jewish star” for Jewish believers in the Nazi Germany.

By playing these characters himself, Entekhabi dislocates their aggressive potential, which they communicate us through their latent threat, on himself. Through the personification of the clichés which are object of social attention emerges the aspect of the auto aggression and self mortification. According to this “Mehmet”, who looks like the stereotype of an affiliated of the Kurdish workers' party PKK, pours on himself benzine at a tram stop and lights a match as a act of total self-immolation.

The work Miguel assumes an exceptional position in the complex of works of Entekhabi. The character reminds of a Guerilla-combatant, his clothes correspond to those of a paramilitary, his full beard characterises him as anti-western. While starring at the camera, holding a cigar in the mouth and loading his Revolver, Miguel bursts out laughing, becoming louder and louder during the film. He grabs at his pocket and takes out a hand grenade like one of those that have been often used by suicide bomber since the Second World War. He pulls the splint and throws the bomb on the floor with a careless gesture, starting so the deferment which anticipates the detonation. Alluding to the parallelism of concepts of detonating a bomb and lighting a cigar, Miguel pulls out a match and lights his cigar. He takes a deep puff. He exhales the smoke laughing. The image blurs.

While the external aspect of Miguel characterises him as coming from the Middle East and as an affiliated of armed link guerilla groups like for example the Fadayan, fighting against the Shah at the end of the 70s in Iran together with radical Muslims, his Spanish name and the Cigar draw him rather nigh to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. In the complex of figures with whom Entekhabi operates this is the first time that he abandons for the first time the Islamic culture. Also the formal realisation of the video assumes an exceptional position: while “Mehmet”, Mladen and Islamic Star” suit also from a mere external point of view in our image world and are active on the street landscape, Miguel is isolated in an interior room. Besides Miguel is in direct eye contact with the camera and with the viewer. In this way the documentary dimension is put on the back burner, while at the same time the “being-done” character of the video is accentuated. The essential thing here is that auto-aggression and aggression against third party is more or less equal in a kind of inversion of the social process according to which the perception of immigrants by others is loaded with prejudice, because lighting a hand grenade in an act of suicidal attack includes affirmatively that a third party is damaged.

In this sense Entekhabi includes directly the viewer and creates an ulterior layer of contact through his laugh, as laugh is a means of communication which serves to wake up certain emotions in the opponent and aims directly to the unconsciousness, as revealed in particular by the newest psychological research. So Entekhabi uses the loud laugh in order to dupe the victim and create a connection between the aggressors. The game with violence of Entekhabi remains though on the layer of the suggestion, as his grenades don't detonate, his benzine don't explode in flames. The means of video rather offers him the possibility of reacquiring his own image which has been taken from him through the social stigmatization of himself as a “migrant”.

Text: Kathrin Becker
Kathrin Becker    Berlin based curator and writer.
From 2001 to 2019 she worked as a curator, managing director and head of the Video-Forum at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.).
From February 2020, she works as the artistic director oft the KINDL – Center for Contemporary Art , Berlin, Germany.