Shirin Fathi

The Disobedient Nose

A beauty culture with rigid standards is a source of great pain and hopelessness for many women. In grasping for some sense of agency, an increasing number of young Iranian women resort to cosmetic surgery to modify their faces and their bodies.

In a society where wearing makeup is considered to be immoral, surgical face augmentation has become routine. The forced covering up of the body has intensified the desire to modify visible limbs.

Cosmetic surgery is paradoxical since it promotes control and enforces conformity at the same time. It reconciles the corporeal needs of feeling desirable with collective aspirations for an all-encompassing notion of beauty. 

The first phase of the project started with investigative work where I impersonated a patient and made multiple visits to beauty clinics in Tehran. I made detailed reports of my observations as a patient. These conversations eventually led me to 16th-19th century medical drawings to understand the process of sculpting and altering facial features while imagining the role of the plastic surgeon as an artist.

Through role play and the use of cosmetics and silicone masks made from adjusted casts of my own face, I went through multiple transformations to give a first-person’s account of how it feels to change.

About the Artist

Artist Website

I am an Iranian Canadian multi-disciplinary artist and curator based in London. My practice focuses on cultural changes in relation to gender identity. Through role-play and the use of cosmetics, masks, and prosthetics, I use my body as a subject to stage ambiguous and often marginalized identities. Building upon my recent project focusing on gender representation in the history of cultural exchange between Europe and Iran in 19th century Qajar paintings, my practice examines gender representation in relation to the contemporary culture and beauty ideals imposed on Iranian women through cosmetic surgery. This project has allowed me to work in an interdisciplinary way working with photography, sculpture, installation and performance expanding my artistic practice. 

I am currently a resident artist at Sarabande Foundation established by Lee Alexander McQueen. My work has been featured in the Guardian, BBC, the Observer, the i and the British Journal of Photography. I have shown my work internationally at Gallery 44 in Toronto, with Khoj International Artists’ Association in Delhi and most recently at the new Centre for British Photography in the Headstrong: Women and Empowerment exhibition.