Growing up in Tehran, Iran, Helia Pouyanfar’s artistic research has focused on reflective objects and our physical relationship to them. Pouyanfar is concerned with the meaning of “being and becoming,” ideas of existence and nothingness, and whether they mean the same thing. She comes to these questions through Sufi influences from her childhood and her experience of traumatic displacement.
Pouyanfar has used mirrors as a mode of research to study the effect of the “in-between”: by hindering its intrinsic purpose, by somewhat covering its surface with materials that obscure its reflective ability; she both include and exclude the viewer at the same time in her works to create a space in between being and non-existence. She covers the mirror with materials that are culturally and historically significant and convey their own meaning to research the idea of looking at oneself through those materials and the effect it might have on one’s image. Pouyanfar veils the mirror to obscure the fully formed reflection and presents a vague, distorted, and unrecognizable reflection of the viewer to offer a liminal space: a place beyond our physical existence where our being can intertwine with the space around us and the borders of our physicality are erased, awaiting their re-creation.
She has studied the concept of liminality in many of her pieces: Reflection, Refraction, Diffraction (or How Come I Still Think You Are There?), Through the Shattered Glass, The Cube, Dissociation, Untitled (Naught), and others, and can trace this concept back to the influence of Sufi existential views, questions about space and negative space, and her personal experiences with displacement and trauma.