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part of research The Aesthetic of Censorship


Gallery Feldbusch Wiesner Rudolph




The collection of Modern Art, part of research The Aesthetic of Censorship  2007-2010

Gallery Feldbusch Wiesner Rudolph, 2009 Berlin

The collection of Modern Art, part of research The Aesthetic of Censorship  2007-2010

Gallery Feldbusch Wiesner Rudolph, 2009 Berlin

The collection of Modern Art, part of research The Aesthetic of Censorship  2007-2010

Gallery Feldbusch Wiesner Rudolph, 2009 Berlin

The collection of Modern Art, part of research The Aesthetic of Censorship  2007-2010

Gallery Feldbusch Wiesner Rudolph, 2009 Berlin

The piece consists of a number of reproductions of works of Western art: extracts from books from the library of the University of Fine Art in Tehran, where Leila Pazooki studied painting. It was between 2004 and 2008 during various trips to her native town that she secretly collected the pictures, amongst them Nymphs of the Spring by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Edouard Manet’s Olympia and Ingres’ Violin by Man Ray. The censorship is sometimes brutal here, or awkward where the flat translucent areas of coloured gouache render the “embarrassing” elements of the artwork more obvious and desirable.

Whether it is applied to images from journalism or art, censorship provides a marker for a society’s values, aspirations and taboos. In the sound piece that accompanies the photographs Leila Pazooki gives a voice to an authorized censor, revealing the ideological motivation behind the piece but also the aesthetic choices and techniques that guide these subjective “reworkings”.

And the displacement of these found images effectively puts their status into question, challenging museum conventions and the concept of originality in art. Removed from their political and religious context, these documents become iconic when the artist mounts them in antique gold frames. It is only then, that these images that have been reproduced a thousand times, reveal their unique and singular craftsmanship, as if this gesture was no longer destructive but rather creative.

Irène Burkel /nadour Collection website 
Translated by Theodora Taylor.

The Black Spot

Leila Pazooki’s Aesthetics of Censorship


“What happens, when censorship is extracted from its original context? If, for example you don’t know that the image is a photograph of a page from an art book in a university library, what would you think, which interpretations would you come up with?”

Leila Pazooki*


As a 19-year-old Leila Pazooki had her first exhibition at a gallery in Teheran with photographs of water, called Hydromania, raising the instant attention of famous filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. She moved into the opposite direction, though. Whereas he turned from narrative cinema in feature films like Close Up (1990) or Taste of Cherry (1997) to the depiction of a piece of wood rolling back and forth in the surf at the ocean’s shore in Five (2003), she exchanged these abstract beauties for a more conceptual engagement, enlarging the notion of art to the practice of research as much as to the production of a “piece”. The greater scope under which the artist now works she herself calls “The Aesthetics of Censorship” – a term that might strike you as odd, censorship not being known for its inherent artistic quality but rather the restriction, if not elimination of art. Leila Pazooki, however, takes a more complex point of view. Starting from research in a Teheran art university library she began thinking of “the black spot” as a means that does cover what’s painted over and at the same time develops a life of its own. This black spot does indeed make unseen what’s beneath. The spot itself, however, cannot be made unseen. It is a deliberately open act, not a touch-up.


Moreover what has actually been painted over are works of the Western canon, works that display nudity in different variations. It is here that the multilayered character of “censorship” comes harping back. These books, printed by big time art publishers like Taschen reproduce a handmade – and at the time of its creation quite singular – work of art ten thousands of times, underscoring what Walther Benjamin so aptly called the dialectics of a “Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility”. What the forever unbeknownst censor – he neither has a face nor a name to the beholder of his “art” – does, is a form of re-appropriation of this original work, making it singular again. This is even more evident in the instance of the library having bought more than a single copy of a publication (see image). As all censorship is done by hand, no two pieces will ever be alike, even if the reproduced image is identical in both versions. To proof her point Pazooki goes even further. While to her, being an artist certainly does not mean anymore “to sit down and paint” this is – ironical as it may sound – exactly what the censor does.


What Leila Pazooki metaphorically calls the black spot, very often is more than that. For sure there are simple cases of a black bar covering a woman’s breasts; in most cases though there is a much more sophisticated approach. In the instance of the famous Man Ray image “Ingres’s Violin” (1924) of a woman’s back formed like a violin the censor took the pains to paint a red sleeveless shirt over the skin, even observing a sense of perspective with the different sizes of the shoulder straps (see image). In this instance, by the way, on top of the three-dimensionality one realises there is a fourth dimension: time. There is a clear chronology of censorship. As the red shirt obviously was not enough, at a later stage a black bar was added to completely cover the woman’s bottom.


Much to the dismay of her professors at the University of the Arts in Berlin Leila Pazooki has not restricted herself to pointing the finger at censorship. She contextualises theses acts in the wider context of Western art discourse. After all the books being censored are as often as not publications like “Compendium to Art History” or “Art today” implicating an overview of artistic production while actually reproducing the Western Canon. These books are bought by libraries in the Middle and Far East (I beg your pardon for taking a Western perspective here) for students who read art. In the end, though, the lack of creativity in compiling these books does not fall short of the lack of creativity displayed in the censor’s black bar.


Leila Pazooki takes these works back to where they came from in the first place, as in her recent show in Berlin. Having photographed the censored pages and fitted them into original 18th century wooden frames she found in London, she displays them at the gallery’s walls and in a glass cabinet – which again is an allusion to the Western practice of exhibiting ethnographic items. Over the headphones you can hear the voice of a censor she has interviewed: “It hurts me to disgrace a book, so I try to do as little harm as possible”.


Her approach could be called, to borrow a term from linguistics, “implicature”. She is not interested in straightforward statements – much like a person coming into the room saying “It’s cold in here, isn’t it.” If you get up to close the window, the same person might say. “Oh no, I didn’t mean that, I just mentioned it’s cold.” This can be well observed in her latest work “Pixelation” (see images). You will never know, what was there in the first place, it may be a demonstration or a burning house, but it may as well not. It may be in Teheran, Gaza or Lebanon, but it also may be in New York. These dots might be human beings – the individual being reduced to an unidentifiable pixel – but they might as well be not. As the artist says, at first glance the pixilation may preserve nothing but the rough surface of an image. Nevertheless, the soul will remain inherently present. It’s your job, as the beholder, to get the feeling for it.


Scrutinising censorship to Leila Pazooki is psychoanalysis of society. The black spot – to return to the term we started with – turns the covered item into what Jacques Lacan called an “objet petit a”, something you desire but can never reach. Feelings are covered, but exactly by way of this process they are incited. The covered item becomes an object of the beholder’s fantasy. Much like Courbet’s famous work “The Origin of the World” (1866), which was first bought by the Turkish ambassador to France: He hung it up, but placed a green velvet curtain in front of it. By presenting the absence of the naked body, nudity is never to be seen, but forever to be imagined.


Martin Hager

Martin Hager is an editor and co-founder of the Berlin based cultural agency edition8.



*Quote from: Leila Pazooki, Ästhetik der Zensur. Rezeption abwesender Bilder (The Aesthetics of Censorship. The Reception of Absent Images), 2009