Sheida Soleimani (b. 1990) is the daughter of political refugees who were persecuted by the Iranian government in the 1980s. Soleimani received her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and her BFA from the University of Cincinnati, College of Art. Recent solo exhibitions include Ghostwriter at Providence College Galleries, Providence, USA (2022); Hotbed at Denny Dimin Gallery, New York, USA (2020); 8 ball Zine Zone at MoMA PS1, New York, USA (2017). Her exhibition Medium of Exchange, travelled to seven different locations: Edel Assanti, London, UK (2018); Atlanta Contemporary, Atlanta, USA (2018); Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, USA (2018); CUE Art Foundation, New York, USA (2018); Southern Utah Museum of Art, Cedar City, USA (2019); Library Street Collective, Detroit, USA (2019) and Harlan Levey Projects, Brussels, Belgium (2020). Upcoming solo exhibitions include Negotiators at Kunsthaus Photoforum Pasquart, Biel, Switzerland (2022); Levers of Power at Harlan Levey Projects, Brussels, Belgium (2023). Soleimani has been written about in The New York Times, Artforum, Hyperallergic and The Brooklyn Rail, amongst many others. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA.
RESIDENCY: 25 SEPTEMBER 2021 - 27 MAY 2022
EXHIBITION: 28 MAY - 28 AUGUST 2022
Castello San Basilio is pleased to announce Pillars of Industry, a solo show by Iranian-American artist Sheida Soleimani. This is the artist’s first exhibition in Italy, produced in collaboration with Edel Assanti.
The title Pillars of Industry references, on the one hand, Basilicata’s historical prominence, bearing witness to Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Norman civilizations, amongst many others. On the other hand, it alludes to ILVA, Italy’s largest and most pollutive steel plant. Located in the nearby city of Taranto, the factory accounts for a large portion of Italy’s steel production.
ILVA has been Soleimani’s principal focus of research during her residency at Castello San Basilio. Its runoff and emissions, including large amounts of dioxin, have caused untold harm to the local population leading to high incidences of cancer and respiratory complications. Local agriculture has also suffered. Beyond its effect on the region, the plant has been found to be one of the EU’s top CO2 emitters. Being an important employer in a region struggling with high levels of joblessness, and a key exporter of steel internationally, its economic relevance extends beyond the region and even beyond Italy’s borders, making it difficult for national authorities to enforce environmental regulations.
The exhibition presents five new photographic still lifes that address ILVA’s impact on the territory. Soleimani’s engagement with social identities and systems of oppression is an ongoing theme in her practice. Juxtaposing images of the steel plant to Basilicata’s food exports and historical treasures, including ancient Greek ruins like the Tavole Palatine, Soleimani’s work melds sculpture, collage and photography to bring to light her critical perspectives on historical and contemporary socio-political events.
Steel wrenches, chains, fish, ancient columns, mussels, red iron dust are carefully assembled and doused in local olive oil. These compositions are contrasted with source images arranged into graphic backgrounds. Soleimani’s participation in the residency enabled her to take her own backdrop photographs capturing ILVA and the archaeological sites surrounding Castello San Basilio. This is the first time Soleimani uses her own shots for the backgrounds; in past series, she sourced images from online news platforms.
Installed on white and blue sculptural plinths which resemble ILVA’s smokestacks whilst echoing ancient columns, the photographs illustrate the precarious and complex relationships between past and present, power and justice, and growth and sustainability. With Pillars of Industry, Soleimani highlights ethical questions about how powerful entities operate and how governments fail to impose their authority, exploring the effects that industries like ILVA have on the population, the environment and the economy.