Dissecting artist Shirin Fathi’s gender-bending self-portrait

Dissecting artist Shirin Fathi’s gender-bending self-portrait | Soho House

Read the story behind her work, which looks into the history of gender in 19th-century Iran and is on display at Soho House 76 Dean Street in London

Thursday 27 October 2022   By Anastasiia Fedorova

Soho House’s global art collection is one of the biggest privately owned assemblages in the world. The House Art series invites you to take a peek inside them, offering a closer look at individual works and collections, and revealing why they’re such an integral part of Soho House. Up next, a piece from Soho House 76 Dean Street
Located in the heart of London’s Soho, 76 Dean Street occupies a historical townhouse with spacious rooms to lounge and preserved original features, including 100-year-old pine floors. It’s no surprise then that the art collection here acquires a special significance that offers an extra layer of history. Hung by the antique fireplace in the Drawing Room, artist Shirin Fathi’s work ‘Blonde Colonel’ fits seamlessly into the grand interior – opening up a complex conversation about identity between the West and the East. 

Fathi is an Iranian-Canadian artist who explores cultural changes in relation to gender identity. Her 2015 work ‘Blonde Colonel’ belongs to Heart Throbs, a series of self-portraits inspired by masculine beauty in 19th-century Iranian royal paintings. Fathi also explores cultural exchange between Europe and Iran in 19th-century Qajar paintings and, most notably, the fluidity of gender expression that existed back then but might have been forgotten. 

‘Instead of the binary category of male, Iranians associated with archetypes: Amrad (the adolescent male), Amradnuma (the adult male) and Fukuli (the male who mimics the look of the European dandy),’ says Fathi. ‘These gender archetypes gradually disappeared from paintings and from public representation as a necessary step for the modernist heteronormalisation of gender in a quest to diminish same sex practices among men.’ 

‘Blonde Colonel’ is the artist’s attempt to confront the gender binary in the past and the present, and emphasise that masculinity and femininity have always been fluid. 

Discover more about the Soho House art collection at Soho House Hong Kong and Soho House Austin

Interested in becoming a member?