Zoba’ah (زوبعة): The Whirlwind brings about sudden change
How can we participate in creating the world we want to see and live in? To download artist Morehshin Allahyari’s sculpture Zoba’ah (زوبعة): The Whirlwind you have to agree to a set of ‘terms and conditions’ written by the artist and answer how you will take small actions to change the world in the bigger picture. In this way, you summon Zoba’ah (زوبعة), a creature from the Islamic world, who always brings about sudden change.
A digital fight for justice
Based on drawings of the jinn Zoba’ah (زوبعة) from the 14th and 16th centuries, the Iranian-born artist Morehshin Allahyari has 3D modeled the sculpture Zoba’ah (زوبعة): The Whirlwind for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s virtual collection. In pre-Islamic and Islamic theology, a jinn is an intelligent spirit known as a shape-shifter created from smokeless fire, who exists in a parallel world.
As one of the most powerful jinn, Zoba’ah (زوبعة), which translates as ‘whirlwind’, brings immediate change once summoned. Meaningful change is needed, Allahyari believes, in this time of fights for justice, wars, and urgent climate disasters.
Therefore, she brings Zoba’ah (زوبعة) into virtual space, which has represented a crucial public arena in recent years for transformative movements such as the current Iranian Uprising led by women under the hashtag #MahsaAmini, Arab Spring, anti-imperialist movements in Hong Kong, the EndSARS uprising in Nigeria, the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, and the Me Too movement.
To download the figure, visitors to the exhibition must agree to terms and conditions that oblige them to commit to a series of micro actions in the world. Subsequently, the visitors’ responses can be read together on the Archive section of the website, and in this way Allahyari transforms our individual agency into a picture of the collective potential in the digital space.
The exhibition is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s commission series Virtual Sculptures. Each year, the museum invites an artist to create a new 3D work, which will be acquired for the permanent collection and posted online for free download.
What kind of future do we want to live in?
Combining activism, cultural history, and technology, Morehshin Allahyari challenges contemporary norms in her works and asks what kind of future we want to live in. In previous projects, she has used 3D printing to reconstruct ancient sculptures destroyed by ISIS and inserted data files into them to be read in the future.
Likewise, the work Zoba’ah (زوبعة): The Whirlwind is a commissioned work by the museum as part of Allahyari’s long-term project She Who Sees the Unknown, for which she re-figures, 3D models, scans and prints monstrous queer figures that examine contemporary colonialism, patriarchal structures, and environmental destruction.
Allahyari thus highlights and reinterprets the female or queer figures of the past and creates counterparts to the contemporary idea of the masculine hero.
A decolonial and critical gaze on our digital age
Allahyari approaches the Middle East’s political events and cultural histories with an internal critical eye. Simultaneously, she is aware of not falling prey to the West’s dominant binary understanding of the Middle East. Instead, she points to the troubles of our world that are initiated from a long history of Western colonialism and so, in 2015, Allahyari coined the concept of ‘digital colonialism’, addressing how today’s digital infrastructures are often anchored in the imperial logics of the past.
She specifically points out how Western archaeological institutions and private companies 3D-scan artefacts in the Middle East and Africa, after which they patent the files and control who can access them – just as Western museums in colonial times took physical artefacts back to their home countries.
Consequently, as a Western museum exhibiting and collecting 3D printable works, it was an obvious choice to invite Allahyari as the second artist to the Virtual Sculptures project, to take a new critical look at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s own practices and to expand the collection’s cultural resonance.