Gelare Khoshgozaran’s “To Be The Author of One’s Own Travels”

Dylan Huw

July 13, 2023
Delfina Foundation, London
June 23–August 6, 2023

Gelare Khoshgozaran describes herself as an “undisciplinary artist and writer.”1 Across her work, she harnesses the capaciousness and flexibility of the essay form to articulate the possibilities inherent in exile. Her 2022 essay “The Too Many and No Homes of Exile,” for example, articulates the “limbo” of a life marked by latency and anticipation. While it draws on the artist’s personal memories, its emphasis—as in much of her work—is on forming associations and fostering solidarity across contexts of displacement. “You look at the map of Los Angeles,” she writes of the city in which she now lives, “and identify a map of exile.”2

Her first solo exhibition in Europe, curated by Eliel Jones at Delfina Foundation’s cavernous central London space, features three moving-image works that reflect the lyricism and political intentionality of her written work. Born in Tehran in 1986, during the Iran-Iraq War, Khoshgozaran is particularly invested in making way for alternative, affirmative practices of living. She channels this wide-ranging understanding of exile into a methodology—and something approaching a narrative—in The Retreat (2023), the exhibition’s longest, loosest work.

Described in the press materials as “visual expansion” of Khoshgozaran’s 2022 essay, the film stems from an “exile retreat” organized by the artist this past spring. Khoshgozaran invited six strangers who had experienced displacement to live amongst each other in rural France, sharing mental health experiences in relation to a common (though not universalizing) politic shaped by geopolitical violence and demands for the abolition of borders, be they geographical or psychological. The choice of location was informed by its proximity to Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, site of the psychiatric hospital where the Catalan psychotherapist François Tosquelles supervised Frantz Fanon, an historic refuge for those fleeing political persecution. The multiple meanings of “asylum” are directly referenced both in voice-over discussions by the retreat’s participants and in the preface, which draws from Adolfo Bioy Casares’s 1940 novel The Invention of Morel.

The process by which The Retreat came into being is not made explicit, and on the rare occasion the participants appear on screen, their faces remain out of sight. Abstracted, glimmering 16mm footage shows them eating together and sewing costumes, alongside the unidentified buildings which make up their lived environment. It is mostly through the layering of quoted text, voice, and abstracted documentary images that the film’s (and the exercise’s) political urgency comes into focus: embracing cinema’s haptic qualities to find a filmic language for an inherently bodily, live experiment in community-making.

Black-and-white images of Pacific waves in The Retreat’s prologue reappear in To Keep the Mountain at Bay (2023). This taut nine-minute video, originally shot on Super 8, features layered and sampled quotations and footage to center the unmoving, extratemporal figure of the mountain as a vehicle for thinking differently about, or with, displacement. It opens by quoting “Journey to Mount Tamalpais” (1986), a lyric essay by Etel Adnan—another “undisciplinary” artist who shapeshifted across media to articulate both the grief and liberation of exile, always in dialogue with the communities and political lineages which shaped her. Giving the exhibition its title is a third, very short, film shown as a 16mm projection, drawing on Gulliver’s Travels—not the 1726 novel but its 1939 Fleischer Studios adaptation—hand-edited to subvert its colonial messaging. Here as elsewhere, Khoshgozaran complicates the politics of movement: of bodies across geographies, and of images across eras.

The stylistic character of all three films is defined by a certain impulse toward quietude and non-representation, strategies which are part of a refreshing move away from the trading of clearly delineated political representation as currency. Khoshgozaran is one of a number of rising contemporary artist-filmmakers whose work is guided by an interest in the pedagogical and communitarian capacity of experimental documentary techniques—drawing on performance and fiction more than any traditionally observational methods—but her approach is unusually lucid and compelling. In transposing commitments to antifascist and anticolonial movement-building into poetic-filmic form, her work feels particularly satisfying in a context in which formulaic invocations of “collective practices” and “world-making” have become ubiquitous. The three works shown here are unafraid to look inward, and to acknowledge the gray areas of political belonging. The effect is not to ostracize the viewer but to invite them to see themselves—as the artist puts it in “The Too Many and No Homes of Exile”—as “immigrants of the films of our lives.”




Gelare Khoshgozaran, “The Too Many and No Homes of Exile” Perpetual Postponement (September 12, 2022),

Migration & Immigration, War & Conflict, Film, Colonialism & Imperialism

Dylan Huw is a writer living in Caernarfon, Wales.

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July 13, 2023

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