SuperNova – Intergalactic personas and character studies to discuss and provoke the authenticity of culture

Hosted by the grunt gallery, Canadian-Iranian visual artist Rah’s new show suggests discussions that, acting as parody, essentialize qualities that validate ethnicized and racialized experiences in contemporary cultures.

Throughout April, the grunt gallery hosts SuperNova, a new exhibition by Canadian-Iranian exilic and diasporic artist Rah. The show, curated by Vanessa Kwan and Whess Harman, is a multidisciplinary video installation that features a series of carefully conceived personas intended to deconstruct ethnic and gender stereotypes. At the installation, three fictional characters are presented as contestants on an American Idol-style galactic talent competition show adjudicated by a panel of extraterrestrial judges – all portrayed by the artist herself.

“We were really excited to see how much thought had gone into using the competition show format and linking it with conversations about authenticity, race and ethnicity as well as the touchstones to drag and performance art,” says Harman about what had caught the curators eyes towards the show.

“Frankly, keeping control of this type of work is really difficult and can easily come off as gimmicky, but this work really holds everything in without being either pandering or so serious that it becomes difficult to engage with,” he says.

From the curator’s perspective, the artist’s vivid vision of aesthetics, and a deep interest and understanding of working within genre tropes, may signal a style that is somehow embedded in the way queer creators have intercepted cinema.

“Though there is no censorship within the work itself, it does remind me a lot of watching films from queer directors made during the Hayes Code era; that we can see something so familiar, but there’s just something slightly displaced about it that demands closer attention,” he adds.

Identity as spectacle: intergalactic personas against the essentializing of ethnicity and race

When attending SuperNova, viewers can expect to be featured to a series of characters that Rah has performed as over several years, mostly conceived as caricatures of identity-based roles that may suggest a critique on ethnicity and gender structures.

SuperNova features three fictional characters who are presented as contestants on an American Idol-style galactic talent competition show, adjudicated by a panel of extraterrestrial judges – all portrayed by the artist herself to question the authenticity of culture.| Photo by Scott Lee.

In the universe suggested by the video, net and performance artist, reality show contestants Oreo, Fatimah and Coco reveal stereotypes by focusing and essentializing certain qualities many ethnicized and racialized people have experienced.

“Though I’m not Iranian, I was struck by how easily these types of attitudes and characters were also recognizable. Oreo, for example, is someone who is of one identity but desperately asserting herself as another and seeking outside validation,” says Whess.

Analyzing the other characters, he also exemplifies that Fatimah is presented as someone who is read as deeply authentic for how she presents herself, although viewers know little of how to verify this and why she would seek the validation of a panel of judges.

“Finally there is Coco, who is someone trying to reconcile their identity through innovation and isn’t hinging their authenticity on what the judges ultimately rule. In that, I think for me, Coco is the one who embodies the spirit of the show most thoroughly,” he said.

Addressing a critique and reflection of some of the internal conversations and conflicts that happen within ethnicized and racialized communities, SuperNova’s grandiosity becomes a matter of putting these conversations on a galactic stage that may reveal how that kind of internal community scrutiny can feel.

By literally competing to be verified by a wider community and to rise above, these types question – with the audience – who is performing the most authentic version of culture and what accolades and rewards come with that.

“Rah is someone who recognizes the power of performance and has very purposefully learned how to utilize it for deeper conversations. I think when you come to the exhibition you can expect that you will want to see it again; the first time though it’s hard to get away from just the pleasure and enjoyment of the work, but the second time you can start to think through, decode and take it all in,” says Whess, inviting all communities to visit the gallery and enjoy the show.

SuperNova will be exhibited Mar. 26 to Apr. 30, at the grunt gallery.

Because the exhibition features strobe and flashing light effects, on Thursdays the gallery will offer an alternative light experience.

To contact the gallery, call at 604-875-9516 or visit