Mixed media artist Afshan Ketabchi (b. 1966) also reverses the Orientalist matrix by taking the usual passive veiled woman and placing under the veil an over-publicized figure such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Ketabchi manipulates the mechanics of traditional veiling, thus she sheds the veil from the Orient by revealing that there is nothing but a woman under it. In her vibrant pop-portraiture series she pays homage to Andy Warhol’s colorful screen-print images. In Marilyn Monroe Undercover (Figure above), 2008, the American actress is rendered in a manner similar to many iconic Warhol paintings and screenprints of Monroe, save for the addition of the yellow chador (veil worn by Muslim women leaving only the face exposed). The portrait re-imagines Monroe as a glamorous Iranian woman and invites a consideration of themes of female agency, westernized beauty standards, and the enduring presence of the Orientalist gaze. Ketabchi’s accessorized Monroe freshens up Warhol’s satirical view of pop culture. Ketabchi is fascinated with western perceptions of Iran, whether its romantic Orientalism or images of despotism and terror. The recognizability of Warhol’s portrait style and the iconic image of Monroe reinforce the power behind this appropriation. The “sex symbol” (Monroe) is being de-sexualized by the veil, which simultaneously reinforces her sex appeal. Like Warhol, Ketabchi uses satire to fetishize Monroe by veiling her.
Postmodernist art relies on borrowing and appropriating. The rise of non-western art has played a significant role in globalization; however, we cannot overlook the traditions that western canon brought to modern and contemporary art, nor can we look past the ways that the western contemporary art has affected international artists. Influential western art, from the iconic Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, to nineteenth-century Orientalist paintings, become the sources mined by non-western artists to reach a wider audience. We see contemporary Iranian artists marking their territory in the process of such appropriation.