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Photo: Mat Adams

Exhibition: #oreo_liveitwhite at SPAO—until 03.09.19

By Mathew Adams on February 22, 2019



Meet Oreo. She is an actress, a Gemini, a lover of all things hyper feminine and white. She lives on Instagram and does make-up tutorials on her website. She loves wealth and purity, but most importantly she is a creation.

Oreo is a character created by Rah, an Ottawa identity-based photo and performance artist known for creating characters to explore visual stereotypes and performative aspects that mould female gender identity and Iranian ethnic identity. Oreo is an Iranian nationalist who identifies as Aryan. The term “Aryan” originally meant pure or noble and since ancient times has been a part of the identity of the people of Iran and its diaspora.

“I think there is definitely power in using humour as a strategy to communicate tough issues…”

“I mean the Aryan race myth is something that a lot of people don’t know about, but especially when it comes to Iranian identity.” Says Rah.

Rah uses social media, particularly Instagram, in what she calls a “relational sketchbook” where she, through Oreo, addresses contemporary political issues and encourages dialogue about racism and white privilege. Oreo responds to (and comments on) nationalism by adopting their language, hashtags and visuals. She also uses the elements of satire and humour to confront these issues.

“I think there is definitely power in using humour as a strategy to communicate tough issues that people don’t really want to engage with.” Rah stated when asked about the effectiveness of using humour to stimulate difficult dialogues.

IG: @oreo_liveitwhite

“You’re always going to offend someone with work like this.”

Her work is dripping with satire and a sharpness to its perspective that toes the line between mockery and conviction. It is a part of the work that deals with “passing” as a white woman. In this instance, Rah pulls from her experiences as a drag performer when using the term “passing”, which means to successfully fool someone else into buying into the fantasy. Oreo has “passed” as a white woman when she receives likes from white supremacists on Instagram or is approached on Tinder, which you can see examples of at this show.

“You’re always going to offend someone with work like this.” Rah said when discussing any backlash Oreo had received over social media.

This is a fascinating and engaging show, though one should try to see it for what it is commenting on. See the artwork as a humourous way to address these subjects. It is easy to be offended by works of this nature, but it is in the difficulty in seeing past that which can substantially increase what a viewer takes away from the show.

Quick hits:

  • This is a part of the new Qu’Art collaborative series of LGBTQ2+/queer art related events happening around the Ottawa/Gatineau region. These events seek to encourage artistic activity and intergenerational knowledge sharing within the community.
  • Rah’s opening artist talk was also a collaboration with the Capital Rainbow Refuge, which organizes groups and supports gender and sexual minority refugees particularly from the 73 countries around the world where being a member of the LGBTQ2+ community is illegal. To get involved, check out their website to see how you can help.
  • The artist’s next show: Supernova is a video installation similar to a talent show featuring a variety of Rah’s characters and will be shown in September 2019 at Carleton University Art Gallery. Check out Rah’s website  to get more information closer to the date!

You can go see Rah’s show #oreo_liveitwhite at the School of the Photographic Arts Ottawa (77 Pamilla St.) in Little Italy. It is free and open to the public Wednesdays to Saturdays from 12pm to 5pm until Saturday March 9, 2019. If you want to see more of Oreo, check her out on Instagram. You can also see her video performance art at Rah’s website. You will need the password “vtape” in order to be able to access them.