Sahar Tarighi at the Spring 2024 Opening
March 20, 2024

Inside Şamaran شاماران with Sahar Tarighi

Threads of Transformation is a sanctuary of symbols, weaving together a tapestry of resistance against all forms of oppression worldwide.

Sahar Tarighi’s artistic expression, encapsulated in the exhibition Şamaran شاماران: Threads of Transformation, speaks to resilience and cultural identity. Rooted in her Kurdish heritage, Tarighi’s portrayal of symbols and traditions serves as an act of defiance against historical adversities.

The Kurdish heritage is marked by colonization, displacement, genocide, and enduring conflicts perpetuated by oppressive regimes seeking assimilation. Under such circumstances, Kurdish populations have endured the suppression of their language and the prohibition of age-old customs, exacerbating their struggle for cultural and identity survival.

Having grown up in an environment where her own cultural heritage was systematically denied, Tarighi confronts this oppression through her art, reclaiming ownership of her Kurdish identity. Şamaran شاماران: Threads of Transformation becomes a sanctuary of symbols, weaving together a tapestry of resistance against all forms of oppression worldwide while paying homage to those who have sacrificed for this cause.

The Myth

Şamaran شاماران takes its name from a Kurdish myth about a half-woman, half-snake goddess. Şamaran rules an underground realm populated by snakes, and she possesses infinite knowledge of everything above and below the earth.

Her story features three men: Jamasb, a young man who falls in love with her and is tortured into revealing her location; the king, who needs to eat Şamaran’s flesh to cure his illness; and the king’s vizier, who advises the king to seek out Şamaran because he secretly wants to steal her infinite wisdom.

When Şamaran is brought before the king, about to be slain, she tricks the three men. She tells them that the flesh of her head would kill them, that of her body would heal them, and that of her tail would grant infinite wisdom. Jamasb, full of guilt and grief, volunteers to eat the head. The king eats the body, and the vizier consumes the tail. Much to their surprise, the vizier dies immediately and Jamasb gains the infinite wisdom of the Şamaran. As promised, the king is cured.

Read more about the myth here. 

Symbolism of Şamaran

Today, the Kurdish people use Şamaran as a feminine protection symbol. She is often woven into the fabric of household items, such as the embroidery of young girls’ bedsheets.  

In many uses, her image evokes healing and wisdom. It can also allude to punishment for those who abuse power and retaliation against patriarchy and corrupt regimes. Kurdish activists have used the image of Şamaran in their resistance to occupation and oppression for many years.

These meanings are all layered into the central figure of Tarighi’s exhibition: a three-dimensional, ceramic sculpture of Şamaran. She sits on a long cloth, a nod to her usual home on bedsheets. Both the sculpture and cloth bear black markings inspired by traditional Kurdish tattoos women might have on their faces, necks, and hands.  Weaving these contemporary components into her representation of the Şamaran was significant to Tarighi and her relationship with the myth.  

Another change from the typical portrayal of the goddess is the styling of her hair. In traditional images, Şamaran has two ornate braids like the ones hanging above the sculpture in the installation. Here, she wears multiple simple braids, mirroring the ceramic braids lining the walls around her.

Installation view of Sahar Tarighi's exhibition.


It is common for Kurdish women to wear intricately braided hair with fine traditional attire, especially during the New Year’s celebration of Newroz. The significance of these braided adornments extends beyond mere feminine aesthetics; they carry profound strength and resistance embedded within Kurdish identity.

There are about three hundred ceramic braids surrounding Şamaran. Tarighi explains that they also speak to a practice that used to be part of Kurdish mourning culture. Decades ago, women would cut off their braids at the grave sites of loved ones. It was a symbolic way to promise the recently departed that they would be remembered. In 2022, this tradition re-emerged around the world as people began cutting their hair in solidarity with women’s rights activism in Iran.

The exhibition includes a video to illustrate this practice. In it, Tarighi performs the braid-cutting by brushing, braiding, and cutting a wig made of the same red yarn used in her ceramic braids. 

Threads of Transformation

In Tarighi’s vision, the braids serve as a metaphor for unity, illustrating how individual strands, when bound together, form a resilient whole. Through braiding, Tarighi hopes to inspire viewers to recognize their shared humanity, transcending divisions imposed by language, culture, and geography. For her, the braids symbolize not only resistance but also the enduring spirit of solidarity that binds us together in the struggle for justice and freedom for all suppressed and marginalized nations.

This is how Tarighi hopes people will live, with the understanding that one’s life is intertwined with all of those around them.

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