CMOA video work Reign of Winter turns royal wedding into surreal fantasy | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

CMOA video work Reign of Winter turns royal wedding into surreal fantasy

click to enlarge Still from Reign of Winter by Rokni Haerizadeh - ROKNI HAERIZADEH/COURTESY OF THE CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF ART
Rokni Haerizadeh/Courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art
Still from Reign of Winter by Rokni Haerizadeh
For a country founded on the desire to completely separate itself from the British monarchy, America sure has an obsession with the royals. We bought up Beanie Babies to commemorate the tragic, untimely death of Princess Diana, woke up at an ungodly hour to watch the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and consumed hours of The Crown. Now work at the Carnegie Museum of Art explores the fascination with one of the world's most famous families.

CMOA is streaming Reign of Winter, an animated video work by Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh, as the latest installment of its online exhibition series. The seven-minute silent video is described in a press release as using rotoscope animation to “transform thousands of still images taken from the televised 2011 British royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton into a fantastical moving dreamscape.”

The film can be watched now through May 16, 2021 on the CMOA website. The run also includes chances to engage viewers with the work, including a watch party on Thu., March 25.


Reign of Winter originally debuted at the CMOA's 56th Carnegie International show in 2013, which marked Haerizadeh’s first exhibition in the United States. CMOA then acquired Reign of Winter for its film and video collection, along with a collection of Haerizadeh’s works on paper.

Kiki Teshome, CMOA’s Margaret Powell Curatorial Fellow and exhibition curator, says that, in selecting the next work for the online exhibition series, she was “immediately struck by Reign of Winter’s surreal animation and its subject of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate.” She goes on to say that the film “reframes our understanding of power and celebrity, and how the press creates and perpetuates narratives related to both,” particularly during the current intersection of the pandemic, social justice movements, and growing distrust of mainstream media.

“Haerizadeh is known for using wit and irony to address contemporary culture and politics in his artwork. Like his other work, Reign of Winter takes a satirical eye to the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding and the monarchy at large, encouraging viewers to question the overarching, hierarchical structures of the world around them,” says Teshome. “The work features some of the most iconic moments from the day and was created shortly after the nuptials.”

Born in 1978 in Tehran, Haerizadeh has gone to become a world-renowned artist for his dynamic, inventive approach. Since 2009, Haerizadeh has painted directly onto photographs, and Teshome speaks to Haerizadeh’s meticulous process of breaking footage down into thousands of individual frames and painting each one, creating an entirely new medium that he calls “moving paintings.”


“Traditional paintings are often seen as static objects, separate from the process and time spent creating them,” Haerizadeh notes. “To me, it is important to make the underlying element of time visible, almost as if the painting is unfolding before the viewer.”

Reign of Winter — which takes its title from a song by Iranian musician Mohammad-Reza Shajarian — also continues Haerizadeh's penchant for transforming mundane news footage and other media into “urban fairytales.” In this case, Teshome explains that he “anthropomorphizes the royal family and wedding guests into wild animals and turns the famed Westminster Abbey into an otherworldly location, in effect making what we think is familiar, strange.”

click to enlarge Still from Reign of Winter by Rokni Haerizadeh - ROKNI HAERIZADEH/COURTESY OF CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF ART
Rokni Haerizadeh/Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art
Still from Reign of Winter by Rokni Haerizadeh

“These 'urban fairytales' distance us, the viewers, from the subject, allowing for a careful study of human behavior and the various power structures at play,” says Teshome.

As for why Reign of Winter would appeal to an American audience, Teshome says that the work's themes are universal.

However, it's interesting to note how those themes have grown in relevancy since the video's initial release, especially in regards to the more recent union between William's brother, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle. The relationship was historic for both making a Black American woman a princess, and for seeing a royal couple officially depart the family to escape racist attacks by tabloids and the public. These recent developments bring to light the absurdity put forth by Reign of Winter, that for many Brits, the royals do not in fact symbolize nobility, grace, and grandeur, but white rule/supremacy and classism. (This is especially evident when comparing how the press treats Markle compared to her sister-in-law Kate.)


Teshome says releasing Reign of Winter as part of its online series will demonstrate the museum's mission to make art more accessible, especially when the pandemic has closed many galleries and other institutions.

“One of the great things about our online exhibition series is that it brings the museum’s extensive film and video collection directly into the homes of viewers around the world, allowing people to experience works that were previously only accessible in person,” says Teshome, adding that Reign of Winter's “engaging subject and thought-provoking execution” also furthers CMOA’s mission of “presenting artworks that connect us to ideas and one another.”
Reign of Winter. Continues through May 16, 2021. Free. cmoa.org

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