Penelope started weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus and made a promise to her suitors that she will decide to get married once she has finished weaving this cloth, all the while aware that weaving this cloth would never end as she would undo all that she had weaved every night (derived from Homer’s Odysseus).

In “Penelope’s Melancholy”, however, no cloth is undone; instead, culture turns into colorful designs and is depicted through the sewing of pieces of cloth together. Women of Elham Bayati’s paintings choose sewing as their narrative technique, their faces beaming with contentment when they are occupied with this job of theirs and appearing to be tending to a whole other realm–a realm in which they can seek their pleasures with ease. Restrictions abounding in the symbolic world, as soon as these women set out to win their passion there, it becomes a lost cause and even vanishes into thin air. It is perhaps for this experience of discontentment that they pretend to have control over their desires.

For Elham Bayati, “Penelope’s Melancholy” is the belief in what we have created in our own fantasy. With her passion, Penelope entertains not the wishes of “the other” but desires of her own and wishfully grows fond of this double life. Sewing pieces of cloth together has distanced her from what she is supposed to be and from her history, and, at the same time, has put her narrative nature beyond what she has come to accept. That is to say, Penelope symbolizes her wishes so that they are not lost, and, wandering in her dreams all absent from where she is supposed to be, she defies the “patriarchal order” and seeks “desire” within the subconscious realm, where it is again considered the discourse of “the other”.

Bayati’s paintings lack any form of certitude. She allows her audience to freely pursue their wishes elsewhere –just like Penelope does. In this undertaking, Bayati shares herself with her audience and communicates her inner beliefs to them without losing touch of their clarity. Pieces of cloth that are sewn together so as to be undone by the audience in their head.


Elham Pouryamehr