May You Break Free and Outlive Your Enemy confronts us with the case of Persia’s ancient Elamite city of Susa, whose 5,000-year-old ruins were, from the 19th century on, stripped of part of their heritage by French archaeologists funded by the Louvre. This ancestral territory has also been the focus of considerable colonial interest because of its rich petroleum deposits. Many artifacts uncovered during the French excavations have ended up in the Louvre’s collections, including several Elamite funerary heads. Stuck today in “a sort of museum limbo,” these heads were originally intended to protect and guide the ancestors of the Iranian people as they descended into the netherworld.
For this work, the artist has made a large-scale clay copy of one of these heads. Despite its monumental enlargement, the delicacy of the material has enabled her to capture the fragile, even damaged look of the original. The head’s cheek is laid against the floor, and from its wide, almond-shaped eyes – enhanced with bitumen, according to the Elamite craft tradition – flows what looks like a pool of petrol.
The head is surrounded by ten imperial fritillaries made of black glass, reproduced life-sized. These flowers, characterized by their “upside-down” nectaries, are among the most ancient of Iran’s ornamental plants and have graced Europe’s most celebrated gardens since the 15th century. According to Iranian folklore, their nectar, dubbed “tears of Siyâvash,” is produced as the plant weeps in mourning for the departed. This installation-monument, which commemorates the vestiges of the city of Susa that vanished as the Iranian people looked on helplessly, represents for Norouzi a first step toward collective healing.