Current Fine Arts Faculty and BFA alum Johannah Herr and collaborator BK’s solo exhibition opens this Saturday May 6th at Fjord Gallery in Philadelphia

JABRONI SMACKDOWN! A Toxic Love Story (1979-2023)
An exhibition by BK and Johannah Herr

On view May 6-June 17, 2023
Opening reception May 6, 6-9pm

Fjord is pleased to announce Jabroni Smackdown, A Toxic Love Story (1979-2023), an exhibition of new collaborative work by American artist Johannah Herr and Iranian-American artist BK. Through playfully subverted sculptures and collaged iconography, the exhibition critically explores the history of US-Iranian relations through the spandex-clad lens of professional wrestling.

Since the inception of professional wrestling as a performing art in the early 1900s, the genre’s larger-than-life feuds, hyperbolic characters and grandiose spectacle has frequently offered uncanny reflections of real-world socio-political contexts. Wrestling’s hero-villain oppositions–known as babyfaces and heels–are often fueled by mainstream biases, cultural stereotypes, and nationalist sentiments–amplifying popular conceptions of good versus evil, and “us” versus “them.”

Within this context, the iconic figures of Hulk Hogan and The Iron Sheik assume particular significance, as their characters exemplify the interplay between contrasting socio-political ideologies. While Hogan’s enduring popularity was built upon his heroic, all-American persona, the Iron Sheik was portrayed as a villainous anti-American Iranian, whose character was strategically crafted to antagonize Hogan’s patriotism. Yet despite Iron Sheik’s talent and accomplishments as a wrestler, his character never gained the same level of mainstream acceptance or success as Hogan. Much like the real-life relations between the US and Iran, Hogan and Iron Sheik’s characters relied upon one another as foils, with their ideological differences serving as a means to heighten the drama and intensity of their on-screen animosity. Their performances embody the intricate web of power relations, highlighting the critical role that culture and media play in shaping our perceptions of identity, nationhood, and geopolitical relations.

The performativity of professional wrestling, with its exaggerated gestures and dramatic narratives, also mirrors the propaganda-heavy nature of the US-Iranian conflict. “The Great Satan” and “Axis of Evil” could easily pass for names of professional wrestling personas–that these terms originate outside of the ring and instead in the very real political arena make the parallel all too striking.

The exhibition derives its name from the term “Jabroni”, coined by the Iron Sheik during the peak of his popularity. The term is used to refer to both a “foolish” individual and a wrestler whose role is to lose matches to headlining wrestlers, thereby enhancing the fame and status of the headliners. The exhibition poses the question of identifying the true “jabroni”—whether it is the Iron Sheik or Hulk Hogan, the Iranian Regime or the US Government, or if the people of Iran and the US are the ultimate “jabronis” who sacrifice their lives while their respective governments gain power and status.

Like the Iron Sheik’s signature “camel clutch” move, or Hogan’s infamous “Leg Drop” the exhibition appropriates professional wrestling aesthetics to explore the ways in which power is constructed and maintained through equally performative acts of aggression and masculinity. Two large-scale lenticular prints—designed in the style of Topps Wrestling Trading Cards—exemplify such overtly propagandistic iconography, collaging together actual nationalist propaganda from both Iran and the US to create hyperbolic visions of geopolitical conflict. Payback Sticker Pack, a series of 9 upholstered wall pieces meant to resemble scaled-up puffy stickers, feature images of burning American flags, Predator drones and enriched uranium—disrupting the playful iconography that normally adorn such children’s stationery store products. Both works serve to illustrate the ways in which the rhetoric and imagery of propaganda shape our perceptions of international relations, often obscuring the human consequences of political maneuvering.

A pointed play on scale acts as a thread throughout the exhibition. For instance, the oversized lenticular trading cards implicate the viewer’s body in their shifting perspectives, as they flash between the heel and babyface versions of each wrestler. In Toxic Bromance, plush wrestling dolls based on the popular Tonka wrestling “buddies” of the 1990’s are scaled to human height, shifting their soft bodies from nostalgic into the grotesque. The sculpture’s intertwined limbs suggest both a struggle and a sensual embrace, highlighting the way in which the US and Iran have been drawn together through political and economic entanglements, even as they remain locked in a state of conflict. The work serves to draw attention to the fraught power dynamics and homoerotic subtext that characterizes both wrestling and geopolitics.

Sheets of mini Payback Sticker Pack vinyl stickers and Wrestlemania: World Domination Championship video further contribute to the exhibition’s examination of the intersections between politics, media, and performance. These works interrogate the ways in which public figures use media to shape their public image and to disseminate propaganda, as well as the ways in which audiences consume and interpret these messages.

Lastly DEAR BUSH, FUCK YOU JABRONI—a work on paper elaborately framed with red spandex akin to a wrestler’s costume—fuses the language from a 2021 open letter written to Hulk Hogan from the Iron Sheik with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 18-page letter to then president George W. Bush in 2006. Both letters seek recognition from a global audience for wrongs done by their opponent, both point out their foe’s hypocrisy and ongoing violences, both were never answered.

Through its critical interdisciplinary investigations, the exhibition blurs the boundaries between wrestling and politics, and between representation and reality, raising questions about the ways in which power is constructed, contested, and ultimately subverted.


BK is a multidisciplinary artist born in Tehran, Iran in 1991, the year the Internet was made available for unrestricted commercial use. They use digital time-based strategies in presenting work that fuses video, projection mapping, sculpture, text, sound and performance to explore the un-capturable qualities of their diasporic body, fragmented culture, and transnational identity. BK has presented their multimedia installations at Baxter St CCNY, The Elizabeth Foundation for The Arts (The Immigrant Artist Biennial), The Orlando Museum of Art, NADA MIAMI 2018, Elsewhere (New York), Housing (New York), and Rawson Projects (New York). They attended Skowhegan School of Art and Painting in 2018.  They have been included in various group exhibitions including at C24 Gallery (New York), Museum of Photography (Stockholm), 2018 Taiwan Annual (Taipei), Fajr International Film Festival 2018 (Tehran), and the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg. Their work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Guardian, Artnet News, Vice, The Metro, and The Creators Project.

Johannah Herr holds an MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art (2016) and a BFA in Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design (2009). She has had solo shows at The Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Spring Break Art Fair, Geary Contemporary, Elijah Wheat Showroom, BRIC and Envoy Enterprises (all New York City), GAA Gallery (Cologne, Germany), Untitled Art Fair (San Francisco), Red Ger Gallery (Ulaabaatar, Mongolia) and Galeri Metropol (Tallinn, Estonia) and been featured in group shows at Pioneer Works (Brooklyn, NY), Visual Arts Center of New Jersey (Summit, NJ), Center for Contemporary Art (Warsaw, Poland) and DADAPost (Berlin). She is the recipient of a Fulbright Research Grant (Mongolia) and has attended residencies at the Museum of Arts and Design (New York, NY), Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY), Institute of Electronic Arts Experimental Projects Residency (Alfred, NY), Oxbow Artists Residency (Saugatuk, MI), Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), BRIC (Brooklyn, NY), SIM (Reykjavik, Iceland) and the Arctic Circle Residency (Svalbard, International Territory). Her work has been featured in the New York TimesCurbed, Make Magazine and VICE. She is the co-author of 4 books to date: Domestic Terrorism, The Banana Republican Recipe Book, I Have Seen The Future: Official Guide and White Flight! which are currently sold at Printed Matter, The Hole and Perrotin (all New York City), Exile Books (Miami, FL), and Skylight Books (Los Angeles, CA). She currently teaches at Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and New York University. Additionally, she is the Co-Founder of Daughters Rising, an anti-human trafficking, indigenous women’s empowerment NGO based in Mae Wang, Thailand. She lives and works between Brooklyn and Mae Wang.