“Where We Are Standing”: 3 contemporary Iranian women artists at Edward Hopper House Art Center

Exhibition takes an intimate look at artists’ “diasporic biographies” through the complexities of Iran’s socio-political milieu. 

“Where We Are Standing: Contemporary Women Artists from Iran” brings together works from 3 artists born before the Iranian Revolution and currently residing in North America.

Golnar Adili, 'The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination', 2010, two photographs hand-cut and interlaced, 20 x 30". Image courtesy the artist.

Golnar Adili, ‘The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination’, 2010, two photographs hand-cut and interlaced, 20 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist.

“Where We Are Standing: Contemporary Women Artists from Iran” at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in New York State runs until 24 April 2016. The show is curated by the Centre’s Artistic Director Carole Perry and features Iranian diaspora artists Golnar Adili, Roya Farassat and Shabnam K. Ghazi. The exhibition was a result of a series of serendipitous events, as Perry told Art Radar:

This exhibition came about because two of the artists (Golnar Adili and Roya Farassat) happened to separately submit exhibition proposals to the Edward Hopper House. I liked both of their work, and had just become familiar with Shabnam Ghazi’s work. It struck me that these three artists together would make a strong and compelling show. They all grew up in Tehran, although they came of age at different times. Their work is not connected, other than the strong influence their upbringing and their subsequent displacement had on their visions.

The Edward Hopper House Art Center is located in Nyack, New York and is the birthplace of American realist painter and printmaker Edward Hopper (1882-1967). The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1971 and according to the organisation’s website, seeks “to encourage and nurture community engagement with the arts”.

Roya Farassat, 'Goddess of Freedom', 2013, from "A Mirror Has Two Faces" series, acrylic, ink and marker on paper, 9 x 12". Image courtesy the artist.

Roya Farassat, ‘Goddess of Freedom’, 2013, from “A Mirror Has Two Faces” series, acrylic, ink and marker on paper, 9 x 12 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Touted as one of the venue’s best exhibitions in recent years, the show draws on the artists’ individual experiences both inside and outside of Iran as women who came of age during the turbulent time leading up to the Shah of Iran’s exile (1979) and the codification of Islamic rule. Experiences during their formative years, coupled with their identities as artists creating work outside of their homeland have left an indelible mark on their work, as the exhibition brochure (PDF download) states:

Although their circumstances differ, they share a strong cultural identity and a common focus on issues of gender and displacement shaped by the complex political and social landscape of their homeland.

Art Radar profiles the three visual artists and their artworks in the exhibition.

Shabnam K. Ghazi, 'The Astonishing Story of Us in a Scarcity of Time', photograph, 2 x 2". Image courtesy the artist.

Shabnam K. Ghazi, ‘The Astonishing Story of Us in a Scarcity of Time’, 2008-2015, photograph, 2 x 2 in. Image courtesy the artist.

1. Golnar Adili

Born in the United States in 1976, Golnar Adili moved to Tehran with her family at the age of four. Several years later, the family was forced to return to the United States for political reasons, leaving Adili to straddle two disparate, feuding cultures. Her work often references Persian literature, family correspondence and her body through “meticulous”, reconstructed imagery.

Adili’s work The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination is based on a poem by 14th century Persian poet Hafez, where the most desirable location in the courtyard of a traditional Persian home is termed the “King-Seat”. Spliced together with this architectural image is the artist’s own eye, via handcut photographs. Another piece, called A Thousand Pages of Chest in A Thousand Pages of Mirror- Curved depicts an intensely intimate narrative, as the artist relayed to Art Radar:

For the “curved” piece, I look at the chest as a book. In Persian poetry and literature, the chest symbolizes a place where emotions are kept, much like a chest (for storage). I feel a certain heaviness in mine and therefore it is a kind of a self portrait. I also think of the bare chest as exposing vulnerability, which signifies resilience and defiance.

Golnar Adili, 'A Thousand Pages of Chest in A Thousand Pages of Mirror- Curved', 2015, transfer on paper, glue, 8 x 10 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Golnar Adili, ‘A Thousand Pages of Chest in A Thousand Pages of Mirror- Curved’, 2015, transfer on paper, glue, 8 x 10 in. Image courtesy the artist.

2. Roya Farassat 

Roya Farassat was born in Tehran in 1964, where as a young girl she noted that women in society were “under the scrutiny of an unwelcome gaze” – something she never forgot when she moved to the West as a teenager. Farassat addresses femininity in the Middle East, as the artist told Art Radar, often donning a chador or veil, with “boldness and defiance”:

I was inspired to paint the series “A Mirror Has Two Faces” in response to the continued acceptance of brutality that threatens the female population. Through demonized portraits, I give a voice to veiled, oppressed women who live under the constant scrutiny of a patriarchal society. I emphasize the women’s lack of concrete identity by shedding light on their isolation from society. Confining the women in ornate, ink-stamped picture frames helps convey the lenticular nature of their public and private lives.

Farassat’s series “A Mirror Has Two Faces” consists of small, intimate portraits, started in 2009 when the artist was beginning to “grapple” with her cultural heritage and are imbued with what New York curator and writer David Gibson once termed a “grotesque sensibility” (PDF download).

Roya Farassat, 'For Freedom We Fought', 2011, from "A Mirror Has Two Faces" series, acrylic, ink, marker and watercolour on paper , 9 x 12”. Image courtesy the artist.

Roya Farassat, ‘For Freedom We Fought’, 2011, from “A Mirror Has Two Faces” series, acrylic, ink, marker and watercolour on paper , 9 x 12 in. Image courtesy the artist.

3. Shabnam K. Ghazi 

Toronto-based artist Shabnam K. Ghazi was born in Tehran in 1971. According to the artist’s website, Ghazi strives “to create everyday images infused with literal and viewer imagined meaning”. Through her multimedia work, Ghazi implores the viewer to “recognize and experience”, rather than merely looking at the surrounding environment.

Shabnam K. Ghazi, "The Astonishing Story of Us in a Scarcity of Time", video. Image courtesy the artist.

Shabnam K. Ghazi, ‘The Astonishing Story of Us in a Scarcity of Time’, 2008-2015, video. Image courtesy the artist.

Ghazi’s video and accompanying still shots from the work The Astonishing Story of Us in a Scarcity of Time come from over four hours of footage and 800 images taken from tall buildings in Iran, Canada and New York. Projected upon the floor of the Centre, anonymous figures and tiny ants scurry, deftly drawing comparisons to our frantic modern day existence and a colony of insects. At the heart of the piece, however, as Ghazi states in the exhibition’s brochure, is the belief that above all, we are connected through our humanity:

Occasionally, our paths intersect, causing us to pause and perhaps remind us, within a moment of contact, that we are not alone.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: Iranian artists, art and the community, events in the US, identity art, museum shows, political art, women power

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