Minus pomegranates, tulips and turbans
Iranian-American art in Washington DC
Written by Termeh Rassi
Photos by Saghar Barzemeheri
February 22, 2003
There have been a lot of changes in the Iranian American community over the years
-most noticeable in our new discourse of politics and through our self-expression
in the arts. One of the avenues for display of arts in our community for the past
seven years has been Evolving Perception's annual art exhibits and January 17th marked
the opening of EP's latest exhibit, Emotional Sensibilities >>>
works of art
Despite the traffic and the snow, the CP Artspace in downtown Washington DC was
packed with well wishers, art connoisseurs and socialites. The beauty of these events
is in their lack of pretension. While the focus of the organization has changed,
the basic goal remains the same -- to help promote and support artists through display
and sale of their works. Granted, it's that very same accessibility that at times
made the opening reception resemble a well attended cocktail party and not an "Art
Event." However, very few art events -- Iranian or not -- can draw hundreds
of people on their first night.
When EP held it's first exhibit in 1996, the focus was the work of young Iranian
American artists. The goal was to provide a platform for the younger generation to
voice their angst -- with a strict upper age limit. The works mainly focused on the
exploration of self in context of dual identities; packed full of nostalgia and expressions
of old themes in newer forms. It was a vital and necessary platform for the times
-- a collective attempt to turn the confusion of our generation into a cohesive expression
of identity. During the past seven years, EP has expanded its mission to embrace
Iranian American artists of all ages.
This year's exhibit features works spanning generations, styles and genders. The
caliber and quality of the work displayed continue to get better and better every
year and this year is no exception. While still embracing the amateur artist, the
show also has a good representation of works by several professional artists. Thematically,
there are no collective expressions of angst but rather individual explorations of
religion, self and the world.
Another change in the works displayed over the years has been the growth in the
number of mixed and digital media works and the show has a nice balance between political
and non-political pieces; as well different styles. Not incidentally, the events
of 9/11 figure prominently in a number of the pieces -- both directly and indirectly.
Malek Naz Fereidouni's
decoupage of media coverage immediately following the terrorist attacks is the most
overt example - both a commentary on the nature of the events, as well as on the
media covering it. Negar
Assari Samimi's Religious Tolerance a work recently accepted into the
2003 Florence Biennale in Italy, explores unity and universality of beliefs. Amir
Fallah, the winner of last year's EP scholarship, was present with his signature
graffiti Farsi artwork and the exhibit saw the return of artists Aylene
Fallah and Roshan
Houshmand. Aylene's works are the most demonstrative of the essence of the words
Evolving Perception and are a perfect example of the more internal and self
-driven nature of the exhibit. >>> See works of art
Audiences were introduced to Aylene's work at the first Evolving Perception through
a set of teabags and six years later -- while the tea bags are still there, the expression
of the artist and the execution of the piece have evolved immeasurably.
Emotional Sensibilities as an exhibit, is not just a representation of a cultural
group -- and that's a good thing. It's not a rubber stamp, cookie cutter "here's
what it's like to be an Iranian" - it is a representation of the artists, with
their common heritage taking strikingly different forms. Free from the overt cultural
symbolism, there is room for the other factors influencing the artist to be expressed.
This may be as it should always be but it has not always been so.
I am happy to report that I noticed no pomegranates and no poppies. There were
no tulips and no turbans. There is nothing wrong with them -- as long we can separate
them as art form from cultural security blankets. As long as they do not come to
wholly define what we are willing to accept from artists in our community; as long
as we choose to buy art from artists that choose to push the boundaries.
In truth, I do think we have changed as observers too. It's as if we no longer go
to see the art as a reflection of ourselves, of our culture, or our lost dreams or
memories but as a reflection of the artist -- who belongs to our community -- imagine
that! The EP team must also be commended for opening that door; for continuing to
provide a platform for artists and for bringing to the community art that we may
not have come across on our own. This marks a new step in the evolution of the Iranian
community as it gets more integrated in to United States.
As I said, there will always be and should be room for the pomegranates and the poppies
but it was wonderful to see the good or bad childhood, the revolution, the war, the
comfortable suburban upbringing devoid of any significance; the woman, the Muslim
and the Middle Easterner in America, express themselves too >>>
works of art
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