Minus pomegranates, tulips and turbans

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 >>>

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.

'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. 's Religious Tolerance a work recently accepted into the 2003 Florence Biennale in Italy, explores unity and universality of beliefs. , the winner of last year's EP scholarship, was present with his signature graffiti Farsi artwork and the exhibit saw the return of artists and . 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. >>>

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 >>>

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