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Art review: 'Traces of Being: Iran in the Passage of Memories' at Morono Kiang Gallery

October 2, 2009 |  4:00 pm


Cultural dislocation is, if not the norm, then certainly a prominent thread that runs through the art of the last tumultuous century. “Traces of Being: Iran in the Passage of Memories” brings together mixed-media and installation works by four American artists of Iranian descent. The show at Morono Kiang Gallery was organized by Shervin Shahbazi, who left Iran shortly after the 1979 revolution.

Layered imagery is the most common strategy the artists employ to evoke the phantoms of memory that dart through current lived experience. Hushidar Mortezaie dresses cutout plywood figures in elaborate costumes that mix Middle Eastern tradition with Western popular culture, like globalized paper-dolls. In ethereal watercolors and drawings, Pantea Karimi merges hand-written Persian calligraphy, an ancient form, with iconic media imagery, including oil company logos and satellite-communication towers.

For “Houri,” Amitis Motevalli lines up seven irregular rows of photographic transparencies on the gallery’s front window. Light streams through to illuminate the same haunting image over and over, 72 times — a teenage self-portrait, which disturbingly melds a publicity-style head shot of a wanna-be pop star with the false Western myth of Middle Eastern martyrs being greeted by virgins in paradise.

The most compelling piece is an untitled installation by Fereshteh Toosi, which colonizes one corner of the main room. Large foam spheres are draped with knitted and elaborately decorated afghan blankets — afghan being a term for a middle-class North American craft that has little if anything to do with the nation where U.S. troops are currently engaged in battle. Toosi emphasizes the wild dislocation by deploying the spheres as a loopy interplanetary model.

These exotic homemade “worlds” spin around beneath a “starry night” composed from Mexican “God’s eyes” of colorful twisted yarn, hanging on the walls above. Mashing together Middle Eastern, American and Mexican motifs in a playfully out-of-this-world manner, the installation throws its lot in with the saving grace offered by the inventive wonders of inexplicable mystery.

-- Christopher Knight

Morono Kiang Gallery, 218 W. 3rd St., (213) 628-8208, through Nov. 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Above: Fereshteh Toosi's untitled work. Credit: Morono Kiang Gallery

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Whereas works presented at Morono Kiang Gallery all display independent merits, I found Pantea Karimi’s works to offer the most thought provoking context for the viewer while remaining true to show’s title; other works bordered catering to cliché notions or being confused as the work of any given western artist. I personally did not understand the connection between Mexican and Iranian motifs though the works were beautiful visually. The concept of 72 virgins is also overplayed and over-analyzed to the extent that it has becomes meaningless. Rendering concepts do matter in this case and meritocracy is served better with consistency.


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