The Taking, Cody Gallery at Marymount University

Below are some installation shots and the press release from my recent show at Cody Gallery, which got a nice mention in the Washington Post here.

Cody Gallery at Marymount University is pleased to present The Taking, a solo exhibition by Negar Ahkami. The Taking consists of conceptually linked paintings covering a range of themes, and a monumental installation of fragmented pieces made to appear as broken ceramic shards. The exhibition examines varied instances of appropriation of Persian art and culture in Western civilization, from ancient periods to present day’s politics. In The Taking, Ahkami weaves a narrative that serves as a reminder that history and recollection, while often fragmented and broken, may be retold.

The Taking is named after the installation of 29 painted fragments and accompanying wall text. Mimicking a museum display of archaeological artifacts, the fragments depict details of actual source material such as paintings, photographs, textiles, ceramics, reliefs and architectural motifs. Each fragment was chosen for its connections to the rich visual legacy of Iran and its neighbors. These details are pulled from a wide range of sources including: an Italian altarpiece, Ancient Greek pottery, a carpet found in a Vermeer painting, and Majolica tiles. At first glance, they may be identified as primarily Western however, the wall text identifies the sources and treats Persian and Ancient Near Eastern contributions as central instead of footnoted. The Taking acknowledges these forgotten sources while simultaneously taking liberties, building a narrative from scraps, and finding both pride and courage in new discoveries.

Also included in the exhibition is a range of fantastical paintings that both inspire and are inspired from The Taking. The exuberant paintings highlight the ambiguous state of fear and adoration often realized encountering different cultures, often stereotyped as "Other."  Ahkami depicts enthrallment with exotic stimuli in “The Caftan” –part Orientalist satire, part loving tribute to the escapism of material pleasures.  In this painting, as is typical of Ahkami’s practice, Ahkami builds bas-reliefs of gesso, and paints in repeated glazes of acrylic paint. The effect resembles Iranian ceramic traditions, at the same time as it conjures global iterations of blue and white ceramics and Majolica.  In Iranian ceramics, Ahkami finds real global connections as well as a freeing, unrestrictive sense of the hand that serves her expressionistic impulses.

Click on images below to view slideshow of installation shots:

Fantasy Will Set You Free

April 14 - June 2, 2018 @ Arlington Arts Center


As part of my longterm artist residency at Arlington Arts Center (which generously grants me a semi-subsidized studio for 6 years), I have this solo show up:

Arlington Arts Center is pleased to present in the Wyatt Resident Artists Gallery the exhibition of resident artist Negar Ahkami, Fantasy Will Set You Free. Negar Ahkami’s expressive, tactile paintings are inspired by Iranian art, and by global visual traditions that intersect with Iran’s rich art history. Ahkami’s emphasis on rhythm and viscerality is inspired by NYC street art of the 1980s and German expressionism. The imagined dancers in Fantasy Will Set You Free invoke dance floors of the artist’s youth: in New York City night clubs, and at parties organized by Ahkami’s parents for the growing Iranian immigrant community in the 1980s and 1990s.

In placing Iranian art and humanity in a broader, joyful context, and in her piece After Winter Must Come Spring -- in part magic carpet, in part interactive dance floor-- Ahkami is continuing her longtime engagement with Orientalism and stereotype subversion. Above all, Fantasy Will Set You Free is an impassioned escape from depressing news, for the viewer as well as the artist. Ahkami relives the spirit of the dance floor in her studio practice, by getting lost in spontaneous gestures, flamboyant poses, and a riot of rhythmic patterns.



Unpacking Old Baggage

My old work on paper, As I Sit Here Musing, Fires Will Burn is currently on view in an exhibit of political art at the Depaul University Art Museum in Chicago.  I made it in 2003: the year that my aesthetic language and vision began to take shape after a period of agoraphobic isolation post-9/11.  This work is packed with psychological symbolism.  I wanted to convey a complex alternate-world view.  It must be seen in person because of the tiny detail.  But here is an image.

When I was making this work, it did not matter to me that the imagery would be hard for viewers to decode.   Persian miniatures can still be enjoyed by broader audiences unfamiliar with underlying texts and symbolism.  I wanted to create an overall unsettling, dizzying, cacophonic feeling.      

This is a freak show: Iran, as viewed from a US audience seat (where I happen to sit).  There are Orientalist symbols here --mostly phallic.  I was flipping some middle fingers at repression and violence -- but I was also re-telling the dynamic of degradation and "cartoonification" of Persian culture in the US.  I was obsessed with this notion of the "Joe Camelization" of representations of Iran and Muslims in the US.  Camel cigarette ads were historically represented with Orientalist imagery, and in the 1990s they evolved into the gross, ultra-phallic ubiquitous Joe Camel character.  After 9/11, in the art world, Jason Rhodes was being celebrated for his ultra-offensive Mecca Tuna installation, seemingly immune to any criticism.  Conversation about these stereotypes was not happening back then in the art world and in the larger culture.  

There is a burlesque, even Bollywood quality to this work.  The late Terry Adkins was one of the first to see this piece in a really supportive / enabling studio visit.  He described it as taking place "at the gay disco." Really astute observation, given that a favorite escape for most of my teenage years was the NYC club scene.  In the work, a fully-veiled phallic figure with Dorothy-red glitter heels is bumping and grinding against a tortured Western figure with a Football head.  It's a dance club replay of the Iranian regime's efforts to bump out Western Influence.  Nevertheless, the citizenry, comprised of miniature "Farrahs" engage in Britney Spears-level partying --dancing, snorting, caresssing, thong-wearing. (The Farrahs were a favorite symbol in my old work from this period -- Persianate monobrowed females with Farrah Fawcett hair. A nod to the global reach of fashion in 1970s Iran, and the deposed Queen of Iran with the same name.)   

The title of this piece As I Sit Here Musing, Fires Will Burn is borrowed from Arabic text that I came across when I visited Olana after 9/11 -- the Persian-influenced home of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church.   I was haunted by the resonance of this quote.  It managed to express the guilt I felt in partaking in the escapist partying that was happening in NY after 9/11 while downtown was still burning, amidst massive sorrow and suffering in NY, in Iran, and around the world.   Surprisingly the art world seemed so non-political in 2003.  I felt an urgent need to put out images that represented this extremely charged, maddening time period.

My work in these early years was packed with so much imagery, so much symbolism, which it seemed as if I could not stop generating.  Although there still is so much cause for distress in the world at this very moment, and this will always be a sad day of reflection -- thankfully (for personal reasons) this intense political reeling and rage is no longer a part of my work.  What remains is an obsession with Persian art, and its power to be expressive, human, personal, raw, and electric.  

Exhibition in Chicago at Depaul Art Museum

I just found out that I am in the exhibition, Fires Will Burn: Politically Engaged Art from the Permanent Collection at the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago.  The DePaul acquired my dizzying, politically packed 2003 Work on Paper, "As I Sit Here Musing, Fires WIll Burn."  I am so proud they featured this work amongst Diego RIvera and other important political works in their collection.  It's also cool to see part of my title as the title for the exhibition.  

The exhibition dates are July 10 - December 21, 2014

DePaul University Art Museum, 935 West Fullerton, Chicago, IL  60614

The Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.  Open Wed-Thursday From 11-7, Friday 11-5, Sat-Sun 12-5. Admission is free.

For more information about the exhibition and the museum, see source link below.


Affordable Prints of my work on 20x200's website

I am so honored to be working with Jen Bekman's amazing site 20x200, which has issued limited edition prints of one of my favorite paintings, "Backsplash".  The original painting from 2010 is in the permanent collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain Connecticut.  

Order one for yourself, for a friend, or family.  20x200 makes it super easy!  Here is the link to order, and for more background about the piece:

20x200 Negar Ahkami: Backsplash

Welcome to my new website!

This website is very much a work in progress.  Please bear with me as I figure it out.  My former website was from 2007. It was time to update. 

Something to keep in mind as you look at these images : I do not paint in a series for a particular exhibition.  I work through my genuine obsessions. I find myself returning to certain themes and symbols until they might (or might not) work themselves out of my system.  

On this site, I have decided to regroup my works according to basic categories even if they were not painted with the intention of fitting into such particular categories.   Basic patterns in the work reveal themselves over time.  This is why you might notice a broad spectrum of dates within categories of images, like Landscapes and Odalisques.