For my exhibition at the Walters Art Museum, I wanted to create my own “museum section" inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Islamic” section of my youth, and by the Iranian art in the Met’s collection that had transformed me. Included in my show, are diverse works inspired by (albeit loosely, taking great liberties) Iran’s ornate, tiled mosque architecture, the Persian manuscript, the Persian carpet, an Iranian mehrab, and Iranian ceramics. Like the distinctive works in museum Islamic sections, there is an overarching unity: it all comes from the same notion of place. The work in my show all comes from the same psychic place.
For my exhibition, I looked to the Walters Art Museum’s permanent collection and curatorial displays thereof . I chose a wall color that speaks to Islamic art collections in various museums. I wanted to replicate the feeling I have in a museum of exuberant areas that jump out, as well as quieter, intimate areas of discovery. I wanted to replicate the deep feelings that I have when looking at Iranian art in museums like the Met and the Walters. The way these works communicate with each other across the room —and across separate museum sections deemed “Western” —is not, for me, a subtle experience. These deeply-felt relationships scream loudly, and the rhythmic patterns pulsate in variation and unity, like strangers dancing to the same music in a club. In my paintings, I strive to harness Persian’s art’s expressive potential, with its dizzying, visceral experience of constant “eye travel” across jewel-like, complexly-patterned surfaces.
In my Sondheim exhibition, I wanted to tell a complex story of Iran’s rich visual legacy and its relevance, often taken for granted. The works speak to Giving (as in Iran’s gifts of ornamentation, hospitality, fantastica, and escapist pleasure), and Taking (as in unacknowledged cultural appropriation). My intent, in this 40th year of depressing US-Iranian geopolitics, was an in-your-face, maximalist, tribute: (1) to Iran’s art, (2) to its flamboyant humanity and (3) to the fraught and beautiful connections that exist between us, that have existed through the ages.