Art Iran: Falling into Language

In this new group exhibition, nine expatriate artists engage with the Persian language as a visual and symbolic device, exploring their state of diaspora and concepts of “home” via the alphabet.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – In collaboration with nonprofit Farhang Foundation, a compelling new group exhibition, ART IRAN: Falling into Language, opens at the art museum Craft Contemporary on Jan. 28, 2024 with an artist talk at 12 pm, and runs through May 5. 

Parastou Forouhar, Shahab Mirzaie

ART IRAN: Falling into Language presents nine expatriate Iranian artists who engage diverse forms of the Persian alphabet, handwriting, and fragments as an essential part of their artistic practice. This exhibition includes installation works, drawings, collages, site-specific art, and an interactive installation. The methods used range from sewing; assemblages of letters, words, and ceramics; and wall painting.

“The technique of handwriting on objects of different materials, from dishes to architectural tiles, is part of daily life in Iranian culture—and has been throughout history,” notes the exhibit’s curation team, Roshanak Ghezelbashand Hoda Rahbarnik. 

“The text that appears in ART IRAN: Falling into Language is not necessarily there to be read. It is there to be seen,” explain Ghezelbash and Rahbarnik. “The audience’s inability to read these letters captures the in-between state the artists occupy in their daily reality: no longer belonging in their homeland nor in their new home. They chose handwriting over calligraphy— a well-known official expression of the alphabet with a long history within and outside the Iranian art scene; the artists chose handwriting as their voice—to gain a sense of belonging. What they bring with them into this new state of alienation might ultimately be described as a new kind of cosmopolitanism—it belongs to nowhere, so it is at home everywhere.”

For example, The Written Room (pictured above), a site-specific installation by Parastou Forouhar, will be created in a narrow corridor of the gallery. Visitors will feel like they are walking into a room; her handwriting covers the walls, floors, and ceiling with black ink in this entirely white space. The Persian alphabet is presented in a way that may be unreadable even to Iranian readers, but the emotions conveyed in her art are universally understood. 

Hadieh Shafie’s installation, Ceiling Circle and Floor Circle, includes a hanging paper sculpture, a corresponding circular work on the floor, and three paintings (titled Safar, meaning travel). The installation features the word “Eshgh,” meaning love, written on numerous layers of paper. The word “love” is repeated thousands of times, then rolled up and placed together as a cohesive work. 

Women Artists

In addition to the women curatorial team, the exhibition features nearly all women artists (there is one husband/wife artist team). The artists include Golnar Adili, Parastou Forouhar, Taraneh HemamiElnaz JavaniMaryam Palizgir, Hadieh Shafie, Shadi Yousefian and the team of Neda Moridpour and Pouya Afshar. 

Hadieh Shafie, Safar 5, 2021. Color pencil on museum board, 60 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist
Hadieh Shafie, Safar 5, 2021. Color pencil on museum board, 60 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist

Six Years in the Making

ART IRAN: Falling into Language was made possible by the generous support and collaboration between Farhang Foundation and Craft Contemporary (formerly known as the Craft & Folk Museum).

ART IRAN: Falling into Language, “has been six years in the making,” says Alireza Ardekani, Executive Director of the Farhang Foundation. “I am delighted with the powerful artistic voices and multiple perspectives presented in this groundbreaking exhibition.”

The curatorial team of Roshanak Ghezelbash and Hoda Rahbarnik were selected as the winners of the prestigious ART IRAN Curatorial Competition, which welcomed arts professionals with experience in developing highly focused group exhibitions centered on Middle Eastern art and culture. Entrants of the open call, which was announced in 2021, were asked to submit a proposal for an exhibition of visual art that evoked themes of Iranian culture and heritage, as expressed in Iran’s contemporary art scene. 

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Hadieh Shafie’s tallation, Floor, and Ceiling Circles

The submissions were reviewed by a distinguished panel of five jurors, including curator and scholar Fereshteh Daftari, curator Maryam Ekhtiar of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, world-renowned artist Tala Madani, senior curator Bennett Simpson of MOCA, and Craft Contemporary’s former exhibitions curator Holly Jerger.

“Amid ongoing global challenges, we hope that this exhibition not only asserts cultural resilience but also acts as a catalyst for community empowerment,” said Rody N. Lopez, Executive Director of Craft Contemporary

Elnaz Javani, My Effigies, 2020. White muslin fabric,  hand sewn with black thread covered the external layer with stories in Farsi _ Azari calligraphy. Courtesy of the artist
Elnaz Javani, My Effigies, 2020. White muslin fabric, hand sewn with black thread covered the external layer with stories in Farsi – Azari calligraphy. Courtesy of the artist

“These Iranian artists have followed different trajectories around the world,” note Ghezelbash and Rahbarnik. “In their state of diaspora, they maintain a solid relationship with the Persian language as a visual and symbolic device. Though immigrant artists inevitably assimilate into the new cultures within which they find themselves, the persistence of what they brought with them from home remains.”

LOCATION: 5814 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036 | ADMISSION: General $9; Adults 65+ and students $7;12 and under free; Free for Craft Contemporary members. Free every Sunday for the public. | HOURS: Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The submissions were reviewed by a distinguished panel of five jurors, including curator and scholar Fereshteh Daftari, curator Maryam Ekhtiar of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, world-renowned artist Tala Madani, senior curator Bennett Simpson of MOCA, and Craft Contemporary’s former exhibitions curator Holly Jerger.

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