When I saw Taravat Talepasand’s MFA show at San Francisco Art Institute in the Spring of 2006, I thought “Amy Cutler” and wondered if I was seeing a distinctive artistic voice. Even so, Talepasand was one of the few artists from that show that people talked about afterward, and she was noticed by Heather Marx, who is presenting the artist’s commercial solo debut. The results are compelling, especially the paintings.
Talepasand’s background includes training in the art of Persian miniature painting, but her work has grown in scale. In her latest paintings she uses egg tempera on panel (combined with gold leaf in some cases). In a brief conversation, she provided such a good summary of her method that I’m tempted to try egg tempera myself, using pigment from her favorite source, Sinopia in San Francisco. Talepasand says she uses one egg a day, meaning of course the egg yolk (not a spec of white, and no egg sack).
Talepasand is a confident American-born child of Iranian parents. Her recent work is a critique of the cultural politics of contemporary Iranian society, especially the role of women. As a counterpoise to the current situation in Iran, she has become interested in Persia's Qajar period (approximately 1794-1925), an era in which she believes there was a beneficial interplay between Islamic and Western elements of culture.
In several of her paintings, Talepasand references the Iranian flag used prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution. The old flag featured both the figure of a lion (representing the male) and the sun (representing the female). In a couple of works, she has painted herself into the lion pose. (One of these is shown at the top.)
Another intriguing work is a dual portrait called “Amorous Couple,” in which two women are intertwined in a manner that conveys tension and bickering. Talepasand says these two figures represent Islamic society and the West.
Another work, small in scale but vivid, was described by the artist as a duplicate of a tattoo that she has. The word “jihadi” is shown dripping oil onto a mystical (and perhaps sexual) golden triangle in the middle of which is set a giant emerald, symbol of steadfastness. In this image, jihad appears to be a transitory response to the economics of oil rather than a value for the ages.
Talepasand devises symbolical and absurdist representations rather than polemics. But her concern for the status of women in Iran is grounded in unfortunate facts. In 2004, for example, a 16-year-old girl named Atefeh Rajabi, a quasi-orphan who lived in northern Iran, was hanged from a crane for having sex with unmarried men. The religious judge who condemned her showed up at the hanging to place the noose around her neck. The case was reported in the press and in a summary by Amnesty International. (A BBC photo of the executed girl is shown below.)