Thursday, May 17, 2007

Taravat Talepasand at Heather Marx (SF)

Note: This exhibition is scheduled to close on 6/2/07.

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.

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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.)

10 comments:

Dmitry said...

Thanks for this post. I went to see this exhibition yesterday. Do you know what the green precious stone means? I mean the one on the last of her pictures in this post. I also noticed in on other paintings by her. Do you maybe have photos of those as well?

Anonymous said...

the triangular emerald in 'welcome jihad' represents the vagina. emerald is my birthstone and are known to be the rarest stone in the world. jewels are also known to signify wealth, birth, and power.

Bob said...

The artist has informed me that emeralds mean a number of things to her (including some she wouldn't divulge). Partly, she includes them in her work for ornamental effect. Partly they signify a rare treasure. They also represent herself, as they are her birthstone and a symbol of the Oregon town where she grew up, known locally as the "emerald valley." In the final photo in my posting, the emerald and the inverted triangle into which it is set seem to represent a woman's sexuality.

Matt Chamberlain said...

Hi Bob,
I was googling Taravat Talepasand and came across your blog. I couldn't help but notice the similarities in her work and another artist friend of mine, Ahmed Alsoudani. He is currently a grad student at Yale and had had a few solo shows in NY. You should check his work out. I would just google his name. (I have nothing to gain from this by the way.....I just thought you would be interested.)
take care
-Matt

Anonymous said...

I know taravat back in portland her personality is very intoxicating just like her art. I hope she knows that I admire her courage for the taboo of her culture and or art. Its very inspiring. I have seen her art work a good friend of min owns one of her art Piece AMAZING....

Anonymous said...

In My COUNTRY Islam, Jihad Also means

ji·had also je·had (j-häd)
n.
1. A Muslim holy war or spiritual struggle against infidels.
2. A crusade or struggle: "The war against smoking is turning into a jihad against people who smoke" Fortune.

Anonymous said...

I looked up Ahmed Alsoudani's work that was name dropped in an earlier posting. I don't see the similarities between these two artists except for their nationality. The materials that Taravat appears to be working with deals with technique and an extremely high attention to detail. The work is a reflection of her experiences as a female and disconnect between American and Iranian culture.

Anonymous said...

regarding talespand's work: i see no courage nor originality in making art that is a commentary on a culture one only knows at arms length. however, if the work is merely about provoking reaction, then i'd say it hits its mark. don't bother looking deeper than that...

Bob said...

Responding to the previous comment: To say that Talepasand's work is an arms-length commentary on another culture misrepresents it entirely. The work grows out of a dual heritage, American and Iranian. It is based on the artist's ambiguous position in these two cultures. The power and validity of the work derive from the artist's ability to evoke the tensions of her cultural situation by means of striking images. The work offers something specific, not a generalized commentary.

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http://vimeo.com/9012015