Relating the Sufi story’s words, “her force is in my hands”, Shahram Karimi refers not only to a mother but to his motherland. Her force inspires paintings of the artist from Shiraz, Iran, home to Persian poets Hafez and Saadi and the mystic Ruzbehan. Karimi spoke to me of his paintings filled with music, flowers and village life, in his new show, with the artist, Sara Madandar at Elga Wimmer PCC in New York, September 11-September 24. His paintings in “Pink Dreams: A Land with No Name”, depict veiled women, angels, farmers, horses and clowns, and bright red flowers. His gently moving projections making video paintings draw on his experience as Shirin Neshat’s long-time production designer, envisioning the vibrant colors of her films. Schooled in Stoic philosophy, Karimi paints to change our minds, to see beauty around us. Visions of red and pink flowers slowly unfold a land of colorful flora and happiness in his remembered land. In Untitled, (2017), the king holds a rose instead of a scepter. The queen wears a crown of flowers. The door opens to a garden. A Persian carpet’s floral pattern on the canvas’ back bleeds through to the front of the painting.
Citing Omar Khayam, Karimi travels, disregarding borders, discovering new people, folktales and philosophies. Red flowers surround veiled women and one boy in the autobiographical Nomadic Women. In his video painting, Red Poppy, flowers literally wave over sketched faces. In Sisters, (2017) one vertical line connects two figures. Flowers printed on their dresses freely flow from one to the other. In Angel, (2016) a Madonna-like woman holds a baby. Angels hover recalling Christian iconography, but a man lies down below because, Karimi says “Iranians have been lying down for years”. Karimi’s original poetry emerges from blue-gray fog. Formally continuing traditional Persian miniature painting in a field absent perspective, these floating fragments of memories of his past reflect Iranians’ common memory, while his stoic philosophy dictating his search for the beautiful, weaves through visions of flowers and nature, historical events, poetry and people. In Karimi’s world, the Iranian man lying down looks up to contemplate his colorful, beautiful world.
Sara Madandar’s own body exists in that unmarked, borderless space she calls “A Land with No Name”. The Iran she knew does not exist for her anymore, that identity wiped out by politics. Though split, torn and rewoven, her fabrics retain the original threads that symbolize that land, rearranged and broken, but still underlying the land and life she knew, remembers and shows us. As we empathize with that longing, in Madandar’s womens’ bodies, one adorned with flowered fabric and the other, a plain orange body turned away from us in Untitled, (Acrylic and stitchery on linen, 2018), we see the wounds and rips that tore lives apart, sewn back together in a new land. In In Between, a screenprint and stitchery on canvas, sewn outlines of female bodies intertwine between pillars covered with black Farsi writing and Iranian symbols. She first relocated from Tehran; now her home is in New Orleans, itself a land of many cultures, French, English, Cajun. She asks: “How do we change as we migrate?” Her answer is that her body becomes her homeland, insisting, “I am from my own body, it is a Land with No Name.” Like the Shushan heroine, Sheherazade, Madandar tells her story, ripping it and remaking it to continue, recalling the old culture that is no more, struggling to create a new one without losing the poetry and threads of the old.
“Pink Dreams in a Land With no Name”, curated by Roya Khadjavi, at Elga Wimmer PCC, 526 West 26th St., New York, N.Y. Sept. 11-Sept. 24, 2019, 12-6 PM. www.royakhadjaviprojects.com