Rooted/UpRooted, curated by Roya Khadjavi and Massoud Nader, which is on view from November 12 through 25 at Elga Wimmer PCC Gallery, New York, New York, connects trees, whose roots are secured deep in the earth with those who come from a place, in this case Iran, whose roots also run deep. Whereas tree roots remain in one place, the Iranian artists whose work is displayed here have been uprooted from their land, but maintain their cultural and historical roots, showing their memories and history in their work.
In Omid Mohkami’s “Absence Series, a heart-rending photograph of a curved road with an unoccupied chair in its center and a dress stuck on barbed wire makes us wonder where the road leads and carries those who follow it, as they say in Maine, away. In another of Mohkami’s black and white photographs, a circle of chairs, occupied by no one, looking as if the master and his pupils have left, is arranged around a tree, the only form still fixed to the land. The individual photographs are “Untitled”, the places unlocatable. They are somewhere and nowhere and everywhere. Beautiful photographs of lone trees amid bare landscape erase any background, of the tree or the artist. The tree could stand on any land, or no land, but that image of that tree is carried by the artist wherever she might go. It is in her memory. That is what artists do. They preserve that which is important to them, engraved in their memories and their psyches.
That void is present again in Arman’s photographed, anatomically shaped leaves and flowers, emerging from a black background. The golden leaves in his “Light Flowers” series and newly budded branches in his “Dark Trees” series of Japanese trees highlight his studies of Iranian mysticism and calligraphy and its relationship to Western Art Nouveau style. Merging east and west, confusing locations in his black void, his golden light, like a sun rising and giving life to plants, permeates all of the leaves and flowers on our earth.
The leaves, appearing lace-like, torn and dry, in Azadeh Ghotbi’s photographs, show leaves torn from the limbs they grew on, to exist solely on a white surface that could be air, or unknown soil. They are not blowing in the wind but are still, in a place, to be studied and remembered. She explains her influence as “Mono no Aware”, the Japanese art that describes a sensibility to the impermanence of one’s surroundings, contributing to the wearing away of the top layer of the leaf to show its underlying stems and fragile ecosystem. She captures the long process of aging and decaying in each photograph’s millisecond-long exposure, titling these images of leaves, “Fading Into Glory.”
Ali Kourechchian’s sculptured trees of painted polymer stand on pedestals, look like metal. Their branches seemingly blow in a strong wind, but they stand tall. “Free Woman”, shows a fallen branch, on the ground. As the title indicates, although the branch of that tree has fallen, it is now free to pursue its life, and perhaps bear fruit and progeny. His trees in “Gone with the Wind” look like ship’s figureheads, leading the vessel into unknown and dangerous waters, but going on with the journey. His seed-shaped sculptures, like “Sarv,” referring to a cypress tree, and “Bagh e Irani,” meaning a Persian garden, recall the Iranian creation myth of the “All-Seeds” tree that first grew on earth. Two birds took its seeds and spread them, as these artists have spread from their roots in Iran, over all the world.
Like Iranian gardens, without complicated patterns, these simple works carry a message, to protect the roots, the memories. There is a clear ecological perspective to this work insisting that we can preserve our world. We can let the natural processes that both preserve and destroy, and birth again, take place. We can carry our roots with us and relocate the physical tree and our physical selves to another land, so they and we might live. This show shows all that and more, that beauty and our natural world will not be destroyed, nor will we be. Those trees stand proud and tall, unwavering, in the winds of change like those in the fierce winds of the Iranian plateau, enduring.
(Rooted/UpRooted, curated by Roya Khadjavi and Massoud Nader, runs from November 12 through 25 at Elga Wimmer PCC Gallery, 526 W. 26th St., Third floor, #310, New York, New York. For more information, call (212) 206-0006.)