Speaking at the 2011 International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Awards, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat addressed the dilemma of Iranian artists today: imprisonment if they remain at home and permanent exile if they leave.
If there is a persistent lament uniting the multimedia works of Iranian artist Shahram Karimi, it is the dislocation from his roots. The artist was jailed for two years in his native country before his 1987 emigration to India and Nepal, and finally to Germany. He taught at the University of Cologne where the government gave him the studio that became his base to establish his international reputation. fine arts magazine
Karimi is a longtime Neshat collaborator, creating the highly evocative set design for her award winning videos and recent film, Women Without Men. He was also set designer for White Meadows, a 2009 Iranian film in the global spotlight due to the international outcry over the imprisonment of director Mohammad Rasoulof and editor Jafar Panahi.
Yet, coming at a time of his permanent relocation to New York City, Shahram Karimi: The Garden of Remembrance at LTMH Gallery marks a crucial turning point. This exquisite premiere solo exhibition of mixed media paintings serves to place the artist on the world stage when all eyes are on the Arab Spring, thereby delivering contemporary Persian painting into a universal dialectic surrounding the re-enchantment of art.
Younger artists in particular are seeking mythical narrative and Karimi delivers it by way of a highly developed sensibility that – in the Persian tradition – fuses poetry and image directly through calligraphy. The verve to modernize finely interwoven Persian tapestry and Persian miniature painting is transmitted through the use of fabric as a base material. These ‘found objects’–while evoking the artist’s origin in the garden city of Shiraz — also serve to highlight the timeless symbol as crucial to time travel. The rose, both in form and meaning – Eros – is at the literal foundation of these timeless timepieces, simultaneously hidden in the fabric as well as exploding on the surface; here and there, the opposites connect through the lovingly rendered brushstroke.
Stepping into Rose Garden of Remembrance with its interconnections that bind these fabrics into a holistic cloth, we are drawn to participate an enigma. Karimi paints his exotic origin through a filter of emotional realism while holding the tension of the opposites: Persian tradition painting infused with a personal narrative of life/death/rebirth self-discovery in which inner and outer are reconciled as one.
There is no easy clue in the work or the titles, to determine who these haunting figures may be, yet the enigma of soul exposed on their faces is precisely what draws us into the artist’s deft strategy of creating idiosyncratic artifacts reflecting an emotional journey where past, present and future converge.
This subversive tactic, arising from the matured rendering of a rebellious impulse heightens the cinematic narrative that is all his own. By infusing his passion into a personal and tribal narrative of liberation through memory, Karimi highlights a universal past.
Iran, by geography and pre-Islamic cultural tradition, is a direct passage to ancient Sumer, the ever-present origin of a newly emerging 21st century archetype: the hieros gamos (sacred marriage). Penetrating deep to establish this connection, Karimi delivers the Zoroastrianism dynamism of opposites as a gateway to the future.
Referencing Mithra, the Persian precursor to Christ, and intertwining Christian and Hindu influences with his own personal mythmaking in his installation collages and painting on photographs, the prophet delivers the infans solaris (sun child) of his long time collaboration with Neshat and her enigmatic veiled women. Women and Allah, the final work of the series, encapsulates the narrative of Karimi’s marriage of tradition and innovation while fusing the universal mythological hero’s journey narrative into the collective consciousness (symbolized by the drawn faces surrounding the central painted image). Not surprising, this boy covered in roses has the face of the artist!
Gloriously present are the relics – the emotional baggage symbolized by a painted suitcase in the center of the gallery – cast off from this modern grail journey. Exquisitely realized from a deep well of emotional memory, Shahram Karimi: The Garden of Remembrance reveals what is crucial about Iranian art in exile today: the fusing symbol and mythological narrative as a link between the icon at the origin of human civilization and a newly emerged 21st century archetype liberating humanity from the patriarchy of monotheistic religion.
Shahram Karimi: The Rose Garden of Remembrance is on view at the Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery in Manhattan until June 18, 2011
By Lisa Paul Streitfeld, Contributing Writer
Lisa Paul Streitfeld is a New York-based critic and blogger for the Huffington Post.
Learn more about the Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller (LTMH) Gallery at www.ltmhgallery.com