An Immigrant’s Search for Identity: New Works by Ardeshir Tabrizi
Roberts Projects, Culver City
through November 16
Written by David S. Rubin
Taken at face value, the six paintings in the main gallery of Ardeshir Tabrizi’s solo exhibition are highly unique, contemporary variants of Persian rugs. Created through the artist’s expert handiwork using acrylic inks and thread, each painting was constructed through a multilayered process of alternately embroidering with silk threads and floss and airbrushing pearlescent inks. The resultant imagery replicates the basic structure of a traditional Persian rug, complete with a central image, allover patterning, and decorative border. Lest we miss the connection, threads are visibly part of the compositions and Tabrizi opted to cover the gallery floor with a wall-to-wall multicolored grid of contemporary Persian rugs. While this could seem overstated in that the rugs occupy more surface space than the paintings combined, it is actually a very effective device in two respects. On one hand, the collection of rugs is an apt metaphor for the exhibition’s overall theme, the artist’s relationship with his native Iran. More importantly, they affect the viewing experience in a sensorial way. As a frequent gallery visitor accustomed to usually hard floors pressing against my feet, I felt lifted up while moving through the exhibition, almost as if I was walking on air in some liminal zone. In looking closely at the paintings, it became apparent that this sensation suited the enigmatic quality of the subject matter, an amalgam of mythological, historical, and contemporary narratives and cultural, geographic, and political symbols that all refer to various aspects of the artist’s identity as an Iranian-American immigrant (his family fled their homeland during the Iran-Iraq War, when Tabrizi was a young child).
Because the intertwined figures and diverse emblems in the paintings derive from multitudinous sources and time periods, the works effectively convey the idea that Iranian culture, history, and current affairs are especially complex, so much so that even the artist cannot answer the simple question “What does it mean to be Iranian?” Some of the sources for the paintings’ camouflaged central imagery, however, are rendered with acute precision and clarity in a series of embroidered works on paper that are hung in a grid formation in the office gallery. A representation of the Winged Sphinx, a sculptural relief from the palace of Darius of the Great (549-486 BCE) at Susa, for example, appears in both bodies of works. In the painting Susa, the mythological figure is immersed within and somewhat obscured by dynamic patterning. In the paper version, Darius Sphinx, it is rendered in simple outline, having been drawn with graphite over a page from the Quran that has been blackened with gouache. Colorful stitched rays of light emanating from the Sphinx’s staff reveal it to be a powerful figure.
Whether one is Iranian or not, visitors to the exhibition can engage in a vibrant aesthetic experience while gaining some insight into the difficulties of displacement faced by immigrants like Tabrizi, who uses artmaking as a vehicle towards understanding the country he left behind.