A Bridge Between You and Everything: An Exhibition of Iranian Women Artists

Published in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of The Brooklyn Rail.

Soudeh Douvoud, Dream and Imagination, 2019. Courtesy the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

In the group exhibition A Bridge Between You and Everything many artworks are slightly concealed. Sometimes the veil is a thin coat of blue paint, or a glaze of dirty water blurring the black ink, or fully opaque, jet-black brush strokes over pictures of famous landmarks. Sometimes hand-drawn images obscure old home movies that look like they are from another life. Some artworks depict veiled figures or objects. All of the works also have a more abstract, metaphorical veil, guising everything with a murky cloud: a part of the artists’ homeland, visible or invisible.

Organized by the Center for Human Rights in Iran and curated by Iranian-born artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat, A Bridge Between You and Everything features 13 contemporary Iranian women artists. Neshat often works with ideas of belonging and femininity, taking the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as a departure point, and the artists she includes here share similar narratives and concepts despite generational differences. They speak about the revolution. They tell each other their stories, reciting common experiences and pasts each with their own voice, some loud and some not, but in perfect harmony.

Installation view: A Bridge Between You and Everything: An Exhibition of Iranian Women Artists, High Line Nine, New York, 2019. Courtesy the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

The exhibition is divided into two sections in the High Line Nine space. One of the rooms, with high ceilings and bright natural light seeping through its skylights, has only one of its walls adorned with artworks. Paintings, drawings, photographs big and small, on canvas and paper, framed and not, are organized salon-style on the large wall. The biggest work is Soudeh Davoud’s five by six feet canvas Dream and Imagination (2019), which is surrounded by Roya Farassat’s 20 smaller paintings, Laleh Khorramian’s colorfully drawn “Peaks” (2019) series, and Bahar Sabzevari’s portraits that marry drawing and painting. Dream and Imagination shows two figures, a girl and a soldier, on the opposite ends of the canvas. They look both real and unreal in their half-transparent bodies and obscure facial expressions. There is no visible ground yet they stand facing each other, a cerulean wash (a sea, or the sky, or maybe mists of gunpowder over a war zone) connects them while coats of muted blues run over and under the figures, surrounding them in their motionless state. By bringing forth the background, the saturated hues give the subjects’ skin and clothes a translucent quality.

Roya Farassat’s paintings on paper are bold yet soft, rendered in various grays, blacks, whites, and a light, saturated red. Her relaxed, informed brushstrokes form eyes, hands, horns, and monsters. A single eye under a traditional wedding gown is haunted by a big, black shadow of a hand in Finally A Bride (2013), while a pattern of round, red lines surround a vaginal image in Private Eye (2009). Like Davoud’s painting, Farassat’s works are filled with empty, large spaces that are as vibrant and meaningful as shapes and figures, telling parts of a story without many words or gestures. Ala Dehghan’s mixed media Untitled (from the series The Rope) (2009) is similar with its untouched paper surface in the middle ground, accompanied by a brutally stark, yet violent image of a human, framed by dark eyes. Farassat’s eye images, red and black patterns, Dehghan’s vibrant, deep hued lines aren’t loud, but they communicate with clarity and candor.

Nazenin Noroozi, Untitled#0017, 2018. Courtesy the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

In the second room, Sareh Imani’s They say the sky is the same everywhere (2019), a collection of 20 found postcards, features images of places including Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri, the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, and a Gettysburg memorial. The actual landmarks are covered in India ink, veiling the buildings and their surroundings with a black shadow. The man-made structures lose their meaning in Imani’s work becoming mere dark spots in the sky. On the other side of the room, Nazanin Noroozi’s installation of video works, prints, negatives, and instant photographs feel like someone’s memories coming to life. In her stop motion videos, including Purl (2019), children perform on a stage in their best dresses and women dance in a living room at a birthday party. The images are stained, painted over, sometimes drawn on or covered in splattered colors. These videos are reminiscent of old VHS tapes; they are from a time when recording videos was for special occasions. The memories of a time that’s past are obstructed by Noroozi’s hand, changed forever. The artists of A Bridge Between You and Everything, within the scope of Neshat’s artistic and political vision, do the same. They change their own narrative along with their homeland’s, with shadows, veils, and colors. One artwork at a time.