Curated by Muheb Esmat in conjunction with Aziz Hazara’s solo exhibition in Gallery One, Always In My Heart brings together textiles, drawings, printed matter, and a web-based project that highlight how pop-culture idioms fall short of expressing all of what the heart can hold. The widely circulated personal and commercial expressions that appear in the artists’ works, though often seen as banal, offer vehicles for understanding the gendered limitations that underlie their formation. By highlighting the voids in these visual languages, they offer a metric for that which is left unexpressed.
In Allahyari’s web-based work Like Pearls (2014), from where the exhibition takes its title, the artist presents a glittery mashup of GIFs, heavily censored images of models, and textual idioms collected from Farsi email spam for online lingerie stores in Iran. Playing the Backstreet Boys’ hit “I Want It That Way” softly in the background, this installation prompts viewers to click through an animated digital collage, generating spam-like pop-up windows and revealing snippets of marketing language that caters to a generic masculine viewpoint–the clientele imagined by these online stores. Allahyari’s work is a case study of the persistent objectification of women’s bodies across digital spaces in service of male desire, as well as the patriarchal norms bound to common sentiments of love and desire that are in high circulation.
Hangama Amiri’s When I Am With You (2021) is an intricately sewn textile that combines a Farsi poem of love and endearment with a weeping eye, red lips, and three postcards of Bollywood film stars at the corners. Amiri’s work reproduces common tropes of romance and intimacy, reminiscent of the diaries of high school lovers. Here, poetic symbolism and Bollywood stars serve as a vehicle for smuggling in expressions of love and desire, subtly subverting the social and cultural norms that restrict this gendered language from a female-centric perspective in Afghanistan. The prevalence of these foreign stars is both an ode to the enormous presence Bollywood films have in the country and a reflection of lingering social anxieties that prevent the creation of a nuanced and inclusive language of romance.
In Despair and Die (2021), Fatemeh Kazemi constructs an intimate space for processing grief. Central to the installation is a book that chronicles the lamentation of a heavy heart through a fragmented narrative assembled from common Farsi idioms, drawings, and photographs sourced from family archives and found online. This installation builds on Kazemi’s practice of exploring the aesthetics of everyday life found in trivial and marginalized spaces and expressions. By employing these visual and symbolic representations of grief, the artist actively questions tired cliches–often used to express universal emotions–for the limits of what they are able to declare.
Always In My Heart is part of the newly launched Close Readings series, and is guest-curated by Muheb Esmat in conjunction with Aziz Hazara, It’s Only Sound That Remains. Close Readings presents a new commission by one under-recognized, early, or mid-career artist in Gallery One, along with an accompanying exhibition in Gallery Two that uses the central commission as a curatorial framework. This program extends our support for interdisciplinary artists by building conversations around their practices in addition to facilitating the realization of ambitious, site-specific projects. This pairing of exhibitions, guest curated by Muheb Esmat, centers the artists’ investigations of the complex and manifold matters of everyday life as experienced in their home countries. It’s Only Sound That Remains and Always In My Heart both explore the root sources and common language available for understanding the contemporary moment in its immeasurable diversity and ever-changing status.