July 25, 2019, The British Library
The Iranian-American artist Pantea Karimi’s recent solo exhibition Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo at the Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland, California, USA, was inspired by a study of several of the British Library’s scientific manuscripts which she reviewed during an extended visit in 2018. In this guest blog she speaks about this process and her work.
June 2019, Content Magazine
Photo: Daniel Garcia, Article: Nathan Zanon
Iranian American visual artist Pantea Karimi began formally studying art at age 14 and never looked back. With the encouragement of her parents, she earned an MFA in graphic design from the Art University in Tehran before opening up her own studio there. In 2001, she moved to England to study printmaking while showcasing many of her own works in galleries and collections around the world. She continued her studies at San Jose State starting in 2005 with a second master’s degree in painting and printmaking. Drawn from an early age to her mother’s fashion magazines-not only for the clothing styles, but for the layout and design elements-some of Karimi’s recent work has brought this thread back into focus as she has studied various forms of print media from a design lens. Today, she is a sought-after speaker at museums and universities; she also teaches at the College of San Mateo and maintains a studio in Palo Alto.
“As an artist, I am naturally driven by my deep feelings and childhood experiences that have shaped my perceptions of the world. My work has been an exploration into the pages of medieval Persian, Arab, and early modern European scientific manuscripts. The scientific books from these periods offer nuanced understandings of the relationship between form and text, and above all, between scientific concepts and their manifestations in visual forms. I also draw inspirations from artists from around the world, my peers, and art genres. I am always thankful to the art communities that embraced me and contributed to my growth as an artist.”
April 2019, By Skylar De Paul
The Bay Area is a hot spot for some of the best art California has to offer, and Oakland, in particular, is peppered with local galleries that showcase the works of artists from all around the globe. One of such spaces is the artist-run Mercury 20 Gallery, which rotates its featured collections every six weeks. It opened its newest collection of exhibitions last month, featuring works ranging from astronomy-inspired graphics to distressing commentary on FedEx shipments.
Artist Pantea Karimi’s section of the gallery, titled “Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo,” is focused on the Moon. “I aim to use the Moon as the catalyst to bring poetry, art, and science together,” she writes in her exhibition description. In her art, the Iranian American artist shares her knowledge of astronomy through mixed media art pieces. Karimi includes passages from Persian poets in some of her work, as these writings were her introduction to astronomy when she was growing up in Iran.
Karimi pulled information and inspiration from the manuscripts of early scientists, such as 11th-century Persian astronomer Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī and 17th-century Italian scientist Galileo Galilei. Karimi first attained access to these manuscripts during her time studying at the British Library in London last year, during which she researched both astronomers.
“I was enchanted by this sense of imagination these scientists had,” Pantea said, standing next to her creations in the gallery she oversaw for the day. She channels this imagination throughout her works, some of which also feature scenes printed in the graphic collage on fabric from the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969.
Pantea said she hopes her art will “bring a thread between the East and the West” through exploring scientific interpretation. “You cannot say science belongs to this culture or that culture. … Science belongs to humanity,” she said.
Featured Artist, pages 36-41
May 2019, By Katie McGowan & Nina Dietz
Healing Garden is a virtual reality project that I envisioned in 2017 after the medicinal botanical gardens of the Alhambra Palace in Andalusia, Spain. Andalusia was the birthplace of The Herbal, which is one of the most remarkable manuscripts of medicinal botany in the middle ages. The book was composed by the 12th c. Andalusian physician and scholar al-Ghafiqi and was copied and read by many healers and physicians throughout the following centuries. Wearing VR headset, participants “enter” the Healing Garden, which is a courtyard with white arches, and ten plant beds around a water fountain on a floor that is covered with Moorish tiles. They use their own hands to pick a series of medicinal plants and arrange them in the plant beds. Thus, they create a virtual garden as a metaphor for reconnecting with nature for healing. The plants are modeled after my screen-printed images on paper, which were inspired by al-Ghafiqi’s illustrations in The Herbal. Water and fountains were integral parts of medieval Islamic gardens and palaces of Andalusia. The sound of water fountains and the moving reflections of buildings, trees and flowers on its rippling surface contributed to a unique, calming experience for the residents. Similarly, in my VR Healing Garden, participants have the opportunity to listen to the sound of water fountain. The participant can then “walk” on the glowing Moorish tiles under the sun and pass through the Moorish arcades and enjoy her/his handcrafted garden from a short distance.
Galleries at Minnesota Street Project showcase artwork inspired by the political and cultural changes in Iran since the 1979 Revolution
1979 Iranian Upheaval Resonates in “Once at Present”
April 2019, By Sura Wood
Twenty Bay Area visual artists of Iranian descent mark the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution in a contemporary art exhibition opening in multiple galleries at the Minnesota Street Project. “Once at Present” examines issues of migration, memory, history, the intersection of past and present and the cultural and personal implications of the Iranian diaspora.
“What people will see are similar experiences explored from very different perspectives,” says Taraneh Hemami, a local artist and educator raised in Tehran who co-curated the exhibition with renowned Bay Area curator Kevin B. Chen. “The work holds a lot of power because it comes from such a deeply personal place.”
In her work, Pantea Karimi addresses the emotional scars of the Iranian revolution both metaphorically and poetically. To create “Folding Gardens, A Stained Memory” (2017-19), she digitally printed black and white floral patterns, based on a 12th-century medicinal botanical manuscript, on long strips of transparent organza that hang on rods suspended from the ceiling. The installation, a maze of sheer curtains, gestures toward the healing properties of herbal medicine, a tradition reaching back to the Middle Ages that played an important role in her childhood in the southern city of Shiraz. “My idyllic life was interrupted by social upheaval that culminated in a decade of war and instability,” she recalls. Injured during the evacuation of her elementary school, she still remembers the blood stains on the classroom floor. Additional fabric strips depicting red tulips, an Iranian symbol of martyrdom, suggest the lasting effects of violence, and how the revolution left an indelible mark on her early life.
Jan 21, 2019, By CAMRYN BELL | SENIOR STAFF
Artist Pantea Karimi created one of the exhibit’s most arresting pieces, offset in the gallery space by two small walls. Featuring digital archival prints of flowers arranged in circular fashion around a centerpiece, Karimi composed the piece as a reflection of the herbal medicine tradition in her hometown of Shiraz, Iran, as well as of her work researching medieval and scientific manuscripts. In this enclosed space, the piece takes up a sizable portion of the wall — yet another refraction of how the self-portrait can go beyond a physical representation and assume a more conceptual form.
“Self-Portraits in the Age of Selfies” is a comprehensive view of what self-portraiture can be, with a wide variety of pieces and perspectives on how we look at ourselves. Rather than indulgent or narcissistic, as selfies are so often seen, this exhibit is a celebration of self-interpretation and the many forms in which one’s self can be viewed.
The Journal of The California Society of Printmakers: Marriage of Technology and Tradition
The Versatile Screen-print: High-Tech Tools & Traditional Forms
March 26, 2018, By Pantea Karimi
Screen-printing in its essence is a marriage of technology (machines and equipment) and tradition (developing imagery through multiple graphic techniques and printing on paper), which makes the medium versatile and suitable for both crisp images and painterly effects. In recent years screen-printers also have used digital applications, which help add further complexities and possibilities to the production process. I am a screen-printer with an interest in using the screen-printing process as a base for creating both multi-media and mixed-media artworks. As an artist, I find the screen-printing medium has inherent qualities that motivate me and stimulate a particular creative thought-process.
In 2014, I began a new research project which revisits my earlier investigations in the history of Iranian print media. My work since 2014 has been an exploration into the pages of medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts, particularly Persian, Arab and European. I am intrigued by the complex expressions of medieval and early modern scientists through scientific illustrations and diagrams. This research project further compelled me to utilize different materials, experiment with novel ways of displaying my work and employ new technologies. I have been using art installations, screen-prints on paper and other substrates, Virtual Reality and video projections to create a dynamic visual interpretation of the scientific concepts and ideas presented in the manuscripts. My research into the visual representations of medieval and early modern mathematics, medicinal botany, anatomy, optics and cartography is ongoing.
Square Cylinder, Sacramento, CA, March 18, 2018, By David M. Roth
Printmaking rarely aspires to monumentality. Its history, with a few notable exceptions, is largely one of intimate works made either by dedicated printmakers or by painters seeking to expand their purview with help from master printers. Printstallations, a show featuring the work of eight such masters, upends that tradition by filling half the San Jose ICA with large-scale prints. They dominate entire walls, hang from the ceiling and activate floor space using a wide range of media and techniques, including photography, lithography, textiles, woodblock prints, computer-aided design, LED lights and much else. The exhibition is but the latest example of the ICA sidestepping staid white-cube displays in favor of more active modes of audience engagement. While size is a critical component, the strength of the show rests more with innovative processes than with expositions of sheer scale. Pantea Karimi, a native of Iran, imprints floral patterns culled from a 12th century herbal medicine text onto translucent silk banners that hang from the ceiling. Her efforts, titled Folding Gardens, bring to mind those of another 19th century German photographer, Karl Blossfeldt. His precise shots of plants, achieved with a camera capable of magnifying subjects by up to 30 times their original size, revealed structural patterns never before seen.
The Mercury News, San Jose, CA, Nov 17, 2017, By Khalida Sarwari
Euphrat Museum of Art’s fall exhibit, titled “Kindness as Resistance,” features artwork by Bay Area-based artists that explore positive counter-narratives as a response to injustice or oppression. Pantea Karimi, a San Jose-based artist who teaches at Gavilan College and Cabrillo College, has several pieces in the exhibit, many of which were inspired by her childhood in Shiraz, Iran. Her works collectively attempt to engage four of the five senses: touch, sight, hearing and smell. Her most visible piece is called “Folding Gardens,” an installation of digital prints on silk organza, rods and threads that hang from the ceiling. The work is based on “The Herbal of al‑Ghafiqi,” a manuscript written by 12th century Andalusian physician and scholar Abu Ja’far al-Ghafiqi. “The idea is that someone can take these fabric strips in a folded manner and open them on demand,” Karimi said. “To me, it’s very poetic. It’s a metaphor for carrying the healing notion of nature. That’s why they’re printed on fabric so they can be folded.”
In this space, Karimi has the sound of a water fountain emanating from speakers. Alongside “Folding Gardens” is another piece that’s titled “Medicinal Herbal Volvelle,” an interactive wheel installation that reveals the healing properties of eight plants. And right next to that is a shelf that contains plant extracts—another interactive piece that invites visitors to open the bottles and take a whiff, a Shiraz-inspired piece of art, Karimi said.
Karimi developed these works this year as part of a six-month fellowship residency she completed at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley. Her aim, she said, was to encourage people to engage with these concepts through the senses rather than just read about them online or in a book. “My main idea is basically that I would like to encourage people to get connected to the natural world,” she said. “The importance of connectivity with the natural world is the main idea behind this botanical work and also to highlight the ancient practices. I feel like in contemporary times, we are not connected to the healing aspect of nature. We are connected to the beauty of it and preserving it, but how about the healing aspect of it? So I wanted to highlight that through my work.”
Stateless, group exhibition, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
SouthCost Today, New Bedford, MA, Dec 15, 2016, by Don Wilkinson, an art writer and critic living in New Bedford
These are tumultuous times and there is an endless barrage of disturbing images that remind us how much misery and pain is in the world. One such haunting image surfaced in late 2015, when the world became aware of the photograph of a three year old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi. He wore a bright red T-shirt and he was face-down on the beach, like a discarded toy. He drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as his family fled crisis in the Middle East. That toddler could have been anyone’s son. But instead he became a symbol of something gone very wrong.
In an alcove, Pantea Karimi (sister of the curator) displays “Waters of Life, Waters of Death” in which a video projection of lapping waves on a tranquil beach is projected over black silhouettes derived from ancient maps of the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and elsewhere. The sound that accompanies the video is soothing. But it would be a tragic mistake to get lulled.
SF WEEKLY, San Francisco, CA, April 20, 2016, By Jonathan Curiel
In Pantea Karimi’s new watercolor and silkscreen work called The Return of Geocentrism i, centuries of knowledge — and layers of meaning — flood across a celestial horizon that has the sun revolving around the earth. The art is Karimi’s take on a 16th-century cartographic work by Portugal’s Bartolomeu Velho, who was envisioning a second-century idea by the Greek-Egyptian scholar Ptolemy. In Velho’s time, during the European Renaissance, knowledge was transferred through books translated over the centuries by Arab and Persian scholars who’d kept alive Greek theories that would otherwise have been lost. No Arab and Persian scientists. No European Renaissance. Karimi is honoring this cross-century transference, where Velho was collaborating with Ptolemy through ancient scholars from the Middle East. But Karimi’s work, which is part of her art series called “Punctum Caecum” — Latin for “blind spot” — is also a sly commentary on today’s environmental concerns.”I use the title ironically,” says Karimi, who was born and raised in Iran and now lives in San Jose. “Because of all the problems that we have on Earth — climate-wise and scientifically — the return of geocentrism is a kind of metaphor. Do we have to pay attention to Earth again? Isn’t it Earth at the center of attention?” Karimi will exhibit The Return of Geocentrism i and other work from her “Punctum Caecum” series at stARTup Art Fair San Francisco, which runs April 29 through May 1 in the Marina District and features many artists who don’t have traditional gallery representation.
The Lux of A Dark Age
Artist Pantea Karimi Discusses Her Punctum Caecum Series
Interview with Art Historian Dr. Staci Gem Scheiwiller, 32-page published catalog
California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock, CA
Click on the image for the pdf catalog
Pantea Karimi: I have had a long-term interest in juxtaposed textual and pictorial elements. I am intrigued by the ways in which image and text interact and convey meaning. Following this interest, my current body of work explores the history of archaic technologies and investigates how older scientific knowledge was communicated through both image and text. I examine medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts–Persian, Arab and European–and the longue durée (long term) exchange of knowledge across these cultures. This process not only provides me with a great means to explore what I love–the relationship between image and text–but also expands my appreciation of science and its role in the visualization of abstract concepts. The scientific manuscripts are dynamic and engaging. Most of them are filled with beautiful drawings and calligraphic texts. Others include interactive devices, such as volvelles (paper wheel charts) that accommodated calculation in many diverse subjects and used beautiful images, calligraphic texts and numbers.
I am a printmaker and painter and I also hold a professional degree with work experience in graphic design, all of which have influenced my fine art aesthetic and practice. For the past few years, I have been using mixed-media techniques in my works, mainly a mix of silkscreen and monotype printing with watercolor and graphite on various substrates. Additionally as a graphic designer, I have always been intrigued by the design and layout of books and print media; my graphic design capstone project in 1999 was an exploration into the design and layout of nineteenth-century Iranian newspapers.
Which artists and art movements have been important inspirations in your own artistic development? How have you developed your own creative voice?
PK: While medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts are my main sources of inspiration, I am also influenced by the work of modern avant-garde artists. In terms of abstraction and arrangement of my own forms, I draw inspiration from the Russian Suprematist artists El Lissitzky (1890-1941) and Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). These artists were in search of a style of abstract painting based on geometric shapes, which they believed promoted the supremacy of pure artistic feeling over the depiction of objects. Being influenced by Suprematists, I began the Punctum Caecum series by selecting medieval and early modern Persian, Arab and European scientists who were inspired or influenced by each other’s scholarly works or theories. I then rendered the pages of texts and diagrams of the manuscripts by these scientists into black shapes. These black shapes provide me with a new visual form of engagement with scientific content and offer more compositional opportunities in my works. Like Suprematists’ works, these black shapes aim to engage the “pure feelings” of my audiences through simplicity and absence of didactic information. I want to explore the ways in which viewers respond to form both visually and conceptually.
I believe that creativity is innate, and it must emerge naturally. Similar to the Suprematists, I want to instill a “pure” process of thinking into my audiences. In this particular project, I have developed and enriched my creative voice through observation and exploration of form and scientific content and the ways I interpret these pieces of information in my work.
How is Punctum Caecum different from your earlier projects?
PK: My series Punctum Caecum, which means “blind spot” in Latin, is the result of my exploration of ancient Arab, Persian and European scientific manuscripts. “Blind spot” stands for both the Dark Ages and for when we turn a blind eye to the fluidity of exchange of knowledge between these various scientists. The scientific books from the medieval Islamicate world and early modern times offer nuanced understandings of the relationship between form and text, and above all, between scientific concepts and their myriad manifestations in visual forms. Medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts were composed of hand-drawn images and diagrams, as well as textual and mathematical explanations. Each page of these manuscripts often separated images and texts through both structural compositions and random layouts as they appear to our eyes. To reiterate, sometimes commentators penned their thoughts as marginalia, thereby initiating a dialogue with the reader. All the above attributions make this project not only different from my previous ones but also very special and fascinating for me to work with. Moreover by revisiting the scientific concepts through the lens of art, I highlight the significance of visual elements in science. In fact, I see similarities between scientific and artistic discovery processes; both fields share exploration–visually and conceptually–use imagination and communicate meaning. This new project and research have elevated my inner awareness about the ways in which we communicate as humans and the many forms that this communication takes.
What were some of the driving forces behind Punctum Caecum?
PK: I came across an article in The Guardian about a new book, Mathematics and Art: A Cultural History by historian Lynn Gamwell. In the article, I encountered a quotation by Gamwell that deeply resonated with me:
To research Math and Art I had to learn maths concepts like calculus, group theory and predicate logic. As a novice struggling to understand these ideas, I was struck with the poor quality and confusing content of illustrations in most educational books. So I vowed to create for my book a set of cogent math diagrams that are crystal-clear visualizations of the abstract concepts. As a lecturer at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, I wrote this book for my students, such as Maria, who told me she was never good at history because she couldn’t remember dates, and for Jin Sug, who failed high school algebra because he couldn’t memorize formulae. I hope they will read this book and discover that history is a storybook and that math is about captivating idea.
In Iran, high school students are required to choose a major and stay with it for the entire duration of their education. By the age of 15, I had invested most of my free time in fine arts studio practice and had received music lessons on a regular basis. Despite all this, my parents wanted me to enter my high school’s natural sciences department, which prepared students for medical school. My parents were great advocates of art; however as pragmatists in a society that mainly praises doctors and engineers, they encouraged me to become a pharmacist. But their wish never came true. As years went by, I faced many difficulties and ended up switching fields of study on entering college. This was mainly due to the fact that the scientific concepts were not explained extensively or in a hands-on way, and rote learning was the main focus at the time. My biology and chemistry textbooks included images (albeit in poor black-and-white quality), and in hindsight, I recognize how those difficult and abstract scientific subjects spoke to me more vividly through images and diagrams. This relationship between visual representations and abstract ideas has continued to captivate me and has become the basis for my current research and work. As an artist, I am naturally driven by my deep feelings and childhood experiences that have shaped my perceptions of the world. So, my unsuccessful encounters with scientific subjects have always endured, and I am still in search of a way to overcome this shortcoming. Consequently, Punctum Caecum is somehow a personal journey.
Your Volvelles are fascinating, which remind one of astrolabes. Astrolabes metaphorically inscribe the world, making the globe a particular text itself. Are you drawing attention to similar constructions of historical knowledge and intentional mapping of the world, perhaps as they pertain to contemporary issues?
PK: While similar at first glance, volvelles provide more formal possibilities for me than astrolabes. Exploring the form and function of volvelle allows me to imagine myself in medieval times. Made out of paper, volvelles are versatile in forms and layering construction. But there is more to them than just this. Getty curator Rheagan Martin describes volvelles in these terms:
As scientific thought progressed, volvelles became increasingly valued not just for their ability to record information, but also for their potential to produce new knowledge. Revolutionary for its time, the parchment calculating device was considered a form of “artificial memory” that freed users from committing large amounts of detailed information to mind.2
It is the volvelle’s artificial memory within the context of manuscripts that makes it all the more different. As an artist, my hope is to remind the viewer of the often forgotten glorious memories of the exchanges of knowledge between the European, Arab and Persiante worlds. In making my volvelles’ imageries, I stack multiple layers of scientific images and textual content. In some, I mix and match Persian, Arab and European medieval and early modern scientific images and information, and by doing this, I aim to construct historical knowledge of various cultural points of view into one form. For example, in one of my volvelles I layered Galileo’s manuscript page on the observations of the moon with the eleventh-century Persian astronomer Biruni’s observation of the moon’s diagram.
What do you want viewers to take away after seeing Punctum Caecum? How do you expect viewers to relate to medieval and early modern depictions of knowledge in a contemporary context?
PK: All the pieces in Punctum Caecum collectively highlight a long-term flow of scientific knowledge and exchange of ideas across cultures. This series aims to initiate a dialogue with the viewer, communicating how knowledge transcends social, political, and cultural boundaries. By highlighting the medieval and early modern manuscripts’ visuals and other contents, I also aim to draw attention to these rich forms and to invite the viewer to observe science and its history through the process of image-making.
What is your next project, or in which direction is your work headed?
PK: I will continue to expand the Punctum Caecum series. Among the projects that I would like to pursue is exploring medieval and early modern manuscripts of botany from the European, Arab and Persiante worlds. A second project involves making ideograms that represent all scientists who made a significant contribution.
What is your advice to artists who are just starting out?
PK: Commit to your art and always stay true to yourself and to your work.
 Lynn Gamwell “Why the history of maths is also the history of art” The Guardian, December 02, 2015. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/science/alexs-adventures-in-numberland/2015/dec/02/why-the-history-of-maths-is-also-the-history-of-art (accessed December 10, 2015).
2Rheagan Martin, “Decoding the Medieval Volvelle,” Iris: The Online Magazine of the Getty, July 23, 2015. Available at http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/decoding-the-medieval-volvelle/ (accessed August 26, 2015).
The Science of Imagination, Triton Museum of Art
Santa Clara, CA, 2015, 50 and Looking Forward exhibition, Curators’ note
“Pantea karimi has become one of our favorite printmakers to watch. Her skillful blend of media and techniques keeps us anticipating each new body of work. In a region celebrated for its printmaking art community, Pantea definitely has our attention. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.”
Turning Words into Art Earns Local Artist Top Honors, Cupertino Courier
Cupertino, CA, 2010, by Matt Wilson
“Visual, spoken and written symbols are a major source of inspiration for Pantea Karimi, who was recently named the 2010 Distinguished Artist of the Year by the Cupertino Fine Arts Commission. In a world dominated by so many symbols both visual and verbal, much of her artistic inspiration is drawn from the transmission of language. Mass media, published media and popular culture are consistent themes while global symbols often star as the main attraction in her art.”
Looking At Printmaking: Exploring a Personal, Political and Psychological History through Printmaking, ARTSHIFT San José
San Jose, CA , 2007, by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero
“An artist with boundless energy, Pantea Karimi acknowledges that the journey from one place to the other has been a life-altering experience. For all the contrasts in Karimi’s personal history and life situations, her art is a harmonic play of shapes, seductive colors and photographic images that she often manipulates digitally until they became semi-abstracted. The images are then translated into photo stencils on the silkscreen that allows her to play with size, different color relationships and compositions. Karimi’s colors are thoughtful and carefully mixed. Her own image may appear in the prints, but the viewer will not necessarily recognize her. Frequently, a prominent female figure in her prints tells us that this is a female narrative. The impression is sometimes playful, sometimes nostalgic, and always hints at her own search for her real and metaphorical place in history.”