1979 Iranian Upheaval Resonates in “Once at Present”
Galleries at Minnesota Street Project showcase artwork inspired by the political and cultural changes in Iran since the 1979 Revolution
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.