cube is NOT geometric, 2022

Solo Exhibition, Mercury 20 Gallery

 

General Statement:

I grew up perceiving the cube as a complex object better defined by politics and religion than geometry which created a distorted vision for me. In cube is NOT geometric, by utilizing video, animation, wall drawing, and sculpture, I investigate the cube relevant to my personal experiences in three contexts: political, religious, and playful. The works at cube is NOT geometric are influenced by Sol LeWitt’s playful geometric wall drawings, prints, and 3-dimensional works that I saw at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA. I am particularly inspired by LeWitt’s Distorted Cubes as well as the eight-point and twelve-point stars which are identical to those used in historic mosques in Iran. I have been working on these patterns and tiles using research on the Topkapi scroll, a late medieval Iranian architectural document, housed at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. While my cubes in the exhibition are perfect, the distortion is expressed through the shadows on the wall. My cube consciously and conscientiously is not geometric.

Context & Process:

At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, MA, during a month artist residency earlier this year, I developed more in-depth narratives about my work on geometry; I saw my past works in a new light that brought broader identity-politics issues and my voice into the equation as an Iranian-American artist. Investigating and reading more about Sol LeWitt’s Distorted Cubes, my obsession with the cube re-surfaced but I observed how different my perspective was. I studied science at school in post-revolutionary Iran, where learning was intertwined with religious indoctrination every week through teaching the Arabic language and subjects on Islamic traditions and practices. Kaaba was one of the first extensive “geometric” objects I discovered in our religious courses. The word means cube in Arabic and it is the most sacred Islamic site. In our geometry class, the cube was also the first three-dimensional geometric shape I explored and constructed with paper. I made a few production mistakes, and my cube’s vertexes didn’t exactly match, resulting in a “distorted” cube. My teacher rejected my distorted cube. Cube became and has remained a challenging, complex shape to comprehend from geometric, scientific, and religious perspectives.

Works and their descriptions:

Triad, three hand-made wood cube sculptures, each 12 x 12 x 12 inches, charcoal wall drawings (eight-point stars extracted from Topkapi scroll), shadows and hair, 2022.

Three cube sculptures hold charcoal drawings, two are the eight-point stars from the Topkapi scroll. While the cubes are perfect, the distorted visions and views are expressed through the shadows on the wall that show elongated distorted cubes in various shades. Cube ii, is representative of religion, holding a piece of hair. The wall charcoal drawing in Cube ii, showcases the blackness of Kaaba, and the cross, which is the net of the cube.

Naked Cube, hand-made wood cube sculpture (30 x 30 x 30 inches), tulle veil (10 feet),  hair, fabric, steel rods, and shattered glass

While I was working on this exhibition, the Iranian women’s protest against compulsory hijab in mid-September 2022 transpired. All these years being outside Iran, I thought I had escaped the coercive force of compulsion but the death of Mahsa Amini took me back to the first time that I had to wear the mandatory hijab at school and other public places in Iran when I was a small child. The upheaval and the flashback took me to a very dark, emotional place. As a female artist who also had firsthand experiences with the morality police, I was compelled to respond and extend the exhibition’s content. On October 6th, a friend donated her hair and I posted a video of her cutting her hair on Instagram which resulted in other women in my local and broader communities expressing their desire to also participate. Consequently, I filmed more women cutting their hair and so far their videos and Reels have received 750, 000 views and growing on Instagram. I had only two weeks to create a new piece that could include the donated hair pieces before the exhibition opened on October 21st

I am grateful to the volunteer women who donated their hair. I stitched each piece of hair to a black cone-shaped fabric where the hair reveals itself from the narrow bottom end, as a metaphor for the struggle, freedom, and ultimately the agency Iranian women and girls are demanding. The hair pieces are installed inside an open black cube structure that references Kaaba laid on broken glass pieces, with a 10 feet long veil hanging over them from the ceiling; exposing both Iranian women’s struggle and bravery. The piece, Naked Cube, is dedicated to Iranian women, girls, and my cousin, Sadaf, who was cornered and beaten by the morality police during a protest on October 9th in Shiraz, Iran.

Harvested Braid, a collaboration with Svetlana Gous, 14 feet, October 2022
Flax crop from summer 2021, grown in Ukraine, Romania, and Poland. Spun dyed in Lithuania, and the Warp used to create the braid, is for an 8-shaft floor loom.

Svetlana Gous, a textile artist based in Palo Alto, CA, was unable to cut her hair but she participated in the exhibition by donating linen, which I asked to be braided.

 

The 10th-century poet Ferdowsi in Shahnameh: Book of Kings, referred to the hero Siavash’s wife cutting “her musky tresses” to grieve for and protest his death.

Plato in the dialogue Timaeus c.360 B.C. wrote about Platonic solids in which he associated each of the four classical elements -earth, air, water, and fire- with a regular solid. Earth was associated with the cube.

 

Videos & Stop Motion Animation

Disposable Cubes, four multi-screen videos, 2022
A Preludial Implosion, stop motion animation by Pantea Karimi, 31 seconds, 2022

While at MASS MoCA, I treated the cube as a playful object with references to the rejection of geometry and distorted views. I recorded a series of videos on MASS MoCA ground and in front of LeWitt’s black and white wall paintings of eight-point stars and geometric shapes. I show four videos in this exhibition where I play with a hand-made cube using my legs. Upon return to my studio in CA, I made two stop-motion animations that express political and religious views. I made a cube with patterns that have twelve-point stars from the Topkapi scroll. This cube is symbolically representing Iran’s cultural heritage, and in the animation is targeted by a bullet. The black cube animation next to it represents religion.  

 

Two of four videos, upon Karimi’s request, were taken by Patricia M. Brace at Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, June 2022

Two videos by Pantea Karimi were recorded at MASS MoCA ground, North Adams, MA, June 2022.

Many thanks to the MASS MoCA head curator, staff at Studios at MASS MoCA and Assets for Artists and Sol LeWitt Estate for the permission to use the videos that were taken at
Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at mill building at MASS MoCA in June 2022.

Process

Preparing hair pieces, wall charcoal drawings, and videos of women cutting their hair on Instagram with nearly 2 million views and growing.

I am grateful to the volunteer women who donated their hair:
Dr. Ladan, A.  (Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art at ), Dr. Persis, K. (Neda Nobari Distinguished Chair, Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies @San Francisco State University), Summer B.,   Heather W.,   Joelle B.,    Jordan K.,   Valerie B.,   Sahba S.,  Mahsa V.,   Roya P.,   Anahita B.,   Sara A.,    Fariba B.,   Arezou P.,  Hamideh G.,   Sara T.,   Junko T.,   Johanna P.,  Jennifer L.,   and    Victoria H.

Inspiration

Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at the mill building at MASS MoCA in June 2022 and MASS MoCA ground. Distorted Cubes and 8-point and 12-point Stars wall drawings.

In Williams College Museum of Art’s exhibition catalog, David S. Areford writes: “The cube-which was first featured in LeWitt’s structures in 1960s- becomes an incubator for new forms, as well as the site of instability and distortion.”