Saffron, Saint of Spices, 2022

The University of California, San Francisco Library Residency Project, 2021-2022


Saffron, Saint of Spices explores the plant of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus” from historic, religious, medicinal, visual, and cultural angles. Among all plant species that I explored in the UCSF Library databases and books, saffron crocus stood out because it has deep roots in Iranian culture, cuisine, and medicine. Saffron crocus is one of the hardest flowers to harvest and produces the most expensive spice.

I chose tryptic for the visual presentation; it can be folded shut and opened to reveal content and to tell a story. Tryptic was an object of reverence in medieval times. My tryptic composition is inspired by the 18th c. religious tryptic, hilya-i-sherif (noble description of the Prophet Mohammed), from the Ottoman period.

I extracted images of different saffron flowers from the books I studied. In my triptych, I use the various abstracted silhouettes alongside my digitized hand-printed patterns of the Marbling technique; a plant-based printing method from late medieval Iran. Marbling also references those decorative papers with mottled and marbled designs that were used for manuscripts’ binding throughout the history of book-making, particularly in medieval periods. The text accompanying these visuals describes the medicinal healing properties of the saffron flower in the Persian language. The cube highlights a 3-D-made saffron crocus plant from Mattioli’s book preserved in the UCSF Library Rare book collection.

The muted color palette and black reference the absence of proper attribution of the saffron flower to Iranian culture and Iran where the majority of saffron flower is cultivated. The subdued hues invite the viewer to have intimate proximity to the work to mitigate the visual frustration. The lack of light also infers the time of saffron harvest, between dusk and dawn.

Translation of the healing properties of saffron on the triptych:

Left panel: Alzheimer’s disease. Oral saffron might modestly improve cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Right panel: Anxiety. Small clinical studies suggest that oral saffron might improve anxiety.
Middle panel: Depression. The oral saffron extract seems to improve symptoms of depression when used alone or as an adjunct to conventional antidepressants.


Triptych and Cube Sculpture

Process and Collaboration with the UCSF Makers Lab

Marbling (Pantea Karimi) 3-D modeling (Scott Drapeau, Makers Lab Designer) Laser cut (Jenny Tai, Makers Lab Designer)


University of California, San Francisco Library, 2021-2022