Context Lost, 2022-2024

Context Lost, 2022-2024

Context Lost, 2023

Solo Exhibition, Krishna Murthi Gallery

Rothschild Performing Arts Center, San Jose, CA

2023 Dickinson Artist in Residence Project and Exhibition

“Context Lost displays existing pieces from Pantea Karimi’s geometry and botanical series in which she incorporates references to her home culture, Iran. Much of Iranian customs, heritage, and values are unknown outside of the country, and geopolitical representation of Iran also serves to obscure and misinterpret it. Because of this, her works are necessarily viewed through an arbitrary syncretic and invented lens. She juxtaposes traditional and contemporary art forms as commentary on the intricate interplay between culture and politics. Iran’s history includes much conflict and uncertainty. She seeks to introduce and raise questions about the impact of political conflict on Iran’s deep history of scientific, artistic, and cultural achievement, thereby revealing the context that has been lost.”

Out of Context, paper tiles, monotype on paper, 2022

“Karimi’s Out of Context paper tiles, produced during her residency at MASS MoCA in May 2022, present an exploration of cultural identity and heritage. Drawing inspiration from the Topkapi scroll, a medieval Iranian document featuring geometric tile designs and Square Kufic script, Karimi reinterprets these shapes to reflect the impact of political conflicts on her cultural heritage. In her tile design series, Karimi deliberately removes the shapes from their original context and symmetrical arrangements, instead arranging them asymmetrically in distorted grids. This artistic choice serves to articulate the loss of meaning and coherence experienced by Karimi regarding her Iranian cultural heritage, which has been affected by political conflicts.

During her residency at MASS MoCA, Karimi further explored these themes by creating a wall installation titled “Persian Interiority, American Exteriority.” This installation was inspired by her visit to the Olana House in Hudson, NY, in 2022.”

Persian Interiority, American Exteriority, May 2022, MASS MoCA, MA

Olana House, “Persian Home” of the Hudson River painter Fredrick Church & the Oxbow Painting

In Olana House, which I visited, by framing the colonized landscape through Persian arches and patterns; by blocking “unwanted” views through a seemingly stained-glass Persian window, Church alludes to his desire to take ownership of two inferior civilizations: Olana is the story of a Persian interiority vs. the untamed American exteriority. One is occupied inside and the other is subject to the artist’s colonizer gaze. In the Persian Interiorarity, American Exteriority installation, I aim to tackle these Persian interiorities that constantly frame, unframe, reframe, and at times block and obscure the views of the American wilderness using the Persian tile patterns. I’ll do so through a diagrammatic structure installed in a room that reads from left to right, a story similar to that of the Oxbow.

Context Lost, stop motion animation, 2023

Short version (1: 20 seconds), long version (15 minutes).

Pantea Karimi’s animation is an exploration of the impact of political conflict on Iran’s rich history of scientific, artistic, and cultural achievement. Drawing inspiration from medieval Iranian tile designs found in the Topkapi scroll document, Karimi employs digitized hand-made marbling prints and geometric forms to create a mesmerizing visual narrative.

In the animation, the digitized marbling prints and geometric forms serve as pixels, gradually fading away until only one pixel remains. This gradual fading process symbolizes the gradual loss of context and meaning caused by political conflict, effectively concealing Iran’s deep history layer by layer.

By introducing questions about the impact of political conflict on Iran’s cultural heritage, Karimi prompts viewers to contemplate the consequences of such conflicts on the preservation and understanding of history. The animation serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility of cultural heritage in the face of geopolitical turmoil and the importance of acknowledging and preserving the rich cultural legacy of nations like Iran.

Pantea Karimi’s interview at the Harker Patil Theater at Rothschild Performing Arts Center in November 2023 for the Harker Speaker Series.


Art and Science in Historic and Political Contexts with Pantea Karimi

Interview by Jusha Martinez, Chair of Visual Art at Harker Upper School

Karimi shares insights into her art process, research, and collaborative projects with Harker school students.

Pixel-Star

Harker School Teaching Residency, 2023

Pantea Karimi worked with 100 students at Harkers, Grades K through 12. Students produced their tile design, creating pixel stars, inspired by medieval Square Kufic methods from Iran.

Research

Images from the Topkapi scroll include geometric shapes for tile designs. Images of the historic medieval buildings that used similar Square Kufic tile designs are found in the Topkapi scroll on their facade. An image of the blocked view of the Hudson River landscape by Persian decorative patterns on the window.  From Olana House in Hudson, NY, which I took in May 2022. I used them as sources of inspiration for the Context Lost series.

cube is NOT geometric, 2022 & Eulogy, 2023 (Woman, Life, Freedom Project)

cube is NOT geometric, 2022 & Eulogy, 2023 (Woman, Life, Freedom Project)

cube is NOT geometric, 2022

Solo Exhibition, Mercury 20 Gallery

 

At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, MA, during a month artist residency in mid-2022, 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. I was 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 Turkey. 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 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, and being rejected by my teacher. Cube became and has remained a challenging, complex shape to comprehend from geometric, scientific, and religious perspectives. My cube consciously and conscientiously cannot be geometric.

In cube is NOT geometric, by utilizing video, animation, wall drawing, and sculpture, I investigate the cube relevant to my personal experiences in two contexts political and religious. The distorted shadows on the wall under my perfect cubes are reminiscent of LeWitt’s Distorted Cubes.

While I was working on this exhibition, the Iranian women’s protest against compulsory hijab in mid-September 2022 transpired. I was a small child when I had to wear the mandatory hijab at school and other public places in Iran. All these years being outside Iran, I thought I had escaped the coercive force of compulsion but the death of Mahsa Amini at age 22 while in police custody took me back to the first time I was detained, at age 21, on the street by morality police. The disturbing memory of that incident resurfaced and the flashback took me to a very dark, emotional place. As a female artist with firsthand experiences with the morality police, I was compelled to respond and extend my exhibition’s content. On October 6th, 2022, I asked a friend to donate 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 volunteer women, mainly non-Iranians, cutting their hair. Their videos with messages of support and solidarity went viral on Instagram. I had two weeks, before the exhibition opening, to create Naked Cube which included the donated hair pieces.

Works and their descriptions:

Contorted Shadows, 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 of which are the eight-point stars from the Topkapi scroll. While the cubes are perfect, their distorted elongated shadows on the wall, in various shades, are reminiscent of LeWitte’s Distorted Cubes. They symbolically represent my distorted vision of the cube.
The black charcoal center in Cube ii symbolically represents the Kaaba and its net represents the Christian cross.


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

I stitched each donated 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 over bodily-autonomy Iranian women demand. The hair pieces are installed inside an open black cube structure, referencing 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. Naked Cube is dedicated to Iranian women, 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. 

The flax crop from the summer of 2021 was 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.

Videos & Stop Motion Animations

Disposable Cubes, four multi-screen videos, 2022
In my early education, the cube was the first shape I learned about in my geometry and religious courses (representing Kabaa, the sacred Muslim site). Videos show me at MASS MoCA Artist Residency, kicking my hand-made cube playfully; on the ground using a square grid and in front of LeWitt’s wall paintings of geometric shapes and eight-point stars, which are commonly found on Iran’s historic religious structures. By kicking the cube I reject the geometry and “distorted views“ of myself; protesting my childhood education and life experiences as an Iranian woman. The piece is an homage to Sol Lewitt’s “Distorted Cubes.”

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, in June 2022.
Permission for filming at Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at MASS MoCA’s mill building was granted by Sol LeWitt Estate in 2022.


A Preludial Implosion
, stop motion animation, 31 seconds, 2022
Two side-by-side stop-motion animations using my hand-made paper cubes express my cultural identity intertwined with religion and politics. I made the twelve-point stars cube with the pattern extracted from a late Medieval Iranian document on geometry, called the Topkapi scroll juxtaposed with the cube representing Kaaba (the Muslim sacred site).
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.

Video performance: Staged Circumambulation, Nov 19, 2022
Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA.   Performers: Martha S., Mel D., Jordan K., Tara D., Jennifer L., Victoria H., Danielle W.

Six of the videos of volunteer women cutting their hair

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.

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.

EULOGY

Solo exhibition at Mercury 20 Gallery, 2023

Eulogy highlights how women’s experiences of bodily autonomy are shaped by currently changing political and social conditions. I designed a series of square Kufic words in the Persian language about women and screen-printed the compositions on fabric to create pieces that have layers of cultural significance. My work in this exhibition departs from and transforms Iran’s religious rituals and traditions. I repurposed the notions of martyrdom, bravery, and self-sacrifice as a means for reflection on the complex interplay between gender, religion, and social change.

Eulogized, Banner, 2023, silkscreen print on velvet, mirrors, and decorative trims
7’ x 5’

The banner, Eulogized, departs from and redefines Iran’s religious rituals and traditions. I composed my banner by designing tiles using Square Kufic script in Persian and after the late medieval Iranian tile designs from the Topkapi scroll. The center of the tiles reads: “Zan- زن” which means woman after the Woman-Life-Freedom (زن-زندگی-آزادی) slogan of the 2022 Iranian women’s uprising for bodily autonomy. I decorated the words with pixel mirrors inspired by the art of Iranian mirrorwork found in the mosques. I only use “woman” from the slogan to highlight women’s experiences which are shaped by changing political and social conditions not only in Iran but also in the US and other parts of the world.

Shir-Zan, Martyrs Headbands, 2023, silkscreen print on fabric
Installation: 8’ x 7.5’, each headband: 2.5″ x 30″

During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, Shia revolutionary soldiers wore headbands on the outside of their helmets or around their heads to signal their willingness to die for religion and Iran. It became the symbol of martyrdom.

I designed my headbands using Square Kufic script that reads “Shir-Zan, شیر زن” which means fearless woman in Persian. The headbands repurpose the notions of martyrdom, bravery, and self-sacrifice as a means for reflection on the complex interplay between gender, religion, and social change. It celebrates not only the Iranian women who have sacrificed their lives for their freedom but also recognizes all women with a similar plight.

Photos: An Iranian soldier wearing a یا حسین (Imam Hossein) martyr headband and a woman wearing a (Shir-Zan) شیر زن martyr headband.

 

Stanford University

Print on Purpose, Freedom and Justice for Iranian Women

A printmaking workshop with students in the Print on Purpose course, at Standford University’s d. School occurred on Nov 4, 2022. Karimi was invited to guide a printmaking workshop using trace monotype printmaking to create images of hair as a form of activism and as a visual approach to convey messages. The choice of subject matter, hair, was used as a deliberate and symbolic choice that carries social or cultural significance not only for Iranian women but also for many other cultures around the world. 

Inspiration and Research

Square Kufic is an Arabic script. The script was originally created with bricks and tiles in Iran, during the medieval period, functioning as pixels.
Arabic and Persian languages use similar alphabets but the languages don’t share the same origin. Below are examples of tile patterns and Square Kufic script, functioning as pixels, from the Topkapi scroll, in late medieval Iran.

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.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics, 2020

The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics, 2020

The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics, 2020

Solo Exhibition, Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA

 

The exhibition reflects on Karimi’s intensive science training in high school with the aim of becoming a doctor; a goal that she abandoned to pursue an art career.

White and branded footwear, bright-colored socks, backpacks, polished nails, makeup kits, cassettes, and glossy posters of Western celebrities were the forbidden items that kept hundreds of teenage girls—who were otherwise sheathed in full hijabs—at the schoolyard before attending their classes. The long lines and the frustrating process of searching for these items by the school authorities were to assure that everyone conformed to the rules of public life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The story of coming of age in post-revolutionary Iran is accompanied by the pressure placed on the youth for excelling in mathematics, arguably the most esteemed subject of study.

The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics is Pantea Karimi’s personal story of four years of science education in the late 80s under the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For this solo exhibition at the Mercury 20 Gallery, Karimi has made a series of mock blackboards animated by chalk-written mathematical formulas topped with the phrase In the Name of God in Persian. The black thread formation and marked spots on the floor are reminders of the long lines in her schoolyard and the atmosphere she experienced every morning before class. Ironically these demarcations are also familiar during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with a few “forbidden” objects mounted in the gallery, Karimi reconstructs her Iran’s science classroom of the 1980s. While a personal story, this exhibition connotes a restrictive educational system that did not leave much room for focused learning or personal explorations. This poignant anxiety is captured through the gradual fading of the contents of the mock blackboards. Mathematics was, indeed, too abstract and aloof to stimulate the articulation of subversive thoughts, artistic sentiments, and socio-political views. Unbearably “light” for the “heavy” environment in which it was taught, mathematics is both the agonizing and the celebrated protagonist in this exhibition.

3Dimensional view of the gallery and the exhibition

Videos, 2020

Through video and sound, Karimi remakes the experience and the anxiety she went through attending her science classroom for the viewer.

Come to the Blackboard (Biyaa Paaye Takhteh), 2020, Video and sound (layered voice), 0:47 seconds Karimi’s militant voice in Persian mimics one of her math teachers calling her to the blackboard to solve a math problem. The layering of the voice showcases Karimi’s anxiety and fear.
To Tell My Story, 2020, video and audio, 1:11
Come to the Blackboard, 2020, video and sound, 1:27
Gallery Installation, video, 1:52

Blackboards 1-10, showcases the progression of anxiety through the disappearance of content, animation, 45 seconds

Laser Talk Series: Stanford University
Artful Attacks, 2021

Artful Attacks, 2021

Artful Attacks, 2021

Solo Exhibition, Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA

 

Iran, a signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is the most peacetime sanctioned and politically subjugated country in the world. UNSC nuclear-armed states have collectively pressured Iran to abandon many of its NPT rights. The Trump administration declared that suffocating Iran’s economy was an American strategy aimed at triggering a mass uprising. People of Iran, including my family, have been under tremendous pressure because of the sanctions.

In the past few months, while working on my new series, Artful Attacks, I have been preoccupied with thoughts of political pressure and sanctions. The title, Artful Attacks, refers to the mysterious attacks that have targeted Iran’s nuclear site in the historic city of Natanz. This new body of work was shaped organically as a reaction to the coverage of such incidents in the media. As a result, my 42 ft long scroll drawings visualize deconstructed, interrupted, and ambiguously arranged geometric patterns as a metaphor for political pressure and tension.

In my pieces, I have appropriated patterns from a 97-foot late medieval Iranian document called the Topkapi scroll housed at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Pasted at one end to a wooden rod, this paper scroll compiles a collection of 114 rectangle and square geometric architectural drawings and tiling patterns with Kufic script, in black and red inks. The Topkapi scroll is a significant example of the interconnectivity of science and art. In a group of ceramic tiles, I use words that surface in the Iranian press, such as cyberattack, sanctions, nuclear power, covert war, mysterious explosion, and political tension.

Like Kufic geometric ceramic tiles found in both Topkapi scroll and Natanz historic shrines and mosques, my Kufic arrangements are composed in a somewhat undecipherable manner. The choice for the pairing of black and yellow comes from the standard nuclear power logo. Through erasing, blurring, re-drawing, de-coloring, and re-coloring the same patterns, I create new patterns and disturbed surfaces. My large scroll drawings, ceramic Kufic tiles, and performative videos collectively represent both my emotional unease and the constant threats to the historical city of Natanz and its medieval architecture-as an exemplar of the whole Iranian culture and nation.

The words from left to right on the Political Kufic Ceramic Tiles2021:

Enfejaar Mashkook
 in Persian (Suspicious Explosion)
Tanesh Siyaasee in Persian (Political Tension)
Hamleh Cyberee in Persian (Cyber Attack) 
Jang-eh Penhaan in Persian (Covert War)
Tah-reem & Godrat in Persian (Sanctions & Power)
Godrat Hasteh-ee in Persian (Nuclear Power)

Performative Videos

Alter in Every Direction, Part I, II, III, 2021

So much of Iranian history and culture are hidden behind its political identity. In creating my scroll erasure is a rejection of culture and history and is a form of an “attack” to eliminate them. Alter in Every Direction three-part performative videos capture my emotions toward the elimination of Iran’s history and culture.

Artful Attacks, an interview by Historian and Research Scholar Carol Bier, 2021

Carolyn Smith, guitar performance, July 2021. Piece: Koyunbaba by Domeniconi, 1991

Research

Khayyam-Pascal, 2015

Khayyam-Pascal, 2015

Khayyam-Pascal, 2015

 

In Khayyam-Pascal installation, I screen-printed layers of binomial coefficient numbers, Khayyam’s mathematical notes, and Sierpiński’s triangle patterns on 360 hand-cut felt triangle and laser-cut triangle wood pieces. The pyramid pattern of my installation resembles the Pascal Triangle; the triangular array of binomial coefficients is named after the 17th-century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal. However, the 12th-century Iranian mathematician and poet, Omar Khayyam, had studied it centuries before Pascal. Through this installation, I pay homage to both mathematicians.

Since 2015, Khayyam-Pascal installation has been exhibited at a few galleries and events at Inspace Curatorial (2015), California State University, Stanislaus (2016),  NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View (2016), and MIT’s Rotch Library (2018).

Visual Thinking: Six Ways of Picturing Knowledge, 2018

Site-Specific solo exhibition @ MIT’s Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning

 

Visual Thinking: Six Ways of Picturing Knowledge was a multi-media site-specific solo exhibition at MIT’s Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning. On display from September 28 to December 14, 2018, the exhibit featured six bodies of works, some are inspired by a collection of 17th-19th century books housed at MIT’s Rotch Library and The Institute Archives & Special Collections, including The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, Sidereus Nuncius by Galileo, and The Microscope by Mary Ward.

Research

MIT’s Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning and The Institute Archives & Special Collections, 2018

Nexus & Lore, 2015

Nexus & Lore, 2015

The Circulation of Knowledge: Nexus and Lore, 2015

 

In my silkscreen prints, Nexus, I feature the medieval and early modern Persian, Arab and European scientists who were inspired or influenced by each other’s scholarly research or worked on the same theories in different periods. I present these scientists’ textual works side by side to showcase the circulation of knowledge across different cultures and periods. For example, I place Alhazen’s work, the renowned 11th-century Arab scientist, side by side with the work of Kepler, the renowned 17th-century German scientist. Although 600 years apart, Alhazen’s writings influenced Kepler’s discoveries in the field of optics.

I convert the pages of texts and diagrams of the manuscripts by these scientists into black silhouettes. Acting as a new visual language, these silhouettes present medieval imagery through simplicity and the absence of didactic textual information while offering more compositional opportunities in my work. For creating these black silhouettes, 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. Like Suprematists’ works, my black shapes aim to engage the “pure feelings” of my audience through simplicity and visual forms. I want to explore the ways in which viewers respond to form both visually and conceptually. I utilize mainly black and white to connote our current neglect of such a vibrant flow of information that took place in medieval times.

In Lore, I display the black shapes extracted from Nexus, my silkscreen prints, in a horizontal composition using plexiglass and pins on the wall. The horizontal composition suggests a long-term flow of scientific knowledge and an exchange of ideas across cultures. The color black, again, indicates our current disregard for this long-term exchange. The installation initiates what appears as an organized composition that gradually moves towards systematic disorganization as a commentary on the loss of information, and reinterpretation of scientific concepts.

Research

The Nexus silkscreen prints showcase appropriated versions of images from the following manuscript pages.