In late 2013, Bahar Behbahani began a series of paintings inspired by her contemplation of identity. She first came to the United States from Iran in 2003. For a while, she moved between Tehran and the United States, then relocated permanently to New York in 2007. As a significant leitmotif of Iranian cultural experience, Persian gardens represented a logical recourse for Behbahani in trying to address her sense of being away from home.
The suite of paintings, installation, and video in this exhibition, part of her ongoing Persian Gardens series, captures her engagement with what she describes as the psychogeography of place and memory.
Bahar Behbahani: Let the Garden Eram Flourish at Hood Downtown, 53 Main Street, Hanover, NH
Opening events on January 12–14 include a Dartmouth student night and members and public receptions with the artist, as well as a public conversation between the artist and the exhibition’s curator Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi.
“Bahar Behbahani’s immersive work invites profound reflection,” says Nzewi. “She has developed an original vocabulary with which she mines history and personal memory. With Persian gardens as frame of reference and conceptual backdrop, she bridges time and space. Our students and faculty will draw incredible insights from her impressive paintings, which connect her Iranian and American experiences. We are indeed delighted to be the first American museum to show this career-defining new body of work.”
Artist Bahar Behbahani says, “I’m hoping my work raises questions without clear answers. I’m very interested in challenging our perceptions.”
An engineering tour de force, Persian or Iranian gardens have gripped human imagination since their emergence in the sixth century BCE. These walled gardens comprise multilateral structures, connecting aqueducts, networks of water channels, and surrounding trees and vegetation that remain lush all year in the middle of the desert. As objects of beauty, they have attracted people from different walks of life throughout the ages, from the Persian rulers who created them to evoke their personal transcendence and political power to the diplomats, common folk, scholars, and soldiers who have sought out their orientalist enchantment. Haunted by the spirits of fierce power play, Persian gardens are marked by tragedy, love, betrayal, death, and redemption, and mirror Iran’s fraught histories, past and present.
In the Persian Gardens series, Behbahani does not pursue a utopian fantasy or affirm the orientalism that the Western eye seeks in the gardens. Instead, her intensely layered vocabulary, which draws upon the schematic architectural plans, ritual geometry, and ornate aesthetics of Persian gardens, as well as the poetry they evoke, describes the histories that attend the gardens. We are invited to absorb Behbahani’s rich and complex narratives woven on canvas. She approaches Persian gardens as a metaphor of politics and poetics and seeks the intersection of the public and private there. Highly gestural, Behbahani’s work can be placed within the tradition of mark making and abstraction. It should not be seen strictly through the lenses of eastern, Persian, or Iranian aesthetic traditions. Hybridization, mirage, structures, memory, fantasy, and the power of imagination are some of the things that come to mind when looking at her paintings.
Born in Tehran in 1973, Behbahani pursues a multidisciplinary practice that includes paintings, video, installation, and performance. Her work has been featured in major venues, biennials, and art festivals and is in many public and private collections. She obtained her BFA (1995) and MFA (1998) from the University of Tehran’s School of Fine Arts at a time when the principal form of expression for many Iranian artists was abstraction. This arose out of the necessity to speak with subterfuge due to the political dynamic at play in the country then (which has since improved). The last few years have seen a growing interest in Iranian art in Iran and in the international mainstream, and Let the Garden Eram Flourish is also a metaphor for this recent development in the art world.
Source: Bahar Behbahani | Hood Museum