The work of Bahar Behbahani is coming in January.
Hood Downtown, the Hood Museum's Main Street gallery in Hanover NH, is preparing to bring its second exhibition of contemporary art to the Upper Valley. Let The Garden Eram Flourish by Brooklyn-based artist Bahar Behbahani will open on January 5, 2017.
This is a multi-media presentation inspired by the aesthetics, history, and cultural significance of Persian gardens. It is the latest iteration of a theme that has intrigued Behbahani and been reflected in her work over the past four years, including a previous exhibition, Garden Coup.
Let The Garden Eram Flourish. Photo used by permission.
Her paintings are beautiful and evocative of the lush and colorful Persian gardens such as Garden Eram in Shiraz, Iran, including the blues of precious water in an otherwise arid land, and the pinks and reds of roses. But Behbahani views the gardens not just through a romantic lens, or what some Westerners have described as a paradise (an English word derived from Farsi). While acknowledging the centrality of the garden in Persian life and culture, she seeks also to show the duality, or other side (or sides) of spaces that have been walled off from public view, that have been the scene of murders and other atrocities in Persian history, that have been places of political significance.
Components of the timeline will be showcased along one wall of the exhibition space.
In fact, it was her historical research about Donald Wilber, whose book on Persian gardens she first came to know while she was a student in Iran, that caused her to think about gardens in a different way. Wilber, a recognized expert and writer on Persian culture, was later revealed to have been a CIA operative and architect of the coup that overthrew Iran's democratic government in 1953. For this upcoming exhibition, Behbahani is creating a visual if fractured timeline of Iran's geopolitical history, including documents--some published by the New York Times--showing the CIA's involvement in the coup. The documents have been redacted, a feature that Behbahani has incorporated into her work.
A word that Behbahani used frequently in our recent conversation about her paintings is that they are "layered." The paint on canvas is layered, upon itself, upon sketched-in symbols, both covering and revealing. It's descriptive of the process of how we come to know and understand, even if we are never able to fully resolve our contradictions--bit added to bit, stories told to us in childhood overlaid by later experiences, whispered secrets later revealed by published documents, the redactions hinting of even more and unknown layers to come.
From the Garden Coup series, this piece reflects the redactions in recently released government documents, including a report authored by the CIA's Donald Wilber.
Let The Garden Eram Flourish will open on January 5, with a reception for the general public on January 13 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Further information about the exhibition is available on the Hood Museum's website. The program brochure features both an introduction by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, the Hood's curator of African art, and a conversation between Nzewi and Behbahani about her work. The conversation will continue at an artist's talk on January 14 at 2:00 p.m.
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge