Bahar Behbahani

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Bahar Behbahani Art - Let the Garden Eram Flourish Paintings
Let the Garden Eram Flourish

Reminiscence, Mixed media on canvas, 40 x 80 inches Revision, Mixed media on canvas, 40 x 80 inches Biographies, Mixed media on canvas Biographies, Mixed media on canvas
Reminiscence, Mixed media on canvas, 40 x 80 inches Reminiscence, Mixed media on canvas, 40 x 80 inches Reminiscence, Mixed media on canvas, 40 x 80 inches

Hood Museum of Art
January 5 - March 12, 2017
Curated by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, curator of African art at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

pdf-logo   View exhibition catalogue with essay by Dr. Shiva Balaghi

pdf-logo   View full catalogue of installation images

This exhibition presents a suite of new paintings, an installation, and a video from Persian Gardens, an ongoing series begun four years ago by Iranian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Bahar Behbahani. The title is taken from an early nineteenth-century poem by Ali Khan, poet laureate of the court of Fath Ali Shah Qajar, who wrote under the pseudonym Saba, in celebration of Eram Garden, a UNESCO World heritage site and one of the oldest gardens in Iran. The rich history of Eram parallels the histories of old Persia and modern Iran. Its many pavilions, built over several dynasties by influential families who successively had the garden under their control, constitute a record of power and prestige over the ages.

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 qanats, and surrounding trees and vegetation that remain lush all year in the middle of an arid region. As objects of beauty, they have attracted people from diverse walks of life throughout the ages, from the Persian rulers who created them to evoke their own transcendence and political might 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.

Behbahani's layered vocabulary draws upon schematic architectural plans, ritual geometry, and the ornate aesthetics of the gardens, as well as the poetry they evoke, to convey rich and complex narratives. Full of gestures, her work can be placed within the tradition of mark making and abstraction. In the paintings, we encounter both bold and tentative markings, interspersed with broad strokes and swooshes of bright and cool colors, in some cases concealing thick, black lines that populate the picture surface. Behbahani carefully chooses colors and forms to convey specific notions or intentions. For example, she uses blue in the paintings to reflect upon its role as the dominant color from different eras in Iranian history and art, and to represent the ubiquitous tile formations in Persian architecture in an abstract incarnation. The blue also symbolizes the abundance of water in the fountains and pools of Persian gardens, a testament to clever engineering, but which stands in contrast to the scarcity of water in Iran. The red color visible in many of the paintings represents blooming roses, a prominent fixture in the gardens and in Persian poetry. Behbahani employs renderings of the gardens' layouts and plans to carry the weight of her underlying ideas. She transforms these elements, and others inspired by the building construction going on around her studio in Lower Manhattan, close to the World Trade Center, into a lyrical abstract language.

Behbahani approaches Persian gardens as a metaphor for politics and poetics, and also seeks to represent the intersection of the public and private. Abstraction is her way of seeing, of being, and of grappling with existential questions without necessarily seeking to resolve them. It allows her also to reflect on self-doubt and personal struggles, and to make sense of the ambiguous space she occupies as an expatriate, without feeling that she has left herself vulnerable.

LET THE GARDEN ERAM FLOURISH: An Introduction Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi 2 Behbahani obtained her BFA (1995) and MA (1998) from Al-zahra University and Azad University respectively, both in Tehran. She permanently relocated to the United States in 2007.

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi

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