Taraneh Hemami, Resistance, Luggage Store Gallery

Through our Thursday-night experimental music series at the Luggage Store Gallery, I have seen quite a few art exhibits on the walls (and the floor, and the ceiling). The current exhibition, Resistance!, is notable for both its theme and its presentation, and worth an article of its own separate from our musical exploits.

Resistance, a solo exhibition of work by artist Taraneh Hemami, is about “the visual culture of protest.” More specifically, it presents a history of dissent in Iran and among the Iranian diaspora through reinterpretations of elements from the archive of the Iranian Students Association of Northern California (ISANC). Art shows about resistance and protest are a dime a dozen in these days after the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. This one is notable for being visually strong, with a very stylized and minimalist presentation that in some cases belies the violence of its subject.

This can be seen most clearly in Blood Curtain, in which a curtain of red beads hangs quietly in an empty corner of the gallery against monochromatic walls and curtains. It is at once beautiful and also uncomfortable with its obvious depiction of blood.

[Taraneh Hemami, Blood Curtain, 2013]

The curtain is made from 8mm glass beads and suggests a hand-crafted artifact, a theme that reappears throughout the exhibition. In Theory of Survival, portraits of martyrs from book covers are reproduced in glass frit on large panels, again in black and red. From a distance, the texture looks like carpeting, but when one looks closely the glass becomes apparent.

[Taraneh Hemami, Theory of Survival, 2010-2013]

More traditional craft can be seen a series of rugs that at first appear to be an elegant wall decoration but take on additional meaning when one realizes that these designs were from images of rugs created by prisoners. Other pieces were less subtle in their message, such as Notes from Evin Prison, named for the notorious Iranian prison that still appears in headlines today. Here, laser-cut metal is used to render both a harmless looking sign with the piece’s title as well a large and explicit figure in black and red being tortured. There were, however, more hopeful images as well. In People Power Revolution, the laser-cut metal forms depict throngs of revolutionaries. The main image of violence in this piece, a security guard being skewered, is almost cartoonish.

[Taraneh Hemami, People Power Revolution, 2013]

The prevalence of red among the pieces suggested an association with 20th century Communism in addition to blood and violence. The Communist motif was reinforced by the frequent appearance of five-pointed stars. I thought this was odd at first, because I was using the 1979 Iranian revolution and the recent protests against the Islamic regime as my reference. ISANC was actually active from 1960 to 1982, and thus its archives mostly predate the 1979 revolution and document earlier periods of resistance and protest when Leftists symbols would have been in wide use. Nonetheless, the images seemed like they could have been from the protests since 2009.

Resistance will be on display at the Luggage Store Gallery through February 28, with a closing reception that evening.