Namaz Khaneh at Semantics

Semantics opened Namaz Khaneh (house of prayer in Farsi) on Saturday, January 8; the first solo show by promising young Cincinnati artist Sheida Soleimani. The permanently semi-finished gallery space at Semantics serves as a good venue for this work which consists of a series of images showing the artist’s own roughly completed small-scale constructions. The greenish yellow tone of the walls of these small tableaux almost perfectly match the weathered yellow tone of the galley walls, providing a clear path for the visual allegories constructed by the artist to unfold effortlessly before the viewer. The stories which take place in these images are at first glance abstract or fantastic. Arms stretch out from the middle of a wall, chairs are strung to the ceiling and preserved animal specimens including snakes and scorpions are pinned in crude fashion within each space.

Without further clues, these images could be nothing more than the remains of particularly abject child’s play. However, there is just enough further information provided by the title and accompanying artist statement to lead the work in an entirely different direction. These are stories from the childhood of Soleimani’s mother – a political refugee from the Iranian Revolution in which the country became the theocracy it remains today. These stories have been transformed, some more literally than others into crude three dimensional forms and converted again into two dimensions by the camera. The rough edges of these tableaux – marks left with scissors around cut paper, unfinished pencil drawings on floors and back walls – reads like the gap between generations – we are literally made of the stories and experiences of our parents, but can only grasp them crudely, remotely.

These vestiges of a treasured national identity, which exist here in the form of innocent childhood memories and anecdotes of cultural tradition are not just idle recreations in the hands of the artist, but feel like an act of conciliation with a complex family history by the youngest of its generation. How refreshing to see something so concerned with issues other than the immediate self by a young artist. In plumbing the world around her, Soleimani bravely faces a dark past which underlies her national origin and touches on an idea of interest to all Americans: how do we, all of us refugees (or descendants thereof) together, start anew on equal, albeit shaky footing?

While the tools of her craft are wielded a bit unevenly throughout this exhibit (intention and accident seem to cross paths somewhat incidentally in a few of the works), Soleimani’s work refreshes in its neutral and insightful confrontation with human nature in its most brutal form.

-David Rosenthal

Namaz Khaneh, on view through January 29, 2010 at Semantics Gallery. 1107 Harrison Avenue Cincinnati, OH, 45214

Pictured Above: Jadeh. 2011 Digital Print. Courtesy of the Artist.

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