In Traces and Silences, exhibited at High Noon Gallery in New York, Armita Raafat showcases multimedia sculptures and handmade paper works. By blending elements like the historic Muqarnas from Islamic architecture with subway tiles from her current base in New York, Raafat offers a juxtaposition that liberates and challenges traditional associations of these materials. Here, the artist elaborates on the insights behind this body of work.
Tell us about the work in this exhibition—your sources, form, process, and idea.
In Traces and Silences, I’m showcasing my wall sculptures and handmade paper works together for the first time. To me, these two bodies of work are closely related. I see them in dialogue, not only with each other but also with my creative process.
I begin by asking questions: searching for answers and filling in the gaps. Constructing, sculpting, and collaging are physical manifestations of my thought process. What meanings can historical Islamic architectural forms— such as muqarnas—traditional textiles, and other craft elements hold for us today? How do these meanings change when such components are removed from their original contexts and placed in a different situation?
With these questions in mind, I build my work from fragments: not only the physical bits and pieces from which it is assembled but also histories, traditions, crafts, ideas, and materials past and present. A commotion of influences and inspirations. Maybe these fragments were never meant to be put together in such a way. But these arrangements feel natural to me, like they were destined to be interwoven like this. As if this is the form they were always meant to take
The choice of material is central to your work here. What can you tell us about your materials and the process of using them?
My process of making is hands-on, tactile, and intuitive. Items from my collection of materials—some found, some bought, some gifted—have stayed in the studio for a long time, years even, until an idea to use them in my work comes along. Fabrics, tiles, mirrors, glass lamps, frames, Styrofoam blocks—materials and textures guide me. I construct and rearrange my work using combinations of contemporary and found materials. Nothing is in its original form: everything is combined and rearranged. New readings and insights emerge from this open-ended process.
To find new meanings, I keep the original contexts of my materials and forms in mind. My handmade paper works include khoos doozi, a textile embroidery technique traditional to the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan. Each piece of khoos doozi embroidery I use in my work has its own history and story, with several chapters already written by the time it arrives in my studio. The story might open with a grandmother on the island of Qeshm handing her knowledge and techniques down to her granddaughter, the latest in a long lineage of artisans using the craft. My work adds a new chapter to the story, broadening the dialogue between the past and present and pushing the narrative in a new direction. It’s an artistic plot twist.
Can you guide us through the show, highlighting a few pieces in more detail along the way?
To the right of the gallery’s entrance is a blue wall sculpture I made in 2023. This piece interacts with the flow of natural light in the gallery in a unique way. As you can see in the picture, it has reflective and translucent surfaces embedded within it, including pieces of antique reverse-painted mirrors historically used for decorating certain buildings in Iran. I found these mirrors during an excursion to the Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz, Iran. I attached ruffled glass pieces around the largest mirror fragment, creating a ribbon-like effect that converses with the mirror’s swirling floral pattern. By incorporating reflective and translucent materials in my work, the experience of looking at my pieces changes at any time based on the light in the gallery and the viewer’s position and perspective. I’m creating another conversation, this time between the art, the space, and the viewer.
Soon after learning about and making handmade paper during a residency with Dieu Donné in 2021, I also started working directly with six women from Qeshm who made new khoos doozi pieces, according to my specifications, for inclusion in my paper works. The image of the piece included here (below) contains some of their khoos doozi textile fragments, mirrors, and mesh. It is more recent: I made it in Anna Benjamin’s paper studio in Philadelphia in 2023. I approach papermaking in the same way I make sculpture, and I feel that the finished works have a sculptural quality. My process involves adding and editing, embedding textile fragments in a richly pigmented wet paper sheet, and then layering it with mesh, fabric, mirrors, and paper pulp. I weave new forms within the paper, recontextualizing traditional crafts into contemporary forms.
Armita Raafat, Traces and Silences runs through Oct. 22nd at High Noon Gallery, 124 Forsyth St., New York, NY.
About the artist: Armita Raafat is a New York-based sculptor and installation artist. Born in Chicago and raised in Iran, she earned a BFA from Al-Zahra University in Tehran and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the MCA Chicago, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the Noyes Museum of Art, New Jersey; Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York; Dorsky Gallery, New York; Art in Buildings; New York and Florida; HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts, Berlin; and Al-Zahra University, Tehran. Raafat received the Peter S. Reed Foundation grant for Sculpture and an NYFA fellowship for Crafts/Sculpture. She has been in residence at LMCC Swing Space, AIM at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Winter Workspace at Wave Hill, and Workspace Program at Dieu Donné. Her work has been written about in publications such as Art in America, the Brooklyn Rail, Artcritical, and others. She has a studio with the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York.