The group show “Re-Orientations” at La Esquina in NYC features Samira Abbassy, Camille Eskell, Dhanashree Gdiyar, and Sheida Soleimani, 4 US based female artists who bring through figurative representation feminist perspectives rooted in the Near East and South Asia. The co-curators Natasha Stefanovic and Audra Lambert present these distinct feminist voices in context of “Orientalism,” the 1978 seminal and polemic book by renowned scholar Edward W. Said, a must read in Post-Colonial Culture Studies. Ranging formally from painting to embroidery, and thematically from identity to immigration, the images overall depict tragic and at times nostalgic moments rooted in the artists’ cultural background. Underscored with post-colonial sensibility, these intimate narratives humanize and defy the stereotype of what is “oriental.”
The diptych “Carrying Herself as a Corpse (blue)” and “Carrying Herself as a Corpse (red),” by Iranian New York based artist Samira Abbassy for instance, coalesces tragedy and intimacy in a most compact format. Both images depict a cropped female figure carrying a corpse, bringing to surface multiple associations from Maria to Freud – both victimized and empowered, precise and enigmatic, iconographic and deeply personal.
Similarly, Abbassy’s painting “Nostalgic Paralysis” depicts another mutilated female protagonist; here she uses vibrant pigments and a bold frontal composition to conjure a wide array of iconographies – a Hindu Goddess, a Byzantine saint, a Persian mythological princess.
Camille Eskell’s mixed media collages also draw on iconography. Her imagery is less pan-religious than Abbassy’s, rather focusing on her own Jewish Iraqi and Indian heritage. Eskell is more widely known for her mixed media installations but these small-scale jewel-like images represent well her imaginative use of digital imagery, textiles and embossing techniques. The lush deep red hues in “Magic Carpet Ride: Little Maharajah,” resemble ornamental carpets whereas the bold intricate patterns resemble a corner from an illuminated manuscript. The circular photograph of the young boy at the center brings to mind an image from an old-fashioned photo album, or an amulet.
“Magic Carpet Ride” depicts three cropped digital images of female headshots in vibrant blue, located on a curved ornamental strip, and an inscription in Hebrew which translates into: “Bliss for not making me a woman.” Her images are intimate and distant, sentimental and humorous.
Sheida Soleimani, who typically fuses in her work collage, film, and photography to reflect her perspective on historical and contemporary socio-political issues in Iran and the Near/Middle East, exhibits here a digital photograph, “Filleting,” which echoes Eskell’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” also depicting a collage of women’s faces. Yet, Soleimani’s turmoiled composition in pink stirs an imminent sense of violence and trauma, presented through a more surreal or expressionistic flair, like a hyperbolic horror movie.
The delicate collages of Indian born artist Dhanashree Gadiyar tie into the feminist narrative from a perspective on immigration. “Waiting,” for instance links with Abbassy’s frontal figures in a void but Gadiyar’s drawn and embroidered figures seem to depict a particular moment, a snapshot of an event in an immigrant’s life.
Altogether the works in this show weave associative links between different artistic approaches to an important and frequently misunderstood region through a female viewpoint – both critical and subtle.
Re-Orientations (Pt. I)
La Esquina (203 Lafayette Street, New York, NY)
On view February 6-March 17, 2019