FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
True to Self
November 11, 2023 - January 6, 2024
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 11, 6 - 8pm
Rachel Uffner Gallery is pleased to present True to Self, Arghavan Khosravi’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. The exhibition features nine ambitious wall-mounted and freestanding sculptural paintings all created within the last two years. Together, the works represent Khosravi’s ongoing exploration of womanhood, agency, and identity, as well as her transitioning art practice in the wake of the Zan, Zendegi, Azadi (Woman, Life, Freedom) movement.
Born in 1984, five years after the Islamic Revolution established a theocracy in Iran, Khosravi spent the first three decades of her life navigating a double existence: “adhering to Islamic law in public while holding on to freedom of thought and action in private”. Khosravi’s personal experiences balancing opposing ideologies weaves an underlying thread in her artistic practice, where symbolism and metaphor create theatrical compositions that hint at hidden meanings and stories untold.
In the front room of the gallery, Khosravi installs three narrative, wall-mounted works that tell stories of oppression and perseverance. In The Void, Khosravi envisions the well- known Iranian hero, Prince Siyavush, as a woman. Falsely accused of sexual misconduct and other crimes, the Shah ordered Siyavush to ride through a blazing fire. Khosravi imagines her female Siyavush emerging triumphant from the flames and ascending into a beautiful, mosaic-tiled tower where she finds the freedom to read in front of an open window. In the bottom right corner, a reclining female figure presses against a tear-stained bust of Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina, a trompe-l’oeil excerpt of Baroque sculpture that reappears as an impassioned symbol of female plight in The Orange Curtain.
Throughout her practice, Khosravi incorporates the architectural forms, floral motifs, and flat perspectives of Persian miniature paintings into her dynamic compositions. Of the three wall-mounted assemblages, two reference imagery from Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a Persian epic story, while the third references a painting from Layla and Majnun, a 7th century Arab love poem. In Persian miniatures, women are mostly passive, secondary characters. In Khosravi’s paintings, however, women take on central, titular roles, exerting their strength and agency in unsettling situations pervaded by underlying feelings of restriction and concealment.
Each installation also incorporates strong sculptural elements, further subverting the flat historical tradition of Persian miniatures. Khosravi’s process of building her work is complex and additive, often involving a variety of multimedia materials. Black threads weave through the works, representing patriarchal repression and imposed power. White bird feathers adorn the figure’s dress in The Battleground, a recurring symbol that Khosravi incorporates to embody flight and freedom. Trompe l’oeil windows and doorways create disorienting illusions, reflective of the duplicitous realities the artist navigated as a young woman in Iran. Khosravi’s bold experimentation, which comes from a desire to continuously challenge herself in the studio, cultivates a unique visual language characterized by unexpected materials, a polychromatic palette, and enchanting juxtapositions.
Continuing to the back gallery space, Khosravi presents six new sculptural paintings that were recently shown along with the front gallery works at the artist’s first museum survey Black Rain at Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum. Khosravi pushes further into the sculptural realm with her first free-standing and hanging works designed to be viewed in the round. Female figures gain even greater prominence in Khosravi’s new body of work, which transforms Iranian women into structural pillars of resistance. Inspired by the Woman, Life, Freedom protests that began in September 2022 following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, Khosravi outfits her female figures in traditional Persian armor, helmets, and chain mail. In her vision, these female protagonists, who represent her and other young women like her, become monumental warriors in the fight for freedom. Khosravi writes that she is “not interested in perpetuating notions of cultural exoticism and portrayals of Iranian women as victims. My work is a vehicle for shifting power, validating personal storytelling, and connecting to universal messages about human rights.” No longer turned away, half hidden, or bound by ropes or shackles like in Khosravi’s earlier paintings, these women confront the viewer directly in full, frontal portraits, demanding to be seen. Their freestanding nature compels viewers to engage with each surface of the structures, and in doing so, every facet of the women’s identities. In True to Self, the warrior’s eyes are closed at first encounter. An Iranian mirror cabinet on the wall, however, reveals her open-eyed reflection, staring unflinchingly outward.
Khosravi, who describes duality as built into the fabric of everyday life, considers contradiction as essential to her practice. Throughout her oeuvre, she juxtaposes opposites: modern vs. traditional, secular vs. religious, Western vs. Eastern, historical vs. contemporary, three-dimensional vs. two-dimensional. By constantly interrupting the expected, Khosravi creates a body of work rich with symbolism, open to various interpretations, and reflective of her own multi-dimensional identity.
Arghavan Khosravi (b. 1984, Shahr-e-kord, Iran) earned an MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design after completing the studio art program at Brandeis University. Khosravi previously earned a BFA in Graphic Design from Tehran Azad University and an MFA in Illustration from the University of Tehran. The artist has had recent exhibitions at prominent venues such as the Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA; FLAG Art Foundation, NY; the Orlando Museum of Art, FL; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Yinchuan, China; Newport Art Museum, Newport, RI; Art Production Fund, Rockefeller Center, New York, NY; and Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH; among others. Forthcoming exhibitions include shows at the Newport Art Museum, Newport, RI; and Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York, NY. Khosravi has held residencies at the Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA; Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH; Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA; the Studios at MassMoCA, North Adams, MA; Monson Arts, Monson, ME; and Residency Unlimited, Brooklyn, NY. She is a 2019 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Painters & Sculptors Grant and a 2017-18 recipient of the Walter Feldman Fellowship. Her work can be found in the collections of the Newport Art Museum, Albertina Museum, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Pennsylvania School of the Fine Arts, Rose Art Museum, Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Currier Museum of Art. Khosravi lives and works in Stamford, Connecticut.