Once at Present: Contemporary Art of Bay Area Iranian Diaspora at Minnesota Street Project

Shotgun Review

Once at Present: Contemporary Art of Bay Area Iranian Diaspora at Minnesota Street Project

By Kelly Kirkland May 1, 2019

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Kelly Kirkland reviews Once at Present: Contemporary Art of Bay Area Iranian Diaspora at Minnesota Street Project.

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Memory, both personal and collective, exists on a threshold: belonging neither fully to the past nor the present, it occupies its own unique in-between space. Once at Present: Contemporary Art of Bay Area Iranian Diaspora at Minnesota Street Project, sponsored by the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University, revels in this space as a site of cultural production.

Entering the ground floor gallery, the viewer is immersed in the ambient chant of Sholeh Asgary’s audio-visual installation, Ab (2018), as the video’s title, the single syllable for “water” in Farsi, echoes through the room at varying frequencies. The beats of each utterance—Asgary’s own recorded voice processed through a computer program—emanate from two large monitors facing each other on the floor, the gap between the two screens activating a rippling sonic landscape.

Shadi Yousefian’s Memories (2018), by comparison, consists of photographs taken from the artist’s personal archive, arranged in gridded patterns and encased in layers of resin. The resin casing preserves these objects in an eternal moment; at the same time, the layers create a clouded film over the original images, often obscuring them from the viewer completely.

This tension between preserving and obfuscating the past re-emerges in Shirin Towfiq’s enlarged photo-based works that repurpose images that the artist’s father brought from Iran. The faded snapshots in No, I Never Went Back (6/6) (2019) are barely visible on the surface of Towfiq’s prints, which appear crumpled and creased, like paper that has been hastily shoved into a back pocket. Experimenting with varying degrees of removal, Yousefian and Towfiq blur the boundary between previous and present lives, while building upon the notion of memory as a cultural artifact.

Shirin Khalatbari. Naught, 2019; slip cast ceramics; dimensions variable. Courtesy of Minnesota Street Project. Photo: Kevin B. Chen.

Shirin Khalatbari and Shaghayegh Cyrous, by comparison, invite the viewer to experience a physical encounter with cultural memory. In Naught (2019), Khalatbari displays a series of clothing garments cast in porcelain slip. Positioned upright on the ground, the hollow sculptures become ghostly remnants of absent human forms. Cyrous, by contrast, requires the presence of a human body in The sun will rise the next day (2019), a video installation that projects names of prisoners of conscience in Iran incarcerated between 2011 and 2019. The projection is only visible when projected onto a nearby surface; as the viewer is invited to step in front of the projector, the spectator’s body becomes a living scrim for the memory of the people listed, functioning both as witness and monument. Through the act of remembering, the works in Once at Present give shape, form, and sound to the unseen traces of diasporic life.

Once at Present: Contemporary Art of Bay Area Iranian Diaspora was on view at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco through April 20, 2019.

[Editor's Note: A previous version of this article did not state the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University as the sponsor of this exhibition.]

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