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Sohelia Esfahani and Hye Yeon Nam at Buffalo Arts Studio

Alien Culture

Soheila Esfahani and Hye Yeon Nam at Buffalo Arts Studio

The works of two Canadian artists, originally from more distant places, on exhibit at Buffalo Arts Studio offer various but complementary takes on the immigrant experience.

Soheila Esfahani was born in Tehran, Iran. Her work honors Muslim artistic tradition prohibiting figuration in art; she opts instead for elegant, decorative patterns that often include lettering and text.

The main subject matter of her paintings is Persian script, in a legibility range from what looks like standard readable text—that is, to someone who knows Persian—to less and less so, as the script morphs into abstract forms reminiscent of the free-hand patterns in Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.

In a formal variant on the script that fragments into abstract patterns, in some of the paintings, some of the script is in clear acrylic that you see through more than see in black on white.

It is art about the melding of one culture into another, about the continuous presence, but at the same time constant loss, of a former versus a new culture in the life of the artist. A kind of elegiac art.

In a talk at the show opening, the artist said that the writing in several of the paintings is from a poem by Rumi, the 13th-century mystic poet and theologian. The poem is a dialogue about the search for love as a spiritual journey.

The searcher says, “I am weary of the beast and the devil, a human is my desire.” The response to the searcher is that the search has failed. The search object “cannot be found.” The searcher responds, “What cannot be found is my desire.”

Other works by the same artist are on pallets, the transient, semi-scrap-lumber platforms used for transportation or storage of various industrial materials. On one edge of the pallets, the artist has laser-etched traditional Persian decorative designs incorporating curvilinear and floral motifs.

Again, the persistence of the old within the new, not in an obtrusive way but in a startling way. And the discovery of beauty—the assertion of beauty—where it is unexpected.

Some of the decorated pallets have been displayed as artworks, as in the present exhibit, while others have been placed back in the industrial use and reuse pallet stream.

In a variant on the idea of marching to a different tune, Korean-born video and performance artist Hye Yeon Nam presents a video in which she walks around Times Square, New York City, in the wrong direction. Or maybe it is everyone else who is walking in the wrong direction, as it seems from the video.

That is, the artist was videotaped walking slowly backwards in a circle around the square—much to the consternation of the cabbies, she said, whereas pedestrians seem to move deftly out of her way. But then the video is run backwards so that she seems to be walking dreamily forward while everybody and everything else around her—including cabs and buses—seems to be proceeding backward.

An irony of the piece is that, because this is New York City, hardly anyone seems to notice. (A youngish cop notices, but you get the sense he’s more interested in Nam than in her walking backwards.)

Nam says the work is about feelings of awkwardness, which she said she feels all the time—partly because she is an immigrant, partly because she is an artist. Another video, again about awkwardness, shows Nam performing such actions as pouring orange juice into a glass that has a hole in the bottom.

Another video, called “Tongue Music,” documents a kind of sexy science project. A small magnet placed on a subject’s tongue and held in place—this part isn’t so sexy—with Fixodent translates tongue movements into faint sound signals in an ambient, low-level electronic field generated from a headset apparatus. A more interesting variant on the procedure, a stage two of the science project, involves protracted kissing. Anything for science.

The Soheila Esfahani and Hye Yeon Nam exhibits continue through March 12.

jack foran

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