The Safarani Sisters: Reincarnationby Jonathan Goodman
ELGA WIMMER PCC | OCTOBER 18 – 31, 2018
Born in 1990 as identical twins, Bahareh and Farzandeh Safarani were making paintings even as children in Tehran. Receiving their BFA degree in painting from the University of Teheran in 2013, they then moved to Boston, where they live today, where they completed an MFA from Northeastern University in 2016. This show of paintings enhanced with projected videos, curated by Roya Khadjavi Heidari, is their first solo exhibition in New York.
The fourteen works on view are paintings with small videos projected onto them. The paintings are of interiors, usually a bit dark and slightly melancholic in atmosphere, that are illuminated by bright windows with curtains. For the most part, the windows are the site of the projected videos, which often portray a person moving through the slowly shifting, transparent drapery. The paintings are subtle and elegiac; a single figure—one of the sisters—is regularly portrayed. The Safarani sisters use quiet indications of mood to indicate their presence in the work. Additionally, their art is directed toward a much more traditional imagery, in which references to Western figurative painting come to the fore.
The concomitant presence of painting and video both anchors and contemporizes the work of these sisters, who seem most interested in conveying an elegiac mood, conveyed by the darkened atmosphere of the rooms, as well as the slowly moving curtains in the videos. The result is an ambience of deep feeling., pervaded by both sadness and sensuousness. One example of the “Twilight Incarnation” series (2018) shows one of the sisters lying on a couch in the lower third of the painting; the upper two thirds are devoted to a darkened white wall, with one large and two smaller squares of light set on the wall’s expanse above the resting girl, whose eyes are closed and who is wearing dark clothing. It is a portrait of rest, even of near death. In another example, one of the sisters, dressed in a black shirt and black pants, stands on the left, with her left hand reaching up into her hair. Behind her, in the middle of the space, is a side table with a mirror that reflects a white window; in this window, we can also watch a video in which a female figure walks in the house, although viewers can only see her reflection in the mirror. In this short narrative, the sister approaches the window, closes the curtain, and then walks away. We also see part of a wooden door on the right. The atmosphere is meditative, given the slowness of the video’s narrative, and also slightly sensual, but everything is understated to the point where erotic feeling is entirely discharged. Subtlety conquers impulse on a regular basis in these sisters’ art.
In another painting a nude is surrounded by a gauzy curtain that hangs from ceiling to floor. With her back to her audience, the nude faces two long, bright windows filled with light. The curves of her body contrast with the straight lines of the architecture that frame her figure. The video, evident in one of the windows, consists of a curtain moving in response to the wind blowing through the window. The composition could easily be seen as an academic study of a nude, without any implication of desire. This is not to relegate the image to the academy alone; it balances perfectly as a historical reference to painting with a contemporary sensuousness. Like most of the works in the show, the viewer is left to their imagination. The final image to be mentioned in this review concerns a long bow strung with cord on the right, a flat expanse of a subtly greenish-white wall in the center, and an open closet with some articles of clothing on the left. Called Her 5 a.m. View (2018), the painting is a kind of extended still life, with contemporary objects filling an open space. The accompanying video consists of movements of light and shadow, followed by the shadow of a person getting up from bed. The impartial treatment of an undistinguished view is key to the sisters’ method and effectiveness.
The Safarani sisters show us a world imbued with slightly melancholic feeling, painted with a considerable awareness of the history of art. An unspoken poetry drifts in and out of the atmosphere in their art, which suggests and intimates but never states or asserts. Much of the works’ mystery comes from the sisters’ willingness to suggest rather than proclaim. Mystery indicative of poetic vision is needed badly now, when we are in a time of literal assertion in art.
JONATHAN GOODMAN is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.