Spotlight On Minoosh Zomorodinia

Since arriving in the United States in 2009, Minoosh Zomorodinia’s search for a safe destination has only further accelerated, both in urgency and expression of form. After speaking to the IC3 Artist-in-Residence, it becomes very clear that her life in Iran leading up to the present was just as critical to this search and, by extension, the art currently being exhibited at the Islamic Cultural Center of North America (ICCNC). For Minoosh, her path has not been entirely straightforward, and how could it be(?), given the political vagaries of the Iranian-American relationship, the practical challenges it introduces, and the constant re-acclimating to spaces, both physical and spiritual, imposed by a life spent in artistic transit.

Minoosh hints at the kind of upbringing that left an indelible impression on her work. She mentions going to a religiously conservative elementary school, becoming exposed to an austere, yet passionate, religiosity at an early age. She mentions her parents’ insistence on environmental conservation and respect for the natural habitat. These experiences, inter alia, were the seeds that grew into her early involvement with the Open Five Group (Panje-Baz), an environmental artist collective at the Jehad Daneshgahi School in Tehran. After participating in 20 different environmental art festivals in Iran, the collaborative effect resulted in a renewed focus on nature, using land and its features as a medium for self-expression and exploring its navigational signs.

Minoosh quickly landed her first show in the United States in February 2010 at the Open Shutter Gallery in Durango, CO, where, as “the ambassador of the movement” in the US, she introduced the Open Five collective and its works of nature to a new audience. The exhibit marked a shift toward multimedia and performance, materializing in an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. There, Minoosh found herself more in front of the camera, exploring “intuitive performances” of the body, involving physical repetitions and ritual. She says of the experience: “Part of it was self investigation that was helpful for me, searching to find the right platform…a safe platform,” hinting at her evolution currently on display at the ICCNC, with its central theme of sanctuary. But by this time, the constitutional themes of her artistic output were more apparent: the repetition of spiritual practice, the regimen of movement and order, nature as an indicator of safety and its function as terra firma, not only for the body, but for the spiritual self.

I inquire about this “self,” its constancy, and its transformation through creativity. Minoosh refers to the self as a process of negotiation, without a clear-cut answer as to its true identity. She rhetorically asks: “Is it the soul? Is it the ego?” But one thing is clear:

“The self definitely changes when you are involved in the creative process, and sometimes it’s very heartbreaking, because being an artist involves creating a personality which becomes part of your life. It is your life. If you’re a doctor, you go to work and return home to your normal life. But being an artist is always with you and you cannot stop being an artist. Being an artist, it reflects on the style of your work and (the state of) your brain.”

Even a cursory glance at Minoosh’s work strongly indicates the difficulty in compartmentalizing this (artistic) self, with its flux of materials, natural and synthetic; Dirt, metal, flesh, cloth, stillness, movement, each and all the technology of the self and the indispensible wherewithal of the earth itself.

The most immediate expression of Minoosh’s self is what appears as the features of a practicing Muslim. “It’s the first expression of whoever looks at me.” She is quick to point out, however, how this distinction can sometimes be a distraction as much as an insightful indicator. Since Trump’s election, she has received more invitations by artists to collaborate, but is suspicious, “because I want people to see my art and not my appearance. I’m not making promotional or commercial art.” This has caused her to scale back on the use of the body and its coverings, increasingly charged and politically inflected by the times. Instead, Minoosh has taken the theme to deeper, more latent depths. In her current exhibit, “Imagining Sanctuary,” she traverses-quite literally-new landscapes with the theme of sanctuary, with special ritual walking tours around Lake Merritt, among other paths, along which fellow pilgrims are encouraged to contemplate the natural habitat and the feeling it elicits. She comments on the notion of home and the safety and comfort provided by these landscapes:

“In America, you can find gas stations on every corner, and in Iran it’s mosques…creating home. After learning about ‘sanctuary cities’ after the election, I had a desire to connect these concepts. Sanctuary is a place for refugees and a sacred space. Naturalism is crucial to being safe, and water is one the symbols of safety.”

Rarely has the space of an exhibit been so crucial to Minoosh’s show. She says of her residency at the ICCNC, “I really love the building and am fascinated by it. This is not an art space and the people coming are mostly practicing Muslims, (presenting) different audience opportunities.” For the first time, Minoosh is seeing “how Muslims, my community, view my work, which is a different response. They might not necessarily understand art.” The overlap of events at ICCNC presents an additional novel component, with visitors prompting compelling conversations, connections to spirituality, and relations to their experiences. Recently, Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush stopped by the exhibit after delivering a lecture at the Center. His response: “mutahayyar”: astonished.

Minoosh Zomorodinia’s solo show, “Imagining Sanctuary,” will hold its closing reception on Saturday, April 21, at ICCNC.


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