An Iranian Artist Focuses on Gardens Under Siege

A group of 15 works by the Iranian artist Homa Delvaray may steal the spotlight in the Frame section at Frieze New York this year. With Farsi script on layers of fabric, the series is a color-splashed example of Frame’s very mission: to educate viewers about emerging artists.

The title of Ms. Delvaray’s collection, “The Garden of Desolation,” might also embody the mood of a world still struggling with a pandemic while a war rages in Europe. Her series uses random lines of Farsi poetry to soften images of the ever-shifting world outside any safe and quiet garden the Frame viewer may imagine.

Ms. Delvaray will join 10 other artists at Frame, a section of Frieze New York devoted to those represented by galleries that are less than 10 years old. It is a way to spotlight emerging artists — and gallerists — as a potential steppingstone to the big time.

“People recognize Frieze and the names of galleries in the main section of the fair, but Frame really is a place for discovery for international artists,” said Christine Messineo, director of Frieze New York and Frieze Los Angeles. “It’s that opportunity to begin their ascension into the larger market. Frame gives us a fuller picture of what we should be paying attention to.”

“The Garden of Desolation” consists of 15 digital prints of lines of classic Iranian poetry, reproduced in varying sizes on felt, making the series look and feel almost like a quilt. Each piece is made up of three layers that have been sewn together by hand and then framed in a metal structure.

Imaginary floor plans are printed on a separate sheet, representing modern buildings that have replaced gardens across Ms. Delvaray’s home country and the world. She chose poets who wrote in Farsi, borrowing lines to tell the story of gardens under siege.

“All of the lines of the poetry have been taken out of context,” Ms. Delvaray explained through an interpreter, “but each one is or seems to be talking about a lost or forgotten garden, and they seem to be a little desperate to get it back. I’ve appropriated the poets. I’ve forced them to have a kind of dialogue.”

Ms. Delvaray’s inspiration for “Garden” began in 2019 in the Iranian province of Kerman, where she participated in a curatorial project with several other Iranian artists. The theme was to visit two gardens: the lavish Shazdeh Garden on an oasis in the desert, and a stone garden where rocks are hung from dry or dead trees. That space, created by a local farmer to protest land reforms in the 1960s, has become a tourist destination.

“A private garden is your innermost private space, and it is often a buffer to the city, especially because of urbanization,” Ms. Delvaray said. “What I am trying to portray is a contemporary, universal garden and the conflicts of the past versus the present. The garden has become deprived of its core meaning.”

Ms. Delvaray’s fabric sculpture “Khash,” inspired by a centuries-old Persian childbirth ritual. The work was shown this year at the No. 9 Cork Street gallery in London. Credit…The Artist and Dastan Gallery

Ms. Delvaray’s presence at Frieze New York comes on the heels of “Soft Edge of the Blade,” an exhibition of Iranian artists that ran from Feb. 3 through March 1 at the No. 9 Cork Street gallery in London. (The gallery, a Frieze initiative devoted to international artists, opened in October.)

At that show, the Dastan Gallery in Tehran, which is representing Ms. Delvaray at Frieze New York, presented artists who often portray violence and when it occurs — during war, political oppression, migration — in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ms. Delvaray’s contribution, a fabric sculpture called “Khash,” was inspired by a centuries-old Persian childbirth ritual in which attendants used a sharp tool to etch a line in the ground around the mother to protect her from evil spirits.

“That sculpture hung from the ceiling in a window, and it really magnetized people and drew them in,” said Selvi May Akyildiz, director of the No. 9 Cork Street gallery. “I wasn’t familiar with her work before this. It had sort of an anthropological approach.”

Being included in that exhibition with other Iranian artists was an honor, Ms. Delvaray said. The London show — and now Dastan’s presence at Frieze New York — is exciting for any Iranian artist wanting exposure internationally, she said.

“There is an active and vibrant art scene here in Iran, but the world wants to see a very different Iran,” she said. “The world sees us in a very exotic way. But it really isn’t like that. It’s a normal country, and people get on with their life day to day.”

Other artists in this year’s Frame include Yan Xinyue (represented by Capsule Shanghai), a Chinese painter who also explores the challenges of life during rapid urbanization; Ivan Cheng (Édouard Montassut, Paris), whose installation takes on wealth distribution, among other topics; and Marsha Pels (Lubov, New York), whose work “Dead Mother” uses a mink stole as a canvas.

As the various works came together in Frame this year, similarities in the styles of the artists emerged.

“For example, we have one painter, Judith Geichman, who was a discovery for me, and at the same time, we have Emma McIntyre, who works in a completely different approach,” Ms. Messineo said. “But they both are abstract artists, and you can almost see a line between their works, which happened completely by accident. It’s so exciting when that happens.”

In her view, that is exactly what any curator, artist or gallerist hopes to find at an art fair — and exactly what Frame was created to do in 2012. Now, after the event cancellations, online alternatives and lower in-person attendance the pandemic has caused, Frame’s founders hope to return to their original vision.

“There’s a different conversation that you have over artwork that is never going to be represented digitally,” Ms. Messineo said. “There are places for reunions. Our artist communities come together: the curators, the collectors. You drink. You gossip. I’m looking forward to that community-building again and running into people in the aisles after two years.”

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