Between semesters, Hartnett Gallery had the honor of exhibiting the work of Zahra Nazari. Entitled “Deconstructing Scapes,” the display showcased paintings and prints of imaginary landscapes from the past few years of her work. Drawing directly from her journeys across the globe, Nazari is able to create surreal interpretations of what the world could look like.
Nazari was raised in Hamadan, Iran, one of the oldest cities in the world, home to many archeological sites. She earned her Bachelors of Fine Arts from the School of Art & Architecture, Tabriz in 2007. Afterwards, she spent time in Iran, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and eventually the United States, first landing in Philadelphia and then travelling throughout New York City. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts at SUNY New Paltz.
Her work draws upon the architecture she witnessed throughout her travels. Growing up in Hamadan, she was initially inspired by the grid-like foundations of the city’s ruins. In Dubai and Philadelphia, she was interested in the contrast between modern skyscrapers and traditional buildings. She also counts architects Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, as well as the 2010 film “Inception”, among her influences. All these different experiences Nazari pieced together in different ways to create recognizable but fictitious worlds.
The landscapes in “Deconstructing Scapes” were initially challenging to understand—at first glance they seemed completely abstract without any intention of being a landscape. But upon further inspection, vague shapes slowly evolved into buildings and cityscapes emerged. Some of her works incorporated photos of the places she had visited, like in “Outpost,” where the bas-relief sculptures of Persepolis melted into the 21st-century façade of Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue in New York City. Her painting technique was just as inscrutable, until she explained that she liked to manipulate the canvas and pour paint, as she did in the 12-foot long “Cityscape Remix”.
Her watercolors were particularly powerful, and combined a strong sense of color with an intense use of space. Multi-colored washes made up the exhibit’s backgrounds, fields, and walls that layered on top of one another until they were cut off by whitespace. The negative space used throughout all of her pieces made them feel quite imaginary, as if the fantastic dreamscapes were spreading across the canvas.
Some of her most recent projects involved printed works and greater use of multimedia. A few of the black and white prints felt particularly flat due to a lack of both shading and forced perspective. One of my favorite pieces was “Journey #24”, an acrylic painting on wood with other materials, that depicted the view from a flight she took. The plane was seen from all different angles in a quasi-Cubist fashion: in the center of the board is a strip of canvas that represented the wing. Perpendicular to that was the fuselage and the underside of the wing. A large dark mass at the bottom embodied the fleeting shadow of the wing on the ground.
Few artists have taken the landscape tradition and given it a completely new form, but for Nazari, that was the very purpose of her work. Indeed, taken collectively, these pieces represented her citizenship that spans the globe. It was invigorating to see such a personal story brought to life. As she begins to work with 3D printing, maybe we’ll one day be able to walk around her fascinating world.
Libbey is a member of
the class of 2015.