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Both travel and artist residencies can be miraculous, granting a photographer time and space to muse, experiment and deepen artistic practice. I suspect that Gohar Dashti’s visit to her native Iran and recent artist residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire MacDougall succeeded in just such a pollination. Dashti is exhibiting three inspired new bodies of work in “Photos 2017” at Robert Klein’s atelier gallery at Ars Libri in Boston’s SoWa arts district through October 31st, 2017.
In her “Photos 2017”, Dashti continues to explore the concept of hospitable environments, distilling her ideas into more primal investigations of home and the natural world. Perhaps the most conspicuous departure in her new work is the absence of the human subjects that gave her past photographs so much of their sting. However, I think her current work has evolved into a more pure and universal expression of her compelling themes. In three separate but related series, “Home”, “Still Life” and “Alien”, Dashti’s, carefully defined scenes are quieter, deeper and more resonant in their contemplations of belonging.
In “Home”, Dashti’s images retain her characteristic reference to the devastations of conflict in her native Iran. Bombed out buildings, abandoned courtyards and ornate domestic remains host clamorous fields of flowers, grasses and other plant life, abandoned and struggling to survive out of their natural habitat. Often a window frames the outdoors, poignantly just out of reach, at once hopeful and hopeless. As usual, the large scale of Dashti’s photographs invites the viewer right into her scenes. Dashti’s meticulous viewpoint and composition, tranquil ambient light and mellifluous palette are alluring and beautiful, conveying the measure of war’s destructive effects and the power of resilience.
In a further divergence from past work, Dashti’s photographs become abstract in “Still Life”. Anything but still, her lacy, sometimes joyous explosions of twigs, leaves, pine needles and seeds dance across large square fields in bold monochromes. As with her other work, there is more than first meets the eye. Crafted using some of the earliest and most organic processes in photography – photograms (lensless, direct paper imagery) and cyanotypes (blue dye sun prints) – the natural elements have been compromised by Dashti’s intrusions, crushing, partially destroying and converting their innate beauty. The digital enlargement of her photographs imposes a further distortion while rendering them more impactful. Dashti’s abstract symbols of natural creation and manmade destruction are simultaneously gorgeous and tragic.
“Alien” marks yet another departure for Dashti. In a series of small instant film photographs, she utilizes a clear piece of glass to reflect her camera flash in each wooded scene, transforming the small shining rectangle into a metaphor for an unknown visitor. These small gems are rife with symbolic duality, doubt and innuendo: her naturally lit wooded environs versus an unexpected, unnatural light source, the mysterious locations of her landscapes and visitors, the glow of the flash versus the dark uncertainty of its meaning. Does the “alien” signify the artist’s (and viewers’) feelings of displacement in the world? Perhaps the “alien” is a symbol of an inscrutable, impending threat. Or is it a shining symbol of hope? Dashti packs these diminutive frames with such boundless questions, in a matrix of fifteen images as charming as they are unsettling. They appear like a secret invasion on one wall of the exhibit.
In “Photos 2017”, Dashti returns to her abiding themes of home and displacement, natural environment and civilization, peace and conflict, with three novel approaches and unerring clarity. With originality and eloquence, Dashti visualizes the struggle inherent to survival, reminding us in her stunning photographs that the looming threat and inevitability of demise is joined to the creation, resilience and beauty of the natural world.
A limited edition monograph is available for purchase, featuring Dashti’s three bodies of work in “Photos 2017” and an introduction by Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Curator of Photographs at MFA, Boston. For more information about the monograph and this exhibit, go to: https://www.robertkleingallery.com/
Feature Image: From the series “Home, 2017” (Detail) by Gohar Dashti (courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston).