Squeak Carnwath draws upon the philosophical and mundane experiences of daily life in her paintings and prints, which can be identified by lush fields of color combined with text, patterns, and identifiable images. She has received numerous awards including the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Award from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, two Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award for Individual Artists from the Flintridge Foundation, and the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. In 2019, she was inducted into the National Academy of Design and Art. Carnwath is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives and works in Oakland, CA.
In this time of COVID19, our days have become monotonous and sometimes isolated. We share a collective yearning to be out with people and be together without the fear and problems of the pandemic. In AGAIN, Squeak Carnwath asks “Will We ever Be All Together AGAIN, Close”. Above this question, we see handprints, our most unique human signature, which has marked our presence since the earliest times. AGAIN makes us consider this ancient, basic need to be together, to be known and leave evidence, I am here.
AGAIN also makes us consider being together again in ways that transcend the physical. Current events have awakened us to the extent of our isolation and division. The different shades of paint for the hands, speak to the diversity of our physical characteristics, and conceptually to our differences in political and religious views, education and socioeconomic groups.
While we might have thought we were “together” in the past, perhaps we now realize we really weren’t as close as we hoped. There is much work to be done to unite us – to truly be all together again, close. AGAIN, in this sense, seems more like an earnest wish; our dream for the future. The hands on the canvas, banging and pounding to be let free, to go out and make this dream a reality.
Brian Dettmer (b. 1974, Chicago, IL) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He has been the subject of solo exhibitions at numerous institutions including the Hermann Geiger Foundation, Cecina, Italy, The International Museum of Surgical Science, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. His works have been exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Design, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, The Chicago Cultural Center, The High Museum, and the Perez Art Museum among others. Dettmer’s sculptures can be found in the permanent collection of several institutions including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, The High Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery. He has been featured in several publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Chicago Tribune, Art News, Modern Painters, Wired, The Village Voice, Harper’s, CBS News and NPR.
Dettmer’s Problem Attic series was featured in the exhibition To Hear and Be Heard, which examines civility through the visual language of fine art. His work encourages us to consider the impact of information we willingly/unwillingly consume daily. In describing the inspiration and process for his work, Dettmer tells us, “Information is the raw material of today. We have an overabundance of text and imagery constantly at our fingertips. In digital media, it is often as fleeting as it is abundant, but when information is put in print we have a stronger sense of its relation to history and its stability for the future. In my work, I question this stability and ask what erasure and loss could look like through the lens of printed matter. Reference books have become almost extinct in less than one generation and we are at a pivotal time in the way we record and distribute facts. Without a stable home to rest in, our agreed truths have been uprooted and are now subject to distortions, erasures, and intentional manipulations. Through a meticulous process of sculptural excavation, I explore the inner contents of vintage books that have often been relegated to collecting dust or headed for a landfill. The work is both archival and anti-archival. It is a creation through consumption, an exposure through erasure. These sculptures break down historic narratives to offer a compression of ideas through a single surface, embracing us with a desire to reconstruct. This abundance of fragmented history reminds us that we are just one part of the bigger picture, as fleeting as the media we create and as permanent as the ideas we surround ourselves with.”
The Problem Attic Series
The Problem Attic Series – Artist Statement
The Problem Attic series revisits a handful of publications of Coronet, a small general interest digest magazine from the 1950’s and 60’s. With Rockwellesque style pin-up covers, semi-salacious short stories, general non-fiction, and advertisements for everything from cigarettes to appliances, the magazine paints a picture of an ideal mid-century suburban lifestyle that is extremely problematic from today’s perspective. Sexism and white male conformity saturate the pages, and unfortunately much of the text and imagery found and revealed echo many of the attitudes and issues still facing us today. Fragmented texts take on new meaning in 2020, as we face the Coronavirus pandemic and issues of sexism and racism in our society. Coronet, meaning small crown, comes from the Latin word “corona”. The title becomes broken and shortened in various forms within these works, creating an undeniable reference to the most pressing subject on our minds today.
Lisa Kokin lives and works in El Sobrante with her spouse Lia, three canine studio assistants and Bindi the cat. The daughter of upholsterers, she stitches everything she can get her hands on, including discarded books which she rescues from the local recycling center. Kokin brings a fiber sensibility and a conceptual approach to a diverse array of materials. Her work is often a commentary on the world around her, often incorporating the age-old Jewish response to adversity, humor.
Kokin has been the recipient of multiple awards and commissions, including a Eureka Fellowship, a WESTAF/NEA Regional Fellowship, the Dorothy Saxe Invitational Award for Creativity in Contemporary Arts, the Alameda County Arts Commission (multiple venues), and the Richmond Civic Center Public Art Interior Acquisitions Project. Her work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Boise Art Museum, the Buchenwald Memorial, the di Rosa Preserve, Mills College, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, Yale University Art Museum, and Tiffany & Co.
At first glance these delicate works might make one recall a time when royalty ate cakes off of doilies and civility was equated with good manners. Legend has it that Marie Antoinette callously replied “let them eat cake” when she learned her subjects had no bread to eat. That problematic sense of entitlement and insensitivity is what inspired Lisa Kokin to make the works in Let Them Eat Cake, which are part of her Lucreseries. Kokin tells us, “I like money in its shredded state because it is stripped of value and power. Worthless, it becomes just so much green and white confetti. It is literally not worth the paper it’s printed on. As I separate each strip, the patterns, letters, numbers, and gradations of color are more striking than when the bills are intact. Washington’s heavy-lidded eyes, references to higher powers, cryptic serial numbers, seals and signatures, scrolls and flourishes. When sliced-up and decontextualized, money is really quite mysterious and beautiful. No one values money in this impotent state. It no longer has the ability to poison relationships, threaten democracy, topple governments, create privilege and misery. Stitched together with metallic thread into textile fragments… the material is re-contextualized with a new value and purpose.”
Countenance is part of Lisa Kokin’s Denominate, her current series of collages made with shredded U.S. currency. She decided to use the mask form because it has become so ubiquitous and is symbolic of much. During the pandemic we wear masks to protect our health and our fellow citizens, showing respect for each other’s lives. Kokin uses only black, white and grey pieces of currency, also potentially symbolic as racism has been compared to a pandemic. Kokin says, “As political events become more convoluted and disturbing, my work has evolved into a more minimalist response. Gluing tiny pieces of money together using a tweezers and miniscule gluing brush, I find comfort and serenity in lining up edges and staying within the self-imposed lines. Despite the limited parameters, I am able to improvise and let each piece evolve without a preconceived notion of the outcome. Cellphones, mazes, and masks are the forms with which I began the series. Thirty or so collages later, I switched to zeros…I am intrigued by the paradox of making zeros from something ostensibly valuable, although money in its shredded state is devoid of value, of course. Holes and emptiness preoccupy me these days as we live through the challenges of the pandemic and an administration seemingly immune to its devastating effects.”
Julie Heffernan is an American painter whose artwork has been described by the writer Rebecca Solnit as “a new kind of history painting” and by The New Yorker as “ironic rococo surrealism with a social-satirical twist.” Portraiture is a dominant subject in Heffernan’s painting, even while she also reflects on environmental, (art) historical, feminist, literary, social, and political subjects.
Heffernan was raised in Northern California, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking and painting from University of California at Santa Cruz, and earned a Master of Fine Arts at Yale School of Art. She is a Professor of Fine Arts at Montclair State University and Co-founder of the journal Painters on Paintings. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
In 2011, Heffernan was elected a National Academician to the National Academy of Design in New York and in 2014, to the Board of Governors. She is a 2017 Fellow of the BAU Institute at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; was awarded the Meridian Scholar Artist-In-Residence Fellowship from the University of Tampa in Florida and was the featured artist for the 2017 MacDowell Colony. In 2013, Heffernan was awarded a Milton And Sally Avery Fellowship at MacDowell and in 2012, she was invited to be the Lee Ellen Fleming Artist-In-Residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In 2010, she was the Commencement Speaker for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in 2009, she was the featured artist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Fulbright-Hayes grant to Berlin, Heffernan was also a nominee for the “Anonymous Was A Woman” award. Since 1999, Heffernan has had more than 50 solo exhibitions at museums and other venues across the United States and abroad. Her work is represented in 25 museum and institutional collections. She has been represented by Catharine Clark Gallery since 2005.
Self-Portrait with Eruption
What is the artist’s role in society? Creator? Cultural Influencer? Visual Historian? Activist?
In Julie Heffernan’s Self-Portrait with Eruption the artist is all of the above, paintbrushes and cans of paint at the ready. Draped across her hands she presents a painted scroll illustrating “double-sided” narratives of the past, which include, Currier and Ives’ The Last War Whoop; The Bath by Jean-Leon Gerome; and In the Harem by Vincent G. Stiepevich. Behind the artist is a gallery wall filled with painted portraits of exemplary citizen activists that courageously worked for social and environmental justice.
Who are these citizen activists? Women from history and present day that have spoken out and taken action to expose and correct societal problems, creating a new narrative and a more civil, inclusive and sustainable future. (From top left to bottom right) Civil rights activist Rosa Parks, well known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott, which set in motion nationwide efforts to end racial segregation. Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American human rights activist, worked with Malcolm X for civil rights, and dedicated her life to social justice as an advocate for prisoners, nuclear disarmament and Japanese American reparations. Ella Baker, an African American civil and human rights activist, worked alongside W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr., playing a key role in organizations such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, among others. Ida B. Wells, an African American investigative journalist, educator and activist who brought attention to the horrors of lynching, was an early leader in civil rights and women’s suffrage, and participated in the founding of the NAACP. Sylvia Earle, an American oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer, the founder of Mission Blue, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Frances Beinecke, NRDC’s president from 2006 to 2015, worked on finding solutions to some of the biggest environmental challenges of our time, including establishing a clean energy future that curbs climate change, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, fostering sustainable communities, and ensuring safe and sufficient water.
Photographer Sheila Pree Bright documents social activism and is often described as a “cultural anthropologist.” She is widely known for her photographic series #1960Now, Young Americans, Plastic Bodies, and Suburbia. Bright earned an M.F.A. in photography from Georgia State University and received the Center Prize from the Santa Fe Center of Photography for Suburbia. Her work was featured in the documentary films Through the Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People and Election Day: Lens Across America.
Bright has exhibited nationally and abroad at venues that include the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; and the Leica Gallery in New York City. Her work is held in many private and public collections including the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, Washington, D.C.; the Oppenheimer Collection at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland, KS; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara, CA; King & Spalding, Atlanta, GA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH; Time Inc., New York, NY; FotoFest, Houston, TX; and the Sprint PCS Art Collection, Overland, KS.
From Atlanta, Ferguson and Baltimore, to Washington, D.C. and Baton Rouge, photographer Sheila Pree Bright documents civic response to police shootings and systemic inequity. She observed #BlackLivesMatter activists taking a stand against the same struggles their parents and grandparents underwent during the Civil Rights movement and the era of Jim Crow. Through photographing the living leaders of civil rights activism, Bright makes connections between present day protests and the demonstrations of the 1960s. This work inspired her book #1960Now: Photographs of Civil Rights Activists and the Black Lives Matter Protests and is the basis of her ongoing project #1960Now, first featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia. #1960Now examines race, gender and generational divides to raise awareness of millennial perspectives on civil and human rights. Bright says that her “objective is to capture images that allow us to experience those who are unheard as they contemplate or voice their reactions to ideas and issues shaping their world.” While her work is a painful reminder of the continued racism and injustice that plague us today, it is also an example of the enduring courage and conviction of citizens working to create a more perfect Union.
Imagine a world where civility is commonplace. What would that world look like? Chelsea Ryoko Wong envisions such a citizenry with colorful paintings that depict people of all ages and colors happily gathered together or walking lockstep. The poetic text accompanying her imagery often conveys the collective intention of building community, supporting one another and being “our best selves”.
In Freedom and Sea of Change we see empowered groups confidently celebrating the future and one another. Wong says that “these paintings reflect a sense of hope and joy. 2020 has been a series of unfolding, seismic events, producing anxiety and demanding change. To conquer fear, I jump optimistically into the unknown. With figures, I evoke a sense of familiarity and celebrate the magnificent diverse beings that we are. I use bright colors because they make me happy and tickle the spirit. I paint small poems that are hopeful wishes. These paintings conjure the senses, ushering in this new era, I am sending hope into the world, filling the void with unrestrained optimism and exultation.”
About the Artist
Chelsea Ryoko Wong (b. 1986, Seattle) is a painter and muralist whose vibrant figure compositions reflect the diversity and style of her home in San Francisco. Through the use of watercolor, gouache and acrylic techniques, Wong creates busy scenes of co-mingling people drawing from real-life events and her imagination. Her work is known for celebrating racial and cultural diversity, promoting working class communities and evoking a sense of curiosity and wonder. Through heavily stylized and idyllic imagery, Wong creates an encouraging visual statement promoting joy, acceptance and openness to one another.
Wong began her studies at Parsons School of Design and finished at California College of the Arts with a B.A. in Printmaking. She is the first recipient of the Hamaguchi Emerging Artists Fellowship award at Kala in Berkeley, CA and has recently completed a mural for the FB AIR Program in San Francisco, CA.
Sandow Birk (b.1962) is a well-traveled graduate of the Otis Art Institute of Parson’s School of Design. As the recipient of many grants and fellowships, his work has brought him to locations around the globe, including: a NEA International Travel Grant to Mexico City in 1995 to study mural painting, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996, and a Fulbright Fellowship for painting to Rio de Janeiro for 1997. In 1999 he was awarded a Getty Fellowship for painting followed by a City of Los Angeles (COLA) Fellowship in 2001. Birk was awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in 2007 and in 2014, he was named a USA Knight Fellow. Recent artist residencies include the Auckland Print Studio, New Zealand (2017); McKinney Visiting Artist at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN (2017); Ballinglen Arts Foundation, County Mayo, Ireland (2016); University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA (2014); Alila Villas Soori, Bali, Indonesia (2012) and Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, NM (2011).
Birk’s work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY; The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; among many others. Recent solo exhibitions include the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, OR (2017); Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA (2017); University of Anchorage, AK (2016); SDSU Downtown Gallery, San Diego, CA (2016); Thatcher Gallery, Univ. of San Francisco, CA (2016) and Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2015).
Sandow Birk has collaborated with his wife Elyse Pignolet, a practicing artist, on several projects, including American Procession (2017). He is represented by Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Seattle, WA, P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York City and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
The Rupture of Civility
At the start of the COVID19 pandemic, Los Angeles based artist Sandow Birk began a series of metaphorical marine paintings reminiscent of European history painting, which has inspired his work since he was a student in art school. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, these grand paintings often depicted battles, tragic events and disaster, emphasizing heroic action and suffering to impart lessons to viewers.
In this 21st century painting, the actual size of The Rupture of Civility belies the dramatic view of a once powerful and united ship, now broken in two, adrift and tossed about as it sinks in a vast stormy sea. What appeared to be mighty and indestructible is actually quite vulnerable. Was the disaster the result of misguided navigation? A divided crew? Birds circle ominously overhead and spilled cargo is lost, as neither side of the ship is able to help the other.
A Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops)
In recent years Sandow Birk created a series of detailed paintings that illuminate social and political issues such as police brutality, mass shootings, white terrorism and civil unrest. In A Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops), Birk compresses such events into a panorama that spans night to daytime, a reminder of the constant 24-hour nature of violence in our country. Big city high-rise buildings yield to rolling green hills and intersect with streets lined with small businesses and homes. Interspersed is a church, a penitentiary, The White House, recognizable landmarks such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and locations associated with police brutality.
Throughout this varied American landscape there are many people and there is much conflict. Life and death happen all at once in dramatic detail. Flowing one into another, Birk paints multiple historic events depicting excessive force and murder at the hands of the police. Citizens not under assault stand nearby capturing evidence on cell phones. While some people seem stunned or desensitized, others protest with signs in hand demanding accountability and change.
Born in San Jose, California, Phillip Hua was raised in the city that would eventually become the heart of Silicon Valley. As a child, he spent his days wandering the many fields and creeks now replaced with redevelopment, fueled by the tech industry. He eventually received his BFA from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Hua’s work has been exhibited in galleries, museums, and art fairs nationally and internationally. In 2016, he was awarded a public art commission from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) for the redesign of the 19th Street Oakland BART station and a public art commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission in 2018.
His work has been featured by Art Practical, The San Francisco Chronicle, SFWeekly, California Home + Design magazine, White Hot Magazine of Contemporary Art, Huffington Post, Interior Design magazine, and 7×7 magazine, among others.
Hua lives and works in San Francisco and is adjunct faculty at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where he teaches Digital Media.
We Are San Francisco
Phillip Hua envisions a community where differences don’t define what is possible between us. In this shared life in the city, citizens meet and are present with one another. Hua explains, “In this series, I created bisected portraits of the people of San Francisco, merged with another. Plumbers with bankers, techies with tattoo artists. From the Presidio to the Portola, and the Marina to the Bayview, these portraits were a way to connect, literally and figuratively, the rich cultural diversity of the city. Everyone from the freaks to the geeks, to the hipsters to the homeless. The open arms of the city embrace all who reach for it. This series serves to bring people together into the same ‘space’ as a way to urge unity through turbulent times.”
Nazanin Hedayat Munroe is an artist, designer and historian specializing in textiles and costume. Dr. Hedayat Munroe received her Ph.D. from University of Bern, Switzerland and M.A. from San Jose State University in art history, specializing in historic textiles from the Early Modern Persianate World. Dr. Hedayat Munroe is currently Director of Textile Technology and a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Business & Technology of Fashion at CUNY – NYC College of Technology, where she lectures on textiles, historic dress, and contemporary issues in the fashion industry. From 2011—2016 she worked at The Metropolitan Museum as a textile specialist, publishing several articles and teaching courses at the museum in her area of expertise.
A nationally acclaimed textile artist and NEA grant recipient, her installations and research focus on expressions of cultural identity expressed through clothing, ranging from complex woven designs to digitally printed and smart textiles. She received her M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art and B.F.A. from Savannah College of Art and Design in textile design and fiber art. She has exhibited her garments and textile-based installations at several museums including the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, San Jose Museum of Art, and The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.
An Interview with Nazanin Hedayat Munroe
MKM: Why did you pursue art? Were you always creative?
NHM: I was always creative; from the age of about six, I spent many hours writing stories about characters who traveled back in time. Then I would draw and paint their elaborate wardrobes by looking at history books. I started making clothes around this time too, I had a little miniature sewing machine.
MKM: You are an artist and scholar – Can you tell us about the interchange between your fine art practice and your academic, art historical work?
NHM: In retrospect, it makes sense that I became a textile and garment designer who also studied art history, bringing these two disciplines together in my work. I research my garments pretty extensively while I’m designing, and when I’m writing about historic objects, I experiment in the studio to put myself in the place of the artist. These two approaches fit together nicely for me.
MKM: What inspires you? other artists, your process, research, a theme?
NHM: Most of my work is inspired by Persian culture and literature, contemplating themes such as destiny and divination; as well as issues pertaining to women and their idealized representations in art and literature as passive beings, when in fact they were often master strategists and mediators. The ideas become distilled into key words and images (I usually include text in my work), and then I create my installations to invite viewers into the psychic or physical space. If there is a common goal with all my work, it’s to take ideas from Sufi poetry and give them physicality, so the viewer is walking into a poem.
MKM: In your fine art practice, what is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
NHM: I like to think of tools and techniques as a means to an end; I start with a vision of a piece, which usually consists of an installation and a garment(s), and then apply the technique that will express that vision. I work with paintings, sketches and textile samples before making the larger piece. Some of my favorite techniques are silk painting, dyeing and screen printing; color and motif are major elements in my work. I started as a weaver, but it’s difficult to make large work without an appropriately sized loom, and in New York I just don’t have the space for it.
MKM: What memorable responses have you had to your work?
NHM: I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by viewers, who are truly so generous with their enthusiasm and willingness to contemplate the ideas in my work and share their responses. The most memorable responses have been at venues in California and New York. The “Permanent Madness” performance and exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles (2006), which played out a scenario from Nizami’s Layla and Majnun, and included audience participation; this was also displayed at The Metropolitan Museum (2012). The performance/exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art, in which I displayed the “Destiny House” (2007) and gave live Hafez destiny readings (a form of fortune telling with Persian poetry)—viewers were lined up throughout the museum! My artist residency and exhibition “Animedallion” at the de Young Museum (2008) had a great turnout for the closing, which included a live musical performance by a Sufi group. “100 Destinies” (2015) was shown with the Westchester Arts Council in New York at Persian New Year to an enthusiastic audience, with a musical performance of Persian poetry; and the Graduate Theological Union’s Doug Adams Gallery in Berkeley, CA (2017) had a lot of great press, and a beautiful catalog by Carol Bier. The common thread was that these works all involved silk textiles and Persian Sufi poetry as the basis for the work, and included an element of audience participation. I think there is some universal truth that those poets tapped into that comes across to viewers, which is really enhanced by the visual and performing arts.
MKM: How has COVID impacted your practice and teaching?
NHM: COVID-19 has impacted everything. A virtual exhibition, as accessible as it is to global audiences, is not the same as having a live opening and meeting other artists and viewers. There is something magical in that, and the human connection is really missing. As far as teaching—same thing! Online teaching has some advantages, but I miss being in on campus with my students where we can connect face-to-face.
MKM: What can we expect from you in the year ahead?
NHM: This year (2021) I am wrapping up two major publications: a book on Sufi poetry and textiles from the early modern period; and on the other end of the spectrum, a book on the history of fashion from the mid-19th century to the present. Publishing works on these seemingly extreme opposites, I see now that the universe gave me a chance to explore my career as a former apparel designer in tandem with my career as an artist and historian, and find connections between the two.
The Talismanic Garment Series
Nazanin Hedayat Munroe’s recent artwork comes from her Talismanic Garment series. In describing her motivation for this series, she tells us: “I began the Talismanic Garment series in January 2017, prompted by the changes we started seeing in our society—particularly the increase in overt prejudice and scorn. Making a series of protective garments based on the idea of sacred symbols combined with text, I drew upon my research of early modern garments from my own heritage. I felt that protective icons and Sufi poetry by Rumi was the cloud of psycho-spiritual armor that I need to cloak myself—literally and metaphorically—from the evils and hazards lurking in the world. Both garments incorporate Rumi poetry as the protective prayer. I hope someday to live in a world that doesn’t feel overrun by spiritual and physical illnesses and social discord, but I’m not sure we will ever set our talismans aside.”
Talismanic Ensemble for the Era of Covid-19, 2020
“The Talismanic Ensemble came from my research of talismanic garments inscribed with astrological symbols and Qur’anic text, used as protective garments during the early modern era in the Islamic world. These garments protected against the “evil eye” (warded off with the image of an eye), black magic, wounds and illness, by creating a barrier with positive language. Words can protect in folk tradition too: mothers in Iranian culture pray for the well-being of their children by whispering protective verses and blowing the words around their heads like a magic cloud—something that my own mother did for me as a child.This ensemble is my attempt to create a protective cloud in this era of COVID-19, which is marked not only by illness, but also by fear and anger—things that have been present in civilization for millennia. These talismanic garments were traditionally worn underneath regular clothes, as if they would lose their power if exposed. In this series, I am reversing this practice by putting the protective images, and verses—which include mystic poetry and personal supplications—on the outside of the garment. The dress is printed with a pattern of a head sprouting positive thoughts, representing the inner self. The cloak is a physical barrier representing the social distance that separates all of us into bubbles of fear and isolation.“
Talismanic Kaftan, 2018
“The Talismanic Kaftan is based on my research of cloth and garments as protective devices in Middle Eastern culture. It is based on a warrior garment, representing my outer life working as an artist and professor in New York City, photographed on site for the performative image “NY: Struggle for Space” (2018). For this piece, I constructed a “Smart textile” that speaks to the viewer, rather than the wearer: if the viewer gets too close, the colors change and blink. Using a proximity sensor, the lights turn green, yellow, or red to indicate safe, close, or too close. They hold a steady light in green when the viewer maintains a safe distance. Although this piece was constructed before the 2020 pandemic, the concept of social distancing has added additional challenges to establishing individual comfort levels with physical interaction, making it that much more important to communicate with visual symbols. The use of light here is also a reference to Divine protection and enlightenment. The digital print on the kaftan is based on a “Khamsa,” a talismanic symbol usually made of metal and carried on the top of a standard when soldiers went into battle or worn as jewelry around the neck. Protective talismanic clothing was also worn on the body, inscribed with Qur’anic verse or Sufi poetry. Here, I have united these separate practices by creating a repeat pattern and printing it on the fabric. The undergown contains verses by Jalaluddin Rūmī, a twelfth century poet whose poetry was often reproduced in other media. The poem is translated to English, but I have kept the Persian word Khamūsh: in Rūmī’s medieval poems this means “silence” and is used by Rūmī to indicate the end of his ecstatic rantings; in contemporary vernacular, this means “to turn off,” i.e. lights. Essentially, the garment in this context functions as psycho-spiritual armor.”
Talismanic Gown, 2018
“My inner life is about supplication and the search for internal peace, as seen in the Talismanic Gownand the performative image “CA: Supplication for Serenity” (2018). The gown is my West Coast prayer dress, photographed in California as I stood in a gesture of supplication at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The Talismanic Gown is based on my research of garments as protective devices and images on clothing as a powerful tool for communicating identity. The sheer overgarment is digitally printed with a design inspired by a 17th century Safavid velvet, referenced as the “Supplicant” pattern by scholars. The supplicant depicted on cloth is in a traditional pose of du’a (supplication) as she converses with the Divine. By donning the garment, the wearer becomes the supplicant by displaying her image on the garment, indicating her piety to the viewer. The undergown contains verses by Jalaluddin Rūmī, a twelfth century poet whose poetry was often reproduced in other media, digitally printed here on cotton. The poem creates a protective forcefield around the wearer, whose prayer becomes mingled with Sufi mystic expression. Sometimes we communicate the most through silence.”
The title of Squeak Carnwath’s painting THEN WE MUST demands our action IF WE KNOW, which is emblazoned in large letters across the canvas. These words are a fragment from James Baldwin’s An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis. Baldwin writes, “If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own”.
Behind the large letters are banner-like swaths of color, along with telling images of a sinking ship, the planet earth, a cell phone, a clock alerting us NOW is the TIME, symbols and drawings rendered in paint, and much more. We are bombarded with words – layers of text, from the news, quotes, protest chants, demands, and journal-like thoughts, which fill the space with the same energy and urgency as the passionate speeches and marches which engendered them. Carnwath paints with the language of our times so that we may hear, compelling us to respond to our world with empathy, duty and determination.