Hoda Kashiha, Dream Makes Cloud, 2018, oil, spray paint, and acrylic on canvas, 47 1⁄4 × 39 3⁄8". From “Oil of Pardis.”

Hoda Kashiha, Dream Makes Cloud, 2018, oil, spray paint, and acrylic on canvas, 47 1⁄4 × 39 3⁄8". From “Oil of Pardis.”

“The Oil of Pardis”

Organized by Hormoz Hematian, founder of Tehran’s Dastan Gallery and Dastan’s Basement, “The Oil of Pardis” drew from a rich vein of modern and contemporary painting in Iran. The title revealed a love for the country (pardis is Persian for “paradise”) and referred to both Iran’s petroleum industry and the chosen medium of many of the artists exhibited here. Sam Samiee, however, works in acrylic. The youngest of this multigenerational group of artists, Samiee contributed Mithra the Crucifier, Cyclonopedia, 2018, a work that combines images of carbon-fuels infrastructure with Zoroastrian symbolism. In this predominantly ocher landscape, a band of blue spray paint indicates a swath of sky. At the center, the deity Mithra appears in the form of a flower, blossoming over two oil derricks. The work refers to Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (2008), an experimental novel about petrocapitalism that imagines the Middle Eastern landscape as a “radically autonomous being.”

The bulbous Mithra at the heart of Samiee’s canvas is a glowing echo of the abstract form that emerged from Bahman Mohassess’s A la memoire de Forough Farrokhzad (In Memory of Forough Farrokhzad), 1996. Working in Tehran, Rome, and Paris from the 1950s through the 1970s, Mohassess, who died in 2010, has been described as an exemplary cosmopolitan artist and is often considered the Picasso-like godfather of modern Iranian painting. Here, his dark memorial tribute to the poet and filmmaker Farrokhzad, who was only thirty-two when she died in 1967, portrayed its subject in haunting silhouette. Meanwhile, color bloomed in Khosrow and Shirin, 1974, a figurative work in oil by Bahman’s cousin Ardeshir Mohassess, who was based in New York from 1976 until his death in 2008. Khosrow and Shirin pictures a scene from the tragic romance originally told by the twelfth-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The composition directly references Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ, ca. 1448–50, but with the Christ figure replaced by a nude Shirin, modeled in rose-petal pinks. She bathes in a turquoise-and-indigo-banded stream below King Khosrow, who, seated in the branches of a tree, sucks desperately on his own fingers.

The exhibition felt at once like a discovery and a reunion. Especially in Paris—a city closely linked to Tehran throughout the twentieth century and whose café culture was shared by an elite that for decades moved fluidly between the two capitals—these artists and their works should be more familiar than they are. The Centre Pompidou in Paris has works in its collection by two of the female painters in the show, Parvaneh Etemadi and Farideh Lashai, but it rarely displays them. The respective works by Etemadi and Lashai here could both have been described as still lifes, yet neither was still. Etemadi’s Untitled, 2010, was bursting with tension, both on the surface of the tightly realized painting in primer and oil on paperboard and in the symbolism of four root-bound lilies blooming to life. Lashai, who directly references Iranian politics in some of her works, was represented here with Untitled, 2006, a canvas that depicts a blue-black vase exploding with a tangle of red blossoms.

When Hoda Kashiha was visited by the gallerist Daniele Balice in her studio last spring, the artist described her methods for resisting the machismo of the brush. A recent graduate in painting from the University of Tehran and Boston University, she opts instead to paint using spray paint and razor blades. Exhibited in a space of its own, Kashiha’s Dream Makes Cloud, 2018, juxtaposed two faces across panels of blue that resemble shards of glass. One visage looks a bit like a Ken doll and is covered with lipstick-red kiss marks; the other appears female. A crown of curls makes up the female figure’s hair, a black X covers her mouth, and a tear runs from her eye. The work is sharp and seductive, a fractured paradise on canvas.

Lillian Davies