To You, From Me, For Us
May 30th – August 15th, 2022
By Ignazio Colt Nicastro
My steps into Ignite Gallery were met with soothing sounds of retreating waves, a euphony of avian calls, and a rich Iranian voice as it sang throughout the gallery. These varying sounds drew me in deeper through this group exhibition To You, From Me, For Us, by multidisciplinary artists: Elyse Longair, Mohammed Tabesh, Atanas Bozdarov, Cailin Doherty, Ante Kurilic, and Shahrzad Amin. Collectively, this exhibition spoke to each artists’ lived diasporic experiences, forming a cultural exchange of war, disability, immigration, and environmental degradation. For Shahrzad Amin, this became an opportunity to connect herself, and others, to the people of Isfahan, Iran via her installation, Bridge Obscura. This multi-sensory homage houses historical references and iconography from Iran while showcasing contemporary examples of what it means to live within the community of this Iranian city.
After following the rhythmic hymns inspired by the Persian poet, Hafez, viewers meet with the physicality of this audio, visual, and tangible installation. Atop a thick black plank, three rows of carved plywood stand firmly ahead of a video projection. Each archway comprised the underside foundation of this bridge that Amin created to extend our Toronto plane into a nostalgic, exploratory, and sensory ethnographic representation of Iran.
Amin invites viewers to step inside the bridge where they first pass under fine engravings along the archway. Upon closer inspection, one will note the tessellation of geometric symbols that are inspired by the star-and-cross design, an emblem that pre-dates the advent of Islam. The intricate engraving is also fused with floral and arabesque patterns and overall is a symbolic representation of the past and present. In some ways, as viewers pass under these engravings they activate the potential of this bridge, this portal, that allows them to transcend time and space. Viewers’ eyes are drawn through the archways that echo through the veil that is Amin’s film, which consists of video and sound compilations taken in Isfahan.
Throughout this 11-minute film, viewers start at the Khaju Bridge before entering the Boostan Ayineh Khaneh Park. The camera guides viewers through the crowds of Isfahan until they arrive at the Allah-Verdi Khan Bridge. It’s quickly recognized that in every moment of this film, the essence of community is not monolithic and is widespread among the city’s people. Amin presented these various acts of community through the shared acoustic ecology of joyous singers under bridges, free-spirited dancing in the streets, and the act of sharing meals with friends, family, and strangers. This synthesis of personal, cultural, and affective levels of care shown in her community allowed Amin to further develop a bond with her audience.
As an immigrant from Isfahan, Amin tapped into her childhood memories to create this visual experience. The blurred motions of passersby mimic popular media cues that suggest slowed time and flashbacks. By utilizing her auditory and ocular memories, Amin has inserted a sense of nostalgia in this film that resonates with Iranian viewers. Though Bridge Obscura is meant to connect the people of Canada to those in Iran, it is largely a homage to Amin’s first home.
Bridge Obscura is a portal that ties viewers to Iran physically, metaphorically, and emotionally, as Iranian geography, history, and culture act as the foundation of the piece. Bridges play a critical role in the history of Iran as they were connectors between civilizations along trade routes. The engravings in Bridge Obscura specifically speak to a deeper history in Iran. With inspiration from the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, Amin has extended the Perso-Islamic architecture designs into her work. Designs such as these were common in Iran’s block printing, which has been used for centuries on fabric and cloth for Qalamkar.
Many guests who are not Iranian may not pick up on these historic and cultural traces, but withstanding, Amin has cultivated this thread of humanity that all viewers can resonate with. The exhibition title itself, To You, From Me, For Us, suggests that the artists are bringing forward their lived experiences for viewers to learn from, but ultimately this act is for their communities. The Iranian diaspora who view Amin’s work will now resurrect and access their memories of home while reflecting on their stories beneath the bridges amongst the isolationism in Iran.
At its core, Bridge Obscura counters the isolationism which has been imposed upon Iran’s everyday citizens via internal and external political factors. Though Amin’s practice has overtly worked against being guided by political discourse, these discussions around everyday life in Isfahan urge us to remain vigilant to the current crisis Iranian women and people are facing in response to the tragic killing of Mahsa Amini. Internally, political bodies segregated Iranian’s from the rest of the world through the prohibition of internet access and the jailing of educators, journalists, and protestors. Externally, media outlets ignored the demands for help until our voices were too loud for them to dismiss. This concept of isolationism is now being challenged as people across the globe rally together to chant ‘Woman, Life, Freedom,’ a courageous act of community that stemmed from the women and people of Iranian diaspora. Bridge Obscura not only connects people to Iranians but also displays how sentiments of community can be shown through more than love and kindness, but also anger and fear. As a child, Amin witnessed community through the street life of Isfahan. As an adult, she witnesses it as the unification of people inside and outside of Isfahan standing together for justice.
There is irony in Amin’s choice of using a bridge to portray this message, as bridges have a specific use of connecting people and things that have been separated. This installation acknowledges Amin’s distance from home while simultaneously connecting her, and others, to it. It reminds her that even amidst the isolationism back home, moments of tenderness, care, and love can be found. Bridge Obscura does not exclusively exist for Amin to hold on to this reminder, it is also for the citizens of Iran and everyone around the world.