The works of Iranian-born painter Arghavan Khosravi, which are now on view at the Currier Museum in Manchester, feature vivid, dream-like paintings and sculptures that often center female characters in scenes of surrealistic restraint.
Red painted lines, or sometimes red cords, cut across her canvases, suggesting the lines that women in Iran have been told not to cross in their struggles for equality and democracy.
“I’m thinking, of course, these paintings are through my own lens, and my own life experiences,” Khosravi, who was born in 1984, says. “But I don’t want it to be limited to certain personal memories…I like these paintings to be a story of a generation of other women from Iran that have gone through similar things as me.”
The paintings often reference ancient Western sculpture, middle eastern symbolism, and also play with imagery found in Persian miniatures, a centuries old format. Surrealistic touches, along with custom-shaped canvases and plays of light, give the works a trompe l'oeil quality.
“You can really see the detail of the work is just astounding, but you can’t believe your eyes,” said Sam Cataldo, curator at the Currier, during a recent tour of the show.
“So you have this push pull between something very real and palpable, and something that is more surreal and dreamlike.”
The bodies in Khosravi’s paintings seemingly glow from within, with crisp edges and vivid colors--techniques that she honed as a graphic designer and children’s book illustrator, before turning her career full-time to painting.
In a work called The Touch, a woman behind a veil seemingly towers over a collection of ancient religious scholars huddled around their texts. The men are all chewing pink gum, captured in mid-bubble.
“It adds a little bit of humor to the piece that otherwise is a bit dark and not playful,” Khosravi said.
Khosravi herself says she feels like she’s often finding her way in the dark. While her work is getting shown in galleries and museums on multiple continents, she says she feels fractured: an Iranian now living in Connecticut.
“As an immigrant, I feel like I'm living in between places. There is this feeling, at this moment, I don’t exactly belong to any of the countries, and I'm living in this third space, which is in between,” she said.
It’s from this third, in-between place, where Khosravi is using the past and present, there and here, to make her latest works.
The show at the Currier Museum is on view through September 5.