Afruz Amighi

Afruz Amighi

"No More Disguise"
Leila Heller Gallery
New York, 568 West 25th Street

Afruz Amighi’s new body of works at the Leila Heller Gallery in New York continues to display the artist’s complex method of embracing shadow and light through architectural, sculptural installations that inhabit the space. The fragile relief pieces gently illuminate the surroundings and displays the influence of Art Deco on the artist. The materials employed by the artist includes fiberglass mesh, graphite, chain, steel and light to produce shadows that reflects the artist’s ongoing exploration of geometry and scared spaces. The works are carefully crafted and reveal the politics of power through their intricately carved forms that resemble headdresses. Titled the Emperor, the Empress, the Fool, the Warrior, the Beheaded, and the Unborn each relief conveys a story that can be read as personal as well as political. 

“I cover them with headdresses I have made, to protect them, to reveal them, to honor and ridicule them," says the Iranian-American artist. The headdresses are a masquerade of power. While the headdresses are exaggerative, decorative masks, paradoxically they are revealing of the figure's essence. Amighi comments, "We are a country of civil war, and from the eternal divide, the ever present rift, lifting their heads and making themselves known, faces emerge." Amighi covers her work to impart them with human emotion and statures of power; "making themselves known, faces emerge." Contrarily, the headdress unveils the essence of the figure, rather than acting like a mask that seeks to obliterate it. The identity of the Emperor, the Empress, the Warrior, the Beheaded, and the Unborn is not concealed by the headdress, yet is confirmed by it; the mask acts inversely, as it brings to light the figure, rather than hiding it. The headdresses suggest to the viewer how he or she should interpret the Empress, the Warrior, the Beheaded, and the Unborn. Should they be protected, revealed, honored, or ridiculed? 

Eda Ozdoyuran: Last time when I had a studio visit, your work looked abstract and large scale. Your line of recent works is figurative and narrative. How has this transition developed?

Afruz Amighi: The transition from large-scale architectural sculpture to smaller figurative works happened very suddenly, in the wake of the recent American Presidential election this past November. Trump’s victory and its tumultuous aftermath created an environment in which I felt an unprecedented urgency to make work that spoke from a more intimate place, which for me meant the entrance of the human figure.  In the past my work referenced the architecture and history of regions (in the Middle East or Europe) that I had often never been to, or experienced. It was more academic, researched, more about my own personal absence from that particular history. In this recent work I felt the necessity to make work about my own country, the United States, its history, its present, and the way that I did so was by creating a series of characters who I felt represented the archetypes which have been thrown upin our current socio-political landscape.

  Afruz Amighi. Headdress for an Empress, 2017. Steel, fibreglass mesh, chain, light, 46 x 28 x 14 in (117 x 71 x 36 cm). Photograph: Studio Suarez. Copyright 2017. Courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery.

Afruz Amighi. Headdress for an Empress, 2017. Steel, fibreglass mesh, chain, light, 46 x 28 x 14 in (117 x 71 x 36 cm). Photograph: Studio Suarez. Copyright 2017. Courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery.

EO: Your work appears very decorative, yet it is also quite conceptual. How do you balance this complexity? 

AA: This combination of decorative and conceptual is not something I consciously try to balance, or even think about when I make my work. The drawings and sculptures come from an intuitive place, rather than a considered one, especially the more recent figurative works.  I mean, there is always finessing and tinkering with composition, and perhaps some of those issues are worked out in that stage, but still in a very sub-conscious way.

EO: Your background and culture play pivotal roles in your practice.  Considering that you have moved to New York when you were three, did you and your family follow Iranian traditions and culture strongly? Or was it more of a longing?

AA: I think it was much more of a longing. Of course there were the typical cultural rituals and celebrations in my family, but more than that I think there was an aesthetic that I grew up around that made itself felt, through Persian carpets and handicrafts, and that will always be imprinted in my work.  

  Afruz Amighi. Headdress for an Empress (drawing), 2017. Graphite on graph paper, 24 x 16 in (61 x 41 cm). Photograph: Studio Suarez. Copyright 2017. Courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery.

Afruz Amighi. Headdress for an Empress (drawing), 2017. Graphite on graph paper, 24 x 16 in (61 x 41 cm). Photograph: Studio Suarez. Copyright 2017. Courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery.

EO: In a previous article I noticed a quote by Derrida at one of the excerpts to introduce your work.  Do you visually or conceptually relate your work to Derrida? 

AA: I’m not sure about the Derrida quote….what I recall is having been heavily influenced by other thinkers like Roland Barthes and especially by Gaston Bachelard’s ‘The Poetics of Space’. I often read the introduction to that book whenever I am feeling stuck creatively. I view many of the post-modern texts as long poems, I value them more for their word-play, their incredibly beautiful and often times obscure use of language….but that is really as far as it goes….I look elsewhere for history and philosophy. 

EO: I believe subtlety is an essential part of your work? Do you intentionally keep some symbolism or some context unknown?

AA: I think the presence of mystery in a work is something I always hope to capture, because if I do so, I feel that I have in some small way caught a glimpse of the complexity of an issue, an emotion, an experience.  I am often turned off by art, literature or music that tries to drive home a point in a dogmatic way…that closes the door to the imagination.  I always hope that my work will open up a narrative that the viewer will embellish and continue on their own, long after they have seen the piece.  

EO: It is fascinating how you use masks to not conceal but to reveal. Do you often play with such duality?

AA: I think in this show, ‘No More Disguise’, I am using duality in a more pointed way than I have ever before.  Each mask or ‘headdress’ is the “face” of a character, a character who is neither hero nor villain, but something of both.  Each headdress is adorned with a crown, which speaks to power and opulence, but at the same time the headdresses are dripping with chain, speaking to a sense of oppression and bondage.  I was interested in how these qualities, the sense of power and powerlessness, coexist within the anatomy of human psychology.

On view through July 28, 2017

Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet

Philippe Vandenberg

Philippe Vandenberg