Arghavan Khosravi: Black Rain Opens August 3 at Rose Art Museum

Black Rain

Arghavan Khosravi, Black Rain, 2021. Acrylic and cement on cotton canvas wrapped over shaped wood panel, wood cutout, elastic cord. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University. Purchased with gift from Joseph Nguyen and Tamie Tong, 2021.28. © Arghavan Khosravi. Courtesy the arts and Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York.

(Waltham, Mass. June 2023)Arghavan Khosravi: Black Rain, on view at the Rose Art Museum from August 3 through October 22 in the Lois Foster Wing, is the Iranian artist’s first comprehensive museum survey. Arghavan Khosravi (b. 1984) has become known for weaving Persian motifs with surreal iconography, creating ghostly, enigmatic artworks that thematize gender, censorship, power, and cultural transience. Curated by Dr. Gannit Ankori, Henry and Lois Foster Director and Chief Curator, Black Rain will trace Khosravi’s development as an artist from her Muslim Ban series, painted on her expired Iranian passports, alongside over a dozen new reliefs and monumental sculptures created especially for the exhibition.

“Khosravi’s powerful feminist imagery could not be more relevant as we witness the Iranian regime’s extreme brutality in response to the brave resistance of women and artists chanting ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ in cities across Iran,” said Ankori. “Over the last seven years, she has developed a unique hybrid style that pushes the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Her richly symbolic works critically explore women’s oppression and their self-empowerment. The Rose Art Museum proudly presents this comprehensive survey, showcasing Khosravi’s immense talent and impactful art.”

Recurring themes permeate Khosravi’s oeuvre; the covering of women’s mouths and eyes, an attempt to police their speech and vision; red, gold, and black string; birds; emblems of confinement and restrictions; balls and chains; all situated within tight architectural spaces. Her architectural spaces are inspired by the illuminated manuscripts and miniature paintings of the Persian Safavid dynasty (1501–1736), which portrayed women in subservient or secondary roles. Through her work, Khosravi critically addresses and challenges these historically gendered hierarchies that continue today.

“My work draws from traditional Persian miniature, but I’m not interested in perpetuating notions of cultural exoticism and portrayals of Iranian women as victims,” said Khosravi. “My paintings reflect the double life I led in Iran, adhering to Islamic Law in public while holding on to freedom of thought and action in private. However, my work is also a vehicle for shifting power, validating personal storytelling, and connecting to universal messages about human rights.”

In preparation for Black Rain, the artist morphed her three-dimensional reliefs into her first free-standing and hanging sculptures. These new pieces, directly inspired by the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, are colossal in size and scale. Women are still at the center of the work, but they become the architecture instead of existing within architectural relief. Her women are warriors, clad in medieval Persian armor and chainmail. In one piece, the artist adeptly transforms a woman’s hair into arrows—a deadly weapon against oppressive patriarchal regimes.

Arghavan Khosravi: Black Rain weaves multilingual narratives, combining traditional Islamic designs with surreal and contemporary visual elements. Select illuminated Persian manuscripts, on loan from the Harvard Art Museums and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, will be displayed in dialogue with Khosravi’s work underlining the artist's use—and subversion—of historical visual precedents. Khosravi’s work deftly blends East and West, past and present, religious and secular, reality and fantasy, aligning the artist’s deeply-felt internal schisms and sense of paradox with the political strife of the present moment.

In support of the show, the Rose Art Museum will present Create Date: Heroines and Heros on August 20, a day of family-friendly activities inspired by Black Rain. A public reception for the exhibition will be held on Wednesday, September 13, with an artist talk scheduled for Saturday, October 14. Black Rain culminates Khosravi’s residency at Brandeis University as the 2023 Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence.

Arghavan Khosravi was born in Shahr-e-kord, Iran. She received an MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design after completing a post-baccalaureate program in studio art at Brandeis University. Khosravi previously earned a BFA in Graphic Design from Tehran Azad University and an MFA in Illustration from the University of Tehran. The artist has been exhibited at prominent venues such as the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; the FLAG Art Foundation, New York; the Orlando Museum of Art, Florida; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Yinchuan, China; Newport Art Museum, Newport, Rhode Island; and Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Massachusetts; among others. Khosravi has held residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Massachusetts; the Studios at MassMoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts; Monson Arts, Monson, Maine; and Residency Unlimited, Brooklyn, New York. She is a 2019 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Painters & Sculptors Grant and a 2017-18 recipient of the Walter Feldman Fellowship.

Arghavan Khosravi: Black Rain is curated by Dr. Gannit Ankori, Henry and Lois Foster Director and Chief Curator and Professor of Fine Arts and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University.

This exhibition is generously funded by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation and the Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award Fund. Additional support is provided by the Artist’s Resource Trust, a fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation; The Horseman Foundation, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago; Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York; and Salman Al-Rashid—special thanks to Adam Green.

Media partner: WBUR

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