By: James Ross Kiefer
Art has historically served a dual purpose, partly serving as a reflection of the period it comes from, it also acts as commentary on society at the time. Looking towards today, we have found ourselves in a flurry of social media that permeates most of our waking lives, and artist Taha Heydari explores this in his new exhibit at the South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art.
Opening June 22 at SECCA, “Subliminal” is Heydari’s first solo exhibition. Hailing from Tehran, Heydari is a Baltimore-based artist who in 2016 earned a M.F.A. in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Comprised of 20 paintings, something unique about his work is many of the pieces within the exhibit are on incredibly large canvases. These larger canvases, which are very difficult for an artist to work with, give his paintings a rather immersive and looming scope.
“This is the biggest exhibition that I’ve ever had,” Heydari said. “Especially after graduation [and] two years working in school, seeing all those paintings together in one space gives me a very interesting perspective on what I’ve done the last two years.”
A main feature of Heydari’s work is the consistent square motif, or pixelization. In his artist talk he mentions that this stemmed from watching T.V. in Tehran, as the Iranian government heavily censored broadcasts. At times this created a broken, pixelated display on the T.V. screen. He also sees his work as a bridge between historic and modern media.
“In terms of what I see in the space and try to achieve is kind of condition” he said, “What it means to be today, 2017. What it means to be constantly being recorded, like right now, and recording like Instagram and Facebook. So you see a lot of digital pixelation, you see references to visual imagery and also past. I consider painting [a] very old medium, 40,000 years ago from the cave until now. So painting gives us this perspective to think about it what is the situation right now.”
A painting that immediately greets a gallery visitor is “On the Roof.” Probably the most abstracted and amalgamated piece within the exhibit, this work best displays Heydari’s talent. Using both pixelization and sweeping brushwork, “On the Roof” creates a distorted landscape that forces the viewer to constantly refocus and try different angles to find shape and narrative.
“The Museum” sits on the opposite of “On the Roof.” This work shows a self-awareness to the idea of being artwork in an exhibit.
Displaying a Geisha next to someone in a gimp suit, the art effaces the idea of fetishizing and appropriating culture for the pleasure and leisure of others. Here, Heydari blends his pixelization process from the ceiling and walls into the black tile floor, choosing juxtaposition by color rather than shape.
Cora Fisher curated “Subliminal” and said she thinks that the intersection of perception of digital, visual and cultural information will draw viewers’ interest in the exhibit.
“I think they’re going to see really dynamic and interesting canvases that they have to decode a little bit,” Fisher said. “They have to spend some time kind of piecing together what’s there. Is there some kind of latent imagery there? But they make you want to do that. I think they seduce you into wanting to spend time, which is I would say in our attention economy, one of the edges that paintings really has is that it can really make you want to spend time with one image.”
Salem College student Dulce Rivera said she keeps returning to SECCA because she gets the best of both worlds.
“It’s not New York, it’s not a big city, but you’re able to get different types of art,” Rivera said. “SECCA is important because it’s contemporary art, I think that it’s a nice variation and a nice balance.”
For more information about the exhibit, you can visit secca.org.