Generation Next: "Inner Fragments: Contemporary Art by Iranian Women Artists"


Elahe Farzi

Solitude Memories by Elahe Farzi, acrylic on canvas, 38” x 60”.

Art exhibits get organized for lots of reasons. In the case of Inner Fragments, a traveling exhibit of 16 young Iranian women artists that landed recently (and briefly) in the University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Gallery, the organizers aim to correct what they see as some misperceptions in the West about contemporary art and artists in Iran.

Their work, varied in style and tone and featuring media from painting to  sculpture to video, suggests that Iranian women artists share more with their Western sisters than the sum of their differences might suggest.

Inner Fragments installation

Inner Fragments installation at Duderstadt Center. Photo by K.A. Letts.

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, cultural exchange between Iran and the U.S. has been blocked, often limiting Western perceptions of Iranian art and society to mass media’s oversimplifications. According to curators Mahsa Soroudi and Parisa Ghaderi, contemporary Iranian visual culture is emphatically not all trite platitudes about the Hijab and terrorism. To quote the curators’ statement “[Inner Fragments] portrays a slice of [Iranian] women’s lives that is profound and beyond typical clichés.”

In addition to the travel ban, and no financial transaction between Iran and the U.S., there have been monumental obstacles in bringing work for the exhibit. Ghaderi feels this has resulted in a distorted view of the contemporary art scene in Iran, particularly for younger artists like the ones in Inner Fragments. She says, “So many curators keep exhibiting the same group of [Iranian] artists … that’s what motivates me and Mahsa -- there are so many things about Iran and Iranian women and Iranian art that nobody knows.” She adds, though, that Instagram has provided a valuable lifeline to relatively isolated artists in Iran, especially by enabling cultural connection to Europe, because of better sociopolitical climate.

Nastaran Safaei

Shoes by Nastaran Safaei, bronze.

Many of the paintings, photographs, and sculptures in Inner Fragments depict or refer to the figure. Mahshid Soroudi’s young women, thinly clothed and stranded in an inhospitable environment, glance furtively over their shoulders, while the female figures in Elahe Farzi’s paintings gaze out at the viewer from a domestic interior without making eye contact. The indistinct figures in photographs by Narcisse E. Esfahani seem literally frozen in isolation, and the crumpled bronze shoes of Nastaran Safaei imply the aftermath of some disaster. All of the work is intensely personal, and any political content is submerged in the particularity of each artist’s experience.

Tarlan Tabar

Exterminating Angel (series) by Tarlan Tabar, acrylic on canvas, 58.75” x 39.25”.

Untamed expressionism is well represented in the artworks of Tarlan Tabar and Niloofar Mohammadifar. Tarlan Tabar’s large acrylic painting, from a series entitled Exterminating Angel, is an unconstrained and cheerfully brutal phantasmagoria based on the Luis Bunuel film by the same name. A little sweeter in tone, but no less exuberant, is Niloofar Mohammadifar’s painting Heaven. Either of these talented painters could give newly minted American art star Dana Schutz a run for her money in the department of audacity.

Azadeh Ramezani Tabrizi employs humor and irony as she describes the existential predicament of a constrained reality. Her series Free Range features tiny headless chickens under glass, ready for the dining table. (There’s also an accompanying video.) She explains that, as they await their fate, her poultry can contemplate freedom and its value, even if only through memories.

Curators Soroudi and Ghaderi have succeeded in their stated aim in organizing Inner Fragments. They have presented a new generation of Iranian artists to a new audience. Inner Fragments will be traveling soon to the Fitton Center in Hamilton, Ohio (on view August 10 – October 4) and the organizers hope the show will find future venues on the West Coast.

The artists in the show are Sanaz Dezfoulian, Tarlan Tabar, Azadeh Ramezani Tabrizi, Elahe Farzi, Farnaz Rabieijah, Ghazaleh Baniahmad, Hadieh Afshani, Mahshid Asoudekhah, Maryam Farahzadi. Narcisse E. Esfahani, Nazli Tahvili, Neda MoinAfshari, Niloofar Mohammadifar, Mahshid Soroudi, Nasim Davari, Nastaran Safaei.

K.A. Letts is an artist and art blogger. She has shown her work regionally and nationally and in 2015 won the Toledo Federation of Art Societies Purchase Award while participating in the TAAE95 Exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. You can find more of her work at

"Inner Fragments" ran February 19-March 3 at University of Michigan's Duderstadt Center. For more info, visit