Fahimeh Vahdat’s exhibition, Take Your Power Back, recently on view at The Rouse Gallery at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD, is a masterful and complex exploration of two opposing forces; those of the Victim and the Hero (please see the video of these 20 heroes/revolutionary women of USA and Iran under the extended portfolio).
First, we will explore the Victim of physical violence. As described by the artist, the flesh wound goes through four stages, but changes its color eight times during the entire healing process. These colors start with the very bright red color of fresh blood, to a darker, deeper and cloudy red of the scab. As healing continues, bruises develop, having colors that range from blue, blue- purple, purple, green- blue, brownish with yellow patches, and finally yellowish. When the wound completely heals, it may have a deep amber, and whitish scar for a while, depending on the color of the skin.
Vahdat represents these colors of violence through a series of works, each created with mixed media- an amazingly complex, yet very subtly intertwined mix of collage, sewing, embroidery, pigment, charcoal, glue, lace and fabric, on hand dyed canvas. These large veiled works take time to see and more time to fully internalize. While each is very different, they are tied together by large veils of translucent red, purple, greenish, and yellow fabric. Behind the fabric we begin to see beautifully drawn figures, those that have withstood attack and abuse. One of the many things that strikes me, while looking at the work, is how perfectly the drawings of figures are combined with the fabric, and how naturally, even quietly, these troubled figures seem to exist. They remind me of ghosts. And here I must bring in the reference to Gustav Klimt because they remind me of his work- or rather, I can see the ghosts of his work in Vahdat’s. While Klimt used heavily patterned spaces and beautifully drawn female figures, Vahdat uses softer, gauzier patterning, and figures (often maternal figures and sometimes children) that appear translucent- more an integrated part of the space.
As one walks through the exhibition, towards the back of the gallery, a room has been constructed. This room is covered in fabric and rugs and feels very soft and inviting. There is a chair where the viewer can sit and a device with which you are requested to anonymously record an act of violence or abuse you have endured. Vahdat intends to use the information within these recordings for her next project. Within the room is also a very compelling image of a young vulnerable girl, standing beside a maternal, protective figure, titled My Mother and I. This adds to the feeling of safety Vahdat wants to convey in this Safe Room.
A particularly ominous aspect of this installation is that while you at first feel very safe in the room, you soon realize that the there is a large dark, shadowy figure, just outside of the door, peering in. This dark figure is part of another mixed media work, but the positioning of it, in relation to the door of the installation, has a very intimidating feeling.
In summary, Fahimeh Vahdat’s Take Your Power Back, is an exhibition full of depth, meaning, and beauty. Her works unfolds slowly in time, displaying a true level of mastery and integrity in the process. She is particularly adept at mixing materials that a less skilled artist could never pull off. That said, the content of the work takes center stage, and this content is certainly worth experiencing.
Art Review by Greg McLemore, art writer & artist, Baltimore, MD.