Before moving to Los Angeles as a refugee at age 11, artist Shadi Harouni lived in Hamedan, Iran, where she drew inspiration from what was available to her.
“I grew up more than anything with cinema and with architecture,” Harouni said. “So for me, the moving image is a way to give a specific geography a specific face.”
Harouni, who currently teaches art at New York University, visited Eugene for the first time on Thursday, March 7 to discuss the development of her art, as part of the Visiting Artist Lecture series ran by the University of Oregon’s Department of Art. Her lecture “Of Myth and Monument,” looks at the connection between monuments and acts of resistance in the Middle East.
“I'm really proposing another way of conceiving monuments,” Harouni said. “It's not a proposal to make bigger things. It's a way to consider what else can function as a monument.”
Harouni’s art encompasses a number of mediums, including sculptures, printmaking, photography and film. During the lecture, Harouni touched on the importance of artistic growth by including art from her time in college.
“When you're lecturing at a university, it's important to show the failures, the doubts and the ideas that you don't quite understand,” Harouni said. “because that's what everyone's doing as students and even as faculty.”
Throughout the lecture, Harouni showed a number of monuments that act as examples of the absurdity that exists within the totalitarian power structures found in the Middle East. To Harouni, a public display of large bowls of ceramic fruit in Iran is a metaphor for the way people acknowledge and live with the absurdity of oppressive regimes in daily life.
“Through looking at and experiencing these absurd monuments, these public spaces become a form of dissent,” Harouni said.
Tannaz Farsi, associate professor of art at UO, hand-picked Harouni to be the Visiting Artist Lecture series final guest for the spring term. Much like Harouni, Farsi’s art also deals with ideological conflict through sculpture and installation art.
“I’m really interested in the way language and aesthetics function in her work,” Farsi said. “Harouni works around a variety of media and there a lot of histories that are embedded in that work.”
Farsi says the lecture series usually brings about 15 artists, theorists and art historians to UO every year. Students can register to receive credit for attending the lectures, according to the lecture series website.
“The artists generally do studio visits with our students before the lecture,” Farsi said. “In the past they’ve done round-table discussions or seminars as well.”
Harouni spent a portion of lecture showing clips from her short films that dealt with the mundanity of day laborers in Kurdistan, located in the mountains of north-eastern Iran. When Harouni first visited in 2015, the threat of the violent Islamic State of Iraq existed just beyond the border of Iran.
“The environment was extremely tense, but also extremely relaxed,” Harouni said. “There was a lot of sitting around. Stillness and silence. And that stillness, of just waiting for things to appear, is a big part of my practice.”
Devon DeVaughn, first year Master of Fine Arts student at UO, was taken back by this clip in particular.
“I loved the improvised narrative,” DeVaughn said. “It’s really good how she gave the men agency to have control over how they were presented.”
DeVaughn says that these lectures help students to see how different artists are operating and succeeding outside of the UO.
“I think it's really important to hear artists that are outside of school working. I like hearing about their practice and how they're thinking about things,” DeVaughn said.
Harouni continually placed importance in the experiences of those who came before her. She stresses that while her art is indebted to her personal experiences, it also relies heavily on narratives from people who lived long before her. It’s her way of connecting the stories from the past, to the present.
“It's really a way to rethink about what is a personal experience and the ties between the personal and the cultural,” Harouni said.