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Elizabeth Little curated “Hidden Wounds, Paper Bullets: Iranian Contemporary Art” at Grand Central Art Center. The exhibit runs through Jan. 10. Photo By Kelly Lacefield

Big Show for Little

Student Curator Produces Iranian Art Exhibit at Grand Central Art Center

December 1, 2009

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Elizabeth Little

Age: 30

Residence: Anaheim

School: Cal State Fullerton

Degrees: M.F.A. in art, expected in May 2010; B.A. in history from University of New Mexico, 2002

Exhibit: “Hidden Wounds, Paper Bullets: Iranian Contemporary Art” at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana

Website: Hidden Wounds, Paper Bullets: Iranian Contemporary Art

Favorite artists: Banksy, Blek le Rat and Mark Jenkins

Favorite historian: Richard Ettinghausen

Favorite books: "Persepolis I" and "Persepolis II" by Marjane Satrapi, "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare, "Persuasion" by Jane Austen and "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair

History shouldn’t be remembered as bloody violence, according to Elizabeth Little, curator of Grand Central Art Center’s “Hidden Wounds, Paper Bullets: Iranian Contemporary Art” exhibit.

“It should be about people,” the graduate art student said.

Her exhibit, on display through Jan. 10, addresses the Islamic Iranian revolution of 1979, as seen through the eyes of a group of contemporary Iranian artists — Taraneh Hemami of San Francisco, Hadieh Shafie of Baltimore, Yari Ostovany of Reno, Aydin Aghdashloo of Iran, Alina Mnatsakanian of Zurich and Makan Emadi of Claremont — whose art explores such topics as gender issues, propaganda, loss of identity and violence.

“The people are the focus of this exhibition,” said Little, who once lived in Cairo, where she attended the American University and pursued Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. “Their stories, their motivations behind their diaspora … serves as a constant reminder of what is truly lost — a home.”

Besides the art installations, “Hidden Wounds” features a reading area of several books that examine the history of the Iranian Islamic revolution through art – graphic arts, photography and political propaganda posters. The materials are from the archives of Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

“The purpose of showing the images of political posters and the political cartoons for this exhibition is to demonstrate the images that were seen by the Iranian people at the time of the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War,” Little said. “We are seeing what they were seeing.”

What is your connection to Persian art and culture?

I am neither Muslim nor Middle Eastern, but I have enjoyed studying Middle Eastern and Islamic history for 12 years. I am particularly fascinated by mosque architecture. My favorite mosque is the Friday Mosque of Isfahan. Almost every single architectural detail, decorative or structural, is based on the example of the Prophet's house. I think that it is wonderful that anyone can commit so much of their daily life to faith. Amazing!

What is your own cultural background?

I am half Rosebud Sioux and half Scottish. I think my parents’ desire was to engage both me and my brother in their own histories, and encouraged my own curiosity in all cultural histories.

What is the purpose of your exhibit?

I hope that the exhibit’s focus on the personal account of the individual artists will allow for a greater understanding of this historical topic and generate even more curiosity on the subject.

Tell us something about some of the artists in "Hidden Wounds."

The revolution revealed a need to choose between a Persian past and an Islamic present, and the majority of the Iranian people felt confusion in a national identity. For Aydin Aghdashloo, his work examines his own struggle in losing an identity. He finds solace in combining two influential aspects of his life – his personal history and his education.

In 1960-70s Iran, a crisis of national identity took its toll on many, but for Alina Mnatsakanian, it was magnified. Mnatsakanian was born in Iran and is Armenian. Her installation “The Mountain Comes to Me” discusses her feeling of alienation through recognition of a sense of home in the physical manifestation of a well-known geographical location. Her installation “I Was Born on February 11th” is a commentary on the unofficial date of Feb. 11, 1979, as being the commencement of the revolution. She explores her own identity as to what kind of individual she would be had she been born on that day.

Because of the 1979 revolution, many families left Iran. Yari Ostovany finds contentment in bringing together his traditions with his education, and abstractly symbolizes the conjunction of both.

A heightened sense of moral and social behavior was enforced under the influence of Ayatollah Khomeini, and Makan Emadi focuses on the overt and strict enforcement of women wearing the hair covering known as the hijab. It was seen as a necessary symbol of religious commitment, promoting a view of women as solely spiritual creatures. Emadi uses a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor in his discussion of women as something more: not just religious individuals, but also sexual beings. His “Children are our Future” installation explores the common practice of raising an army against the Shah and, later, Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War by soliciting very young boys. The boys were given a plastic key and told to keep it always in their pockets so that when they martyred themselves, they would literally have the key to heaven.

Throughout the demonstrations, there were thousands of unarmed civilians marching unified through city centers. Many met a horrible, bloody and violent end. Unfortunately, the physical violence is easiest to recall. The site-specific installation “Names” was created by Taraneh Hemami as a public memorial and is reminiscent of the several mass graves throughout Iran. The individual names are those of people lost during the demonstrations. In Hemami’s “Heroes, Martyrs and Legends,” the people and the lives they led is what comes to the front. Hemami’s beaded images serve as a kind of obituary-esque portrait of a cause and a life. In “Hall of Reflections,” family photos, letters and newspaper clippings behind layers of glass tiles, allow multiple images to be seen. In utilizing several images, the viewer must gaze longer and come closer, quite literally into the piece.

Hadieh Shafie’s works illustrate a mystic side of Islam. Within the Shi’a Muslim faith, there is a liberality in embracing the repetition of words, similar to the repetitive movement of the dervishes of Turkey, who spin in a very specific manner in order to invoke a heightened spiritual state between the individual and God through a heightened physical state. For Shafie, the repetition of the Farsi word eshghe (love) is instead meant to invoke a heightened sense of what is basically devotion.

Why should people see your exhibit?

I hope that the exhibit’s focus on the personal account of the individual artists will allow for a greater understanding of this historical topic and generate even more curiosity on the subject.

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