Amir H. Fallah: A War on Wars
Opening Friday, February 17th, 5–8pm
Shulamit Nazarian is pleased to present A War on Wars, an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by Los Angeles-based artist Amir H. Fallah. This will be the artist’s third solo exhibition with the gallery, on view from February 15 through March 25, 2023.
The exhibition title, A War on Wars, suggests an active resistance to conflict, one that is centered on awareness, education, and protest. Fallah was born in Iran and lived in the country during the Iran-Iraq war. This exhibition draws from early childhood memories of wartime, combined with a consideration of contemporary global conflicts. Synthesized through painting and sculpture, the artist combines a range of imagery to invoke parables that address an ever-shifting geo-political landscape and structure of power
The exhibition combines two distinct and ongoing series for the artist, Veiled Portraits and Grid Paintings, alongside a new series of life-sized figurative sculptures. The artist’s Veiled Portraits deconstruct traditional notions of identity formation, while simultaneously defying expectations of the genre of portraiture by obscuring the appearance of his subject. In these works, the absence of the sitter’s physical likeness is substituted with a wider representation of their personhood—one that is articulated through a network of symbols and imagery. The Grid Paintings employ seemingly disparate images and symbols that amalgamate personal narratives with historical and contemporary parables. The paintings serve as a diary of lessons, warnings, and ideals providing coded insight into cultural values often passed between generations.
In the painting We See This Fight as Worship, for example, Fallah stages a central figure holding two ceremonial scepters—one orbed, the other bearing a head with horns—crossed against their chest, flanked by two mirrored figures kneeling with their palms pressed together. Any sign of the three figures’ gender or race is obscured by mod patterned fabrics. Drawn from mid-century design, these covers reference a period when Western nations consolidated power domestically, while engaging in tactical destabilization throughout the Global South. Ornate borders, like those of Persian manuscript paintings, disrupt the hierarchic organization of the figures, zig-zagging to a Miniature style equestrian figure engaged in battle with a dragon in the upper register and trumpeting angels in the Art Deco style characteristic of Erté in the lower register. On opposing sides of these vignettes, the bold letters of “we see this fight as worship” are sublimated into decorative floral patterning customary of Persian rugs. While angels and dragon slaying present clear-cut metaphors for good and evil, the remainder of the imagery complicates matters. The title “we see this fight as worship” quotes from one of Khomeini’s speeches during the Iranian revolution—a rebellion which sought to unseat the government formed following the 1953 coup orchestrated by the US and UK. While the revolution liberated the country from direct Western influence, it also established an authoritarian theocracy, ushering Iranian people from one oppressive external influence to another even more restrictive administration. Bringing together these loaded symbols, Fallah maps the suspect dynamics of power, cautioning us to be weary when placing faith.
Fallah combines elements from both the Veiled Portraits and Grid Paintings for a new series of sculptures. Hand painted on cut aluminum, the sculptures similarly exclude signifiers of ethnicity, age, gender, and class. Here, however, the sitter stands composed in the anatomically neutral position characteristic of medical treatises and their form is flattened to a narrow plane. The ornate cultural patterns that appear elsewhere in the artist’s works—draped over sitters in the Veiled Portraits and obscuring the text in the Grids—cover the entirety of the sculpture, while the range of symbolic objects are literally cut from within the body, only discernible from the outlines they make in both the positive and negative spaces of the work. Together, these works address the way identity and culture are staged and presented to secure systems of power and oppression.
A War on Wars will be presented concurrently with a solo exhibition at the Fowler Museum at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Titled The Fallacy of Borders, the exhibition features twenty-five works spanning painting, sculpture, and stained glass. This exhibition marks Fallah's first solo museum exhibition in his adoptive home city of Los Angeles, while returning the artist’s work to UCLA, where he received his Master of Fine Arts in 2005.
Both the Fowler Museum and the gallery’s exhibitions also coincide with Fallah’s public project CHANT in support of human rights in Iran. The debut presentation of a large-scale neon artwork will be displayed on the gallery’s facade on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood concurrent with his solo exhibition. A radiant sun—in reference to ancient Persian traditions and a contemporary symbol of dissent—bears the face of a woman. While Persian rulers have added and removed the sun’s gender to validate their own power and authority throughout history, Fallah reclaims the symbolic female sun to foreground women’s rights, elevating the power of people rather than any one ruler. Interchangeably displaying "WOMAN. LIFE. FREEDOM" in Farsi, English, and the phonetic Farsi, CHANT operates as a beacon of light carrying the rallying cry of the ongoing liberation movement in Iran.
On CHANT, Fallah shares, “First and foremost, this project is a tool for public education, joining the demand for urgent change in Iran, using the power of art to elevate the dialogue, spark press coverage, and keep it in the public eye. The sun in the center carries great symbolic weight for the future of the Iranian people, an ancient symbol representing change, hope, and positive growth. CHANT is a visual statement that will help serve as a beacon for all those united in the struggle for freedom.”
The three presentations, A War on Wars, The Fallacy of Borders, and CHANT, collectively provide an expansive understanding of the artist's prolific oeuvre over the past decade, while also demonstrating new directions in public sculpture, each addressing a nuanced and emotive inquiry about identity, the immigrant experience, and the history of portraiture.
Amir H. Fallah (b. 1979, Tehran, Iran; Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA) received his BFA in Fine Art & Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art and his MFA in painting at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions across the United States and abroad. Selected solo exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson; South Dakota Art Museum, Brookings SD; Schneider Museum of Art, Ashland OR; San Diego ICA; and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland KS.
In 2009, the artist was chosen to participate in the 9th Sharjah Biennial. In 2015, Fallah received the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant. In 2019, Fallah’s painting Calling On The Past received the Northern Trust Purchase Prize at EXPO Chicago. In 2020, Fallah was awarded the COLA Individual Artist Fellowship and the Artadia grant. In addition, the artist had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson, accompanied by a catalog, and a year-long installation at the ICA San Jose.
The artist is in the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; de Young Museum, San Francisco; Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; Jorge M. Pérez Collection, Miami; Deste Foundation For Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece; Xiao Museum Of Contemporary Art, Rizhao, China; McEvoy Foundation For The Arts, San Francisco; Nerman Museum, Kansas City; SMART Museum of Art at the University of Chicago; Davis Museum, Massachusetts; The Microsoft Collection, Washington; Plattsburg State Art Museum, NY; Cerritos College Public Art Collection, CA; Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture, CA; and Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, UAE.