Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Image by Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi, courtesy of Hemphill Fine Arts

The Simurgh

Featuring: Cameron Shojaei, Samira Abbassy, Taha Heydari, & Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi

Co-curated by Nada Alaradi, MICA MFA Curatorial Practice Candidate and Jeremy Stern, Exhibitions & Programs Manager

WHERE: Creative Alliance, Main Gallery, 3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore
WHEN: April 29, 2016 - May 28, 2016; Curator Talk: Saturday, May 21, 3pm

Meaning of the title:

“The Simurgh” (pronounced Cy-Morg) is an ancient mythological creature originating in Iran as early as the 7th century. “Si murgh” meaning “thirty birds” in Persian is a powerful bird, which is still commonly used today as a cultural icon. The artists included (below) have an Iranian background, and with reference to the history of miniature painting, uniquely interpret traditional Persian mythologies.

The Artists

Cameron Shojaei:

  • Creative Alliance Resident Artist.
  • American born, with a Persian background.
  • Takes direct inspiration from traditional Persian mythologies.
  • Paints in acrylic, large scale, detailed scenes from ‘The Book of Kings’ a classic Persian epic.
  • Creates his own interpretation of characters, including Simurgh.

Samira Abbassy

  • Born in Iran, moved to London, now based in New York. 
  • Works with oil on gesso panels, drawings, and small sculptures made from found objects.
  • Focuses of self-portraiture. She repeats/ disfigures her own images in each piece. 
  • Her painting style (front-facing perspective and dark outlines) is reminiscent of illustration techniques common to ancient Persian manuscripts.

Taha Heydari

  • Born in Iran, and is currently pursuing a MFA in painting at MICA.
  • Creates large scale acrylic paintings of what appears to be computer glitches. They are deconstructed source images but scarcely recognizable.
  • Similar to the story of the Simurgh (30 birds are truly one), his whole images are made up of separated elements.
  • His work is the most overtly political of the exhibition, often based on televised scenes from recent Iranian political events (elections, rallies, etc.) as the basis for his distortions.

Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi

  • Identifies as an Iranian-American immigrant.
  • Fuses visual elements of Western abstraction and Persian Art.
  • Uses Simurgh, traditional, and architectural elements specific to Iran. 
  • References historical and contemporary sociopolitical conflicts.

Background on the Simurgh:
Farid Eldin Atar, a well-known Sufi Persian poet, wrote a story of the Simurgh titled “Conference of the Birds,” still one of the most celebrated examples of Persian poetry.

Atar presents the story as a journey of understanding the true nature of God. In his epic, all birds of the world gather and decide to pursue the mysterious and great Simurgh with the goal of making it their king. After encountering many obstacles, only 30 birds finally reach the dwelling of Simurgh. Upon their arrival, all the birds find is their reflections in a lake. Shedding the concepts of “self” and “other,” they realize that collectively they are the one Simurgh, and that the journey itself is the path to the truth of God. Although written almost 10 centuries ago, this story is echoed in contemporary tales, as well as in the practice of these four artists.

Jeremy Stern, Co-curator
Exhibitions and Programs Manager
Creative Alliance

Nada Alaradi, Co-curator
MFA Curatorial Practice Candidate
Maryland Institute College of Art