Chandler exhibit shows artist’s twin heritages - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler exhibit shows artist’s twin heritages

August 20th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler exhibit shows artist’s twin heritages

By Srianthi Perera
GetOut Contributor

Born to an Iranian father and a Mexican mother, Michelle Emami finds identity important.

Hence, her artistic creations reflect her particular thinking, experiences and the blend of two cultures.

Ten pieces of Emami’s work are on display at The Gallery at CCA in Downtown Chandler in an exhibition titled “Both, Neither and All of the Above: Michelle Emami” through October 15.

“The foundation within my work is based on my Mexican and Iranian cultures, but I am constantly questioning the lack of security that both my cultural backgrounds hold within my American culture,” said Emami, who lives in Southern California.

Vision Gallery Art Curator Jillian Nakornthap came up with the show title, which Emami found “perfect.”

Emami uses the motifs and cultural symbols from the two cultures, such as tile designs, henna tattoos and folklore.

In Foundation, an acrylic on canvas, she incorporates the tile designs that existed in her parents’ countries: the red, yellow and bit of blue reflect her Mexican background while the blue and green with orange highlights represent her Iranian heritage.

“The white tiles are meant to represent me and the open foundation that my parents created in order for me to explore my own identity,” she said. “I also wanted my parents’ tiles to fade into the white tiles to represent everything that they had given up in order to assimilate themselves within America so that I could have a better future than they did.”

Emami cites various reasons why she feels her identity is misunderstood.

“Growing up within a mixed-race household, I always felt safe and reassured about my identity,” she said.

“But outside of my home, being biracial is somewhat of a hard concept for people to grasp especially within American culture where we tend to compartmentalize cultural groups through events or cultural awareness months.

“Compartmentalizing cultural groups are safe havens for people experiencing discrimination or racial stereotyping, but they are not a safe space for biracial or multiracial individuals like myself to turn to when we are experiencing unsavory and degrading comments,” she added.

“It’s not just being misunderstood by Americans but by people of your own race as well. There is no one to turn to for when you are feeling isolated or alone.”

In Roots, an acrylic on museum board, Emami depicts silhouettes from Mexican regions that display traditional henna tattoos from her Persian culture.

“Henna tattoos hold different meanings, depending on the design – which is why I chose flowers, leaves, and vines to fill in the silhouettes of each figure. These designs symbolize pure happiness, joy, devotion, and celebration,” she said.

She added: “Although I use my own silhouettes for these pieces, I purposely chose to block off my face with the henna designs as a way to depict my displacement within my own identity and constant questioning of what it really meant for me to be biracial and American.”

With Vector, Emami intermingles her two cultures with familiar patterns that give her joy.

The floral pattern is Mexican folkloric vector art used typically on textiles while the Islamic geometric star is a mathematical pattern commonly used in Iranian architecture that has influenced other cultures in the region.

“I overlapped the two to create an optical illusion so that the viewer’s eye is constantly moving back and forth from the foreground to the background. I did this to show that one cannot exist without the other, similar to me,” she said.

This is Emami’s first show outside of her native California.

“I am so happy that my work is reaching outside of my hometown and crossing borders. It feels so surreal to see my work in a gallery space and to have also been given the opportunity to have a solo show,” she said, adding “It is more than I could have dreamed of.”

Her work doesn’t fixate on the negative stereotypical ideas that are usually associated with her background, she said. She wants to focus on the positive.

“I want my work to be seen as a normalized occurrence within society and as a safe space for other biracial or multiracial individuals to freely express themselves,” she said.

“Regardless of whether or not any culture accepts me for who I am, my goal is for the viewer to see the connections that can be made within cultures instead of focusing on the differences.

“Once they do, they will be able to indulge in an enriching experience; the beautiful blending of many cultures.”

“Both, Neither and All of the Above: Michelle Emami” runs through Oct. 15 at the Gallery at Chandler Center for the Arts at 250 N. Arizona Ave. Closing reception is 3 to 5 p.m. Oct. 15. RSVP to 480-782-2695. Admission is free.