Thirty years after fleeing Iran, artist explores post-revolution repercussions on the female psyche in her first Westside solo show
By Michael Aushenker
Fariba Ameri is an artist who has wandered a long way from home, both physically and metaphysically.
After 17 years of life in her native Iran, things changed fast in her country while she attended college in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. She lost her home, her country… and her past with it.
“The revolution happened,” Ameri told The Argonaut. “I left home with the idea to go study and I never went back.”
Fate had forced her to reconstitute her existence as a Persian-American.
“It took me a long time (to reconcile with this reality),” she said. “‘Where is home?’ That became a burning question for me in my work.”
Ameri’s new solo show, The Beauty of Inner Truth, embodies some of the issues from the psychological fallout of being a woman cast adrift from her essence. The exhibit, which opens with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 13, runs through Sept. 1 at JNA Gallery, Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., D4, Santa Monica. Information, jnagallery.com.
“Living in Iran for my first 17 years in the 1960s and late 70s has definitely made me an Easterner with a Western twist,” Ameri said. “Having now lived in the United States for the past 30 years, I have been infused with so many other valuable principles and cultures that I can hardly separate one from the other.”
Her own background is ethnically diverse, with patriarchal roots in Eastern Europe. Her father was born in Germany, and her grandmother, who was Russian and Christian, survived the Russian Revolution. They both survived World War II.
“During my childhood, we all spoke Farsi in the house and celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year,” said Ameri, a Muslim. “I studied Persian poetry and literature, but I also learned to celebrate many different religions and cultures.”
Ameri’s art process includes marinating in her philosophical ideas about the human condition.
“Humanity is very important to me by showing how our emotions are the same thing,” she observed. “Our cultures are more like colors. We’re expressing the same things.”
Ameri’s first real taste with the world outside of her native city of Tehran took place while attending boarding school during her teen years in Lazar, Switzerland. In the late 1970s, she transferred to USC to study economics. Art, at the time, was not a carreer option, she notes.
“My father was an engineer so math was huge in our family,” she recalled. “He said, ‘we are not artists, we are engineers.’”
When speaking of her father, Ameri said something very telling, culturally, of the mentality she was raised under. “He allowed me to go as far as economics,” she said with a culturally telling, “Allowed me…”
Ameri’s destiny took a hard left after the Iranian Revolution reshuffled the country’s political, cultural and religious tarot deck. Originally set to become a journalist, she felt dissuaded from the profession after the revolution took place.
“International relations became less probable,” she said. “I couldn’t go back to Iran.”
Post-USC, Ameri lived in Westwood Village until she met and married her husband, Hormoz, an executive in the fuel industry. They married in San Francisco, where they lived before relocating to Bakersfield, where Hormoz’s work led them. Today, the Ameris reside in Pacific Palisades, just up the hill from the Santa Monica community where Ameri keeps her studio.
Having raised two daughters in America, Ameri has seen the difference between her generation’s Iranian upbringing and that of her girls.
“In Iran, the social issues are more tribal,” she said. “You think about family, not about us. In this country, it’s about me. Here, the social values are up to the self, (you become) responsible for your own life.”
Her daughters, ages 21 and 18, are both Stanford University students; the eldest majors in science, technology and society, while the youngest is leaning toward art and communications.
”I did a good job raising them,” she beamed, proudly.
After college, Ameri had made a living as a certified public accountant and in other financial world endeavors. However, as her daughters reached the age where they began to move out, Ameri, who has been painting since age 14, felt a part of her inside bursting to be liberated.
“It’s always been with me but I never gave it a chance,” she said of her art passion. Still, she was torn up over picking up the brush again, and it was, in fact, her husband who coaxed her to resume her passion for the fine arts.
“He was the one who was pushin.g me and I was resisting,” she said, realizing. “Life is not a rehearsal anymore.”
Since October 2010, she has been renting studio space out of a converted hangar at Santa Monica Airport. Ultimately, Ameri loves the “wild and free spirit of California” that she believes the Santa Monica art scene exemplifies.
“When you push it, it comes from Santa Monica,” said Ameri. “I feel connected here. And Bergamot Station is one of the strongest centers that we have on the West Coast.”
After Ameri held her first solo exhibit at West Hollywood’s Seyhoun Gallery and myriad group shows, her first solo show on the Westside in the heart of Santa Monica promises about 15 acrylic canvases.
“One of my paintings shows big head dresses,” she said of one of her female images. “It symbolizes the beauty and the burden of the responsibility of being beautiful. The role of the women is to carry on the beauty.”
She discussed how such pressure can reveal itself in some of her female peers.
“Their hands are so coarse,” she said. “Yet they have to appear as if their life is so smooth.”
In one of her series, dubbed Women of All Ages, “all of the eyes are on you,” she explained. Another group of paintings, Disguised Beauty, addresses a facet that might apply to various cultures across the Middle East and Asia.
“We all have masks that people see, we have jewels,” she said. “You don’t see their real face. You see jewels and fabrics.”
Ultimately, Ameri hopes viewers will connect to the underlying universal truth behind the ethnic specifics of her portraits.
“What overshadows all of my experiences is the ‘freedom of self expression’ and the respect for ‘individualism,’” she said. “Whether one is Persian, Japanese or Indonesian, we all have so much more in common. Our races are different but our humanity is identical.”
One of the positive outcomes from the post-Internet revolution, she said, has been the rendering of the planet – and, therefore, the cultural divides – much smaller.
“The more exposure we get from each other, the less and less the tribal communities (retain their political strength of their subjects),” she said.
Still, the Iran of her youth – the culture, music, art – remains in her heart, and she is “really hopeful” her people will, in a few generations, overcome what she says is the tenacious hold of Iran’s political regime.
“Iranians have always been survivors,” she said.
Since leaving her homeland, Ameri has returned to Iran for visits. But she calls America home.
“My life is here, my values are here,” she said. “I believe in expression of self and the freedom to be.”