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Exhibit “We Will Dance in the Garden Again” reflects hope, familial roots

On a rooftop, a flag reading, “Who is the winner?” waves behind a pentagon-shaped fountain adorned with sclupted eagles and casts of a head. Graduate students in fine arts Farshid Bazmandegan and Rachel Hakimian Emenaker’s exhibit, “We Will Dance in the Garden Again,” is the first installation to use Guest House’s rooftop. (Courtesy of Farshid Bazmandegan)

“We Will Dance in the Garden Again”

Farshid Bazmandegan and Rachel Hakimian Emenaker

Guest House

Aug. 5 to Sept. 9

By Avery Poznanski

Aug. 23, 2023 5:26 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Rachel Hakimian Emenaker’s family was affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh war. In fact, her friends were affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

This post was updated Aug. 30 at 7:37 p.m. 

Amid the concrete of Los Angeles, two MFA students are cultivating a garden of their own.

Graduate students in fine arts Farshid Bazmandegan and Rachel Hakimian Emenaker debuted their exhibit, entitled “We Will Dance in the Garden Again,” at the artist-run space Guest House this month. On display until Sept. 9, the multimedia exhibit combines elements of sculptures, installations and paintings that synthesize the artists’ connections to home and experiences of displacement. Bazmandegan said he conceptualized the exhibit’s outdoor rooftop space as a garden, symbolizing the once-present peace and domesticity of the home one cannot return to.

“The memory of home, landscape and my family narrative is related to gardens from the city of Shiraz (Iran), which is very known for their gardens, both in private and public spaces,” Bazmandegan said. “I was thinking about this idea – the garden which does not exist anymore – because I cannot go back to Iran, because I’m living in exile.”

[Related: Graduate Open Studios exhibition showcases students’ career works]

A door-shaped installation, which Bazmandegan calls “The Door of Exile,” is inspired by the arches of Middle Eastern architecture and welcomes the audience into the exhibit, he said. The panels that comprise the door were cut from oil drums, Bazmandegan said, which reflects the historical politicization of substances like oil. The dark, bold colors of the ceramic vessel that foregrounds the door further evokes images of oil and bloodshed, he added.

Hakimian Emenaker said the indoor section of the exhibit explores the relationship between the architecture and memory of a space. Three all-white paintings grace Hakimian Emenaker’s section of the exhibit, she said, which, upon closer inspection, contain detailed etchings. Inspired by travelers’ carvings on the stone walls of Armenian churches, the paintings represent the histories of a place that remain hidden until deeper understanding is found, Hakimian Emenaker said. Assistant professor of art Rodrigo Valenzuela, a mentor to both Bazmandegan and Hakimian Emenaker, said he commended how the artists took ownership of the area they were given and transformed it, reflecting elements of the immigrant experience.

White square tiles with miscellaneous drawings in deep blue ink cover the exhibition floor. Emenaker said these tiles were inspired by the constant consumption of information and include anything from animated characters to the best and worst moments in history. (Courtesy of Farshid Bazmandegan)
White square tiles with miscellaneous drawings in deep blue ink cover the exhibition floor. Hakimian Emenaker said these tiles were inspired by the constant consumption of information, and they include anything from animated characters to the best and worst moments in history. (Courtesy of Farshid Bazmandegan)

Beyond the paintings, Hakimian Emenaker said more than a thousand six-inch-by-six-inch ceramic tiles are arranged throughout the indoor space. Inspiration for the tiles came in 2020, she said, when her friends were affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh war that failed to gain international news coverage. Hakimian Emenaker began painting the tiles with subjects such as cartoons, historical events, recipes and family text messages, she said. For Hakimian Emenaker, the tiles represent the mental compartmentalization necessary in a world constantly overwhelmed by information.

“We’re consuming terror and horror and violence at the same time that we’re consuming beauty and capitalist propaganda,” Hakimian Emenaker said. “Erasure is happening, but how much of it is because we don’t have access and we’re taking away, or because we’re inundating society with so much noise that you can’t see anymore?”

As tiles create a path to the outdoor garden, Hakimian Emenaker said she draws a connection from the exhibit’s title to the story of the Garden of Eden which is said to have been located in the Armenian Highlands, Iran or Iraq. Considering how she has family in Armenia while Bazmandegan has family in Iran, she said she was fascinated by the link between their origins and the contrast of violence occurring in a place that once held paradise. Her interest lies in how mythology and religion intertwine with current geopolitics, she said, and described the Garden of Eden as a garden of exile, where one is no longer able to go.

[Related: The ‘Ahorita!’ gallery, featuring five alumni artists, reflects present life]

For Bazmandegan, the outdoor atmosphere of the rooftop conceptually connects the themes of home, the garden and memory. The garden’s main fountain, which is adorned by sculpted eagles and casts of Bazmandegan’s own face, represents reflections that Bazmandegan had when acquiring U.S. citizenship, he said. The pentagon-shaped fountain is graced by the words “democracy,” “liberty” and “freedom.” Bazmandegan said he sought to question the dissonance between these proposed American values and the military actions of the United States in the Middle East.

“I was really interested about that relationship of the pentagon as an element and motif of Persian or Middle Eastern vibe in architecture, in carpet, ” Bazmandegan said. “And also in Washington (D.C.) – the building of the Department of Defense and war is the shape of the pentagon.”

Bazmandegan’s interaction with the outdoor space includes a response to a billboard that appeared a week before the exhibit’s opening, he said, which read “Marines Fight to Win.” Bazmandegan said the billboard is one of many elements of violence that he’s taken note of since moving to LA, and he was interested in creating a response that questioned the billboard’s rhetoric. Next to the garden’s fountain flies a flag that reads, “Who Is The Winner?” Bazmandegan said he created this flag to continue his reflection on the violence in the Middle East and American representations of power.

A rosy-toned photograph of two individuals in a garden serves as the backdrop for the exhibit's poster. Bazmandegan said he took this photo when he was seven-years-old living in Iran. (Courtesy of Farshid Bazmandegan)
A rose-toned photograph of two individuals in a garden serves as the backdrop for the exhibit’s poster. Bazmandegan said he took this photo when he was seven years old and living in Iran. (Courtesy of Farshid Bazmandegan)

In addition to the exhibit itself, Bazmandegan said the exhibit’s poster contains a personal connection. The photograph was taken by Bazmandegan when he was seven years old, he said, depicting his parents together in the gardens of the Tomb of Hafez in Iran. After Hakimian Emenaker reminded him of the photo, Bazmandegan said he decided to use it for the exhibit’s poster to subtly represent a memory of home.

“That memory is connecting me with this dialogue of exile, home and the idea that we will dance again in the garden,” Bazmandegan said. “That hope – one day I can go back to Iran.”

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Avery Poznanski
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