unearthed: Mitra Mahmoodi & Jamal Tabasinejad Creating art out of memories

The works of Iranian-Canadian artists Mitra Mahmoodi and Jamal Tabasinejad will be on display at the Evergreen Cultural Centre this month, as the centre is set to host an exhibition highlighting their representations of Iranian adobe architecture, as well as the meaning it holds for the artists themselves.

The exhibition, unearthed: Mitra Mahmoodi & Jamal Tabasinejad, will be on display from May 18 to July 21.

Memories and making

Mahmoodi’s work looks to shine a light on adobe architecture, a style of building which she describes as “simple but smart.” Despite the buildings being primarily located in desert areas, the practice uses simple materials such as clay, sand, straws, and animal hairs to cool down the inside without air conditioners.

“There are different buildings in different cities in Iran,” Mahmoodi says. “In the city of Yazd, there are tall structures that are called the wind catchers. They capture the wind and transform it into cool air to cool down the inside of the houses,” she says.

But beyond highlighting the architecture itself, there’s a deep emotional and historical element to the art on display at unearthed as well. Mahmoodi says that she created her sculptures for this exhibit based on the memories and feelings she had when she visited her grandparents’ adobe houses in Iran as a child.

Photo by Tian Tian

It’s a set of feelings she hopes to reflect within the sculptures. But while there was plenty of joy to be had, she also hopes to showcase the uncertainty as well, the emotional complexity of being a child and exploring cool dark places.

“I remember one of my grandfather’s houses had a long corridor that led to the courtyard. Along it, two really dark rooms stored food for the cows.” recalls Mahmoodi. “When I created the sculpture with the long corridor and very dark rooms, I remember the feeling of fear as a kid as I looked into those rooms. When I showed the sculpture to my friends, they said they were genuinely interested to see what was inside […] I love that my art can result in different reactions from people,” Mahmoodi says.

A change of art

The idea of using adobe building in her craft is not something Mahmoodi always had in mind. During her time at university, she explored many different forms and structures, but it was during her final year where she remembered her experiences of living in adobe houses.

Mahmoodi Mitra’s The Sprit of Grandpa’s Home, on display as part of unearthed at the Evergreen Cultural Centre. | Photo by Arefeh Saberi

“I’m interested in memories, I am interested in texture and I am really intrigued by a small hole that’s completely dark. Then I started remembering those holes I saw as a child. Then it led me to my childhood memories of living and visiting adobe houses,” she says.

Unfortunately, the pandemic struck the city when she was developing her idea. As schools were forced to close, her project was left undone. But as a result, it ended up leading to an even broader emotional focus that is present in the works she’s set to present.

“It was only in recent years that I could really focus on these sculptures. Back in 2020, I was only interested in the structure of adobe houses, but now I wanted to look into the texture of the building, like the way I used to be able to see straws in the wall,” says Mahmoodi.

Even though she was working on her workshop and teaching classes for these four years, Mahmoodi says this was the only project that she has continued working with until the exhibition and presentation. In the end, it was a project focussed on emotional history that would end up making its way to the present.

“I think it was because of the personal connection that I have with adobe houses that makes me keep coming back to create new pieces,” she says.

For more information about the exhibit, visit: www.evergreenculturalcentre.ca

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