Curated by Iranian-American fine artist Nicky Nodjoumi and exhibited at the Susan Eley Fine Art Gallery in New York, Beyond the Ban is a group exhibition showcasing various works from prominent Iranian artists based in the US. The show is in response to the recent travel and migration laws passed by the Republican government and aims to demonstrate the invaluable contribution that immigrants can make to a nation’s artistic identity, illustrating that art knows no borders.
More than just a political message, Beyond the Ban provides a stage for important voices from Iran and explores the complex nature of humanity. All works on display have been donated by the artists in benefit of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a non-profit organisation based in New York. We spoke to Susan Eley, the founder of the gallery, about Beyond the Ban and the power – and universality – of art.
What does it mean to you personally to see all of these works together in one exhibition?
As with any exhibition, there is a thrill when everything comes together. There are moments of panic before installation day, as I never quite know how the various artworks will live on the walls as an ensemble, but I always find myself surprised and delighted: surprised to see the connections I hadn’t anticipated between artworks – how colour and form from two different paintings play off each other, for example – and delighted that the months of careful planning and preparation have paid off.
Do you believe that a collection of art like this has a universal message that goes beyond what’s happening in the US at the moment?
Yes. Beyond the Ban presents universal messages, such as family, desire, fear, memory and gender identity, that will resonate here as well as elsewhere in the world. Although the exhibition was born in response to President Trump’s attempt to ban travel based on nationality, there is very little on display that is overtly political. Instead, we wanted to curate a show that gives a voice to both established and emerging Iranian artists, all of whom have diverse opinions, outlooks, family histories and artistic practices and styles. As curators, we stand in solidarity with artists who immigrate to the US from Iran and the other countries on Trump’s banned list. We are richer and wiser as a nation, and our culture is greater as a result of the contributions of all immigrant populations.
What were some of the thoughts going through your head right before the exhibition opened?
I very much wanted the participating artists to be pleased with how their paintings, photographs, prints and sculpture looked in the gallery. Nine of them attended the opening and this was their first time working with our gallery, so I suppose we were all a bit jittery! Two of the artists in the show can’t be named as they fear for their security when they return to Iran, but they attended the opening and were so happy to be a part of this show. Their situation made me feel incredibly privileged to live in a country where freedom of speech is protected. We had a large crowd of Iranian-Americans, many of whom knew the artists and collect their work. I wanted dynamic discussion and engaged conversation, which we certainly got.
Beyond the Ban will be on exhibition at the Susan Eley Fine Art Gallery until the end of August 2017.