Our Tears Are Sweet, Our Laughter Venomous is an exhilarating exploration of the work of twelve women artists of Iranian descent who challenge American media’s portrayal of Iran notable only for its extremism and anti-American policies, while ignoring the distinguished 2500 years history of Persian culture. Their art embodies a democratic ecosystem where resistance is nurtured, and alternative destinies are proclaimed. Though they work within the American branch of the Western art canon, their work is deeply inflected by memories of a land to which most fear returning.
These artists negotiate their own distinct positions, whether aesthetic or political, and do so in America’s socially warped post-pandemic landscape. While politics is key to understanding much of their work, and its reception, they deal with politics indirectly – through poignant and exquisite self-portraits, landscapes, or abstract imagery. They draw from Persia’s rich aesthetic tradition to convey political messages. They converse in a seductive language that can be understood across geographic and cultural boundaries. Minoo Emami literally begins her work with a dialog between women who were on both sides of the Iran-Iraq war. “Each woman tells me their personal story, creating a bond that influences my work.” Samira Abbassy reflects on her multiple cultural and geographic belongings: “We are all the product of cultural cross pollination.”///
Our Tears Are Sweet, Our Laughter Venomous is a translated line from a poem by Simin Behbahani (1927 - 2014), the national poet of Iran, who is known as her country’s pre- and post-revolutionary “lioness of dissent,” and "the unacknowledged legislator of the world."The poem is a response to the crushing casualties of the eight-year war with Iraq. Minoo Emami focuses on the long-term implications of that war. She casts porcelain limbs that are exquisitely decorated with beads and inscribed in gold with Persian script – reminders of the thousands who will never recover from this war. Emami explains: “I have reimagined and transformed the permanent consequences of war and its aftermath from my personal life into art. With the portrayal and utilization of used prostheses, I transform the harsh realities of war into objects of beauty.” Both Emami and Behbahani believe that the country and its people will be reborn. ….like arborists with fruit trees, “we are busy grafting.” There is no better metaphor for our exhibition!
Our Tears Are Sweet, Our Laughter Venomous may, at first glance, sound overly sensuous and melodramatic. In fact, Behbahani is celebrated for her use of the Ghazal – an Arabic verse form dating to the 7th century, written in decidedly elevated and ornate language and associated with romantic love. Anahita Vossoughi shared, “Venom can be both a poison and an antidote….Tears are a release of love, hate, confusion, anxiety, joy, and vulnerability. The contradictions and loops back that Simin Behbahani entices us through. It is a strategy I return to time and again in my practice, with the goal of making work that can be seen through a social, political and emotional lens simultaneously.” For me, this line exquisitely captures the sensitivity, passion, and hard work of each artist in this exhibition.