By Srianthi Perera
Born to an Iranian father and a Mexican mother, Michelle Emami finds identity important.
Thus, his artistic creations reflect his particular thought, his experiences and the mixture of two cultures.
Ten pieces of Emami’s work are on display at The Gallery at CCA in downtown Chandler in an exhibition titled “Both, Ni and All of the Above: Michelle Emami” through October 15.
“The basis of my work is grounded in my Mexican and Iranian cultures, but I constantly question the insecurity my two cultural backgrounds have in my American culture,” said Emami, who lives in Southern California.
The Vision Gallery’s art curator, Jillian Nakornthap, came up with the title of the exhibition, which Emami thought was “perfect”.
Emami uses the cultural patterns and symbols of both cultures, such as tile designs, henna tattoos, and folklore.
In Foundation, an acrylic on canvas, she incorporates the tile patterns that existed in her parents’ countries: red, yellow and a bit of blue reflect her Mexican origin while blue and green with orange highlights represent her Iranian heritage.
“The white tiles are meant to represent me and the open foundation my parents created for me to explore my own identity,” she said. “I also wanted my parents’ tiles to blend into the white tiles to represent everything they had given up in order to assimilate in America so I could have a better future than them.”
Emami cites various reasons why she thinks her identity is misunderstood.
“Growing up in a mixed-race family, I always felt safe and reassured about my identity,” she said.
“But outside of my home, being biracial is a somewhat difficult concept for people to grasp, especially in American culture where we tend to compartmentalize cultural groups through cultural awareness events or months.
“Compartmentalized cultural groups are havens for people who experience racial discrimination or stereotyping, but they are not a safe space for biracial or multiracial people like me to turn to when we experience unsavory comments and degrading,” she added.
“It’s not just about being misunderstood by Americans, but also by people of your own race. There is no one to turn to when you feel isolated or alone.
In Roots, an acrylic on museum panel, Emami depicts figures from Mexican regions who sport henna tattoos traditional to her Persian culture.
“Henna tattoos have different meanings, depending on the design – that’s why I chose flowers, leaves and vines to fill in the silhouettes of each character. These designs symbolize pure happiness, joy, devotion and celebration,” she said.
She added: “Although I use my own silhouettes for these pieces, I deliberately chose to block out my face with the henna designs in order to represent my displacement within my own identity and a constant questioning of what this is all about. really meant to me being biracial and American.
With Vector, Emami mixes her two cultures with familiar motifs that give her joy.
The floral pattern is a Mexican folk vector art used generally on textiles, while the Islamic geometric star is a mathematical pattern commonly used in Iranian architecture that has influenced other cultures in the region.
“I layered the two to create an optical illusion so that the viewer’s eye is constantly going back and forth from foreground to background. I did this to show that one cannot exist without the other, like me,” she said.
This is Emami’s first show outside of her native California.
“I’m so happy that my work comes out of my hometown and crosses borders. It’s so surreal to see my work in a gallery and also to have had the opportunity to have a solo exhibition,” she said, adding “It’s more than I could have dreamed of. “.
Her work doesn’t fixate on the negative stereotypical ideas that are commonly associated with her background, she said. She wants to focus on the positive.
“I want my work to be seen as a normalized event within society and a safe space for other biracial or multiracial individuals to express themselves freely,” she said.
“Regardless of whether or not a culture accepts me for who I am, my goal is for the viewer to see the connections that can be made within cultures instead of focusing on the differences.
“Once they’ve done that, they can have a rewarding experience; the beautiful blend of many cultures.
“Both, Ni and All of the Above: Michelle Emami” runs through October 15 at the Gallery at Chandler Center for the Arts at 250 N. Arizona Ave. The closing reception is from 3 to 5 p.m. on October 15. RSVP at 480-782-2695. Free entry.