Shahpour Pouyan | "My Place is the Placeless"

November 6, 2017

Lawrie Shabibi is pleased to announce the third solo exhibition in Dubai of New York-based Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan. The exhibition takes its title from a phrase in a poem by Mawlana Rumi, and speaks of Pouyan’s rejection of national and ethnic labeling.

Four years ago Pouyan took a genetic ancestry test. The results revealed a DNA ancestry of thirty-three modern countries spread across Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Caucasus Mountains, Northern Europe and the British Isles. Some of the countries were surprising, such as Norway, Ireland and Bhutan, while others were less so, such as Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Pouyan spent two years obsessively researching distinctive historic architecture from these thirty-three countries with the aim of unearthing their most significant monuments and ‘constructing’ his own identity through the language of architecture.

The core of the exhibition revolves around a large-scale cuboid industrial steel construction upon which rest the thirty-three ceramic sculptures – the results of his research. Each sculpture is representative of a dome from a monumental building in the country of the artist’s genetic extraction as revealed by the genetic test. Some domes relate to religious buildings or places of worship, others as pure statements of grandiosity and power.

The artist takes a Foucauldian approach in developing a personalized genealogy of the dome, highlighting the human tendency to memorialize legacies of power, just as genetic heritage is often a record of these same legacies of conquest. In addition, the organization of the domes implies a Darwinist typology where the basic form of the dome undergoes various morphologic transformations as a result of contact and conflict between cultures. However, the cuboid installation questions the narrative of progress by connecting the most sophisticated dome of the series back with the simplest structure.

The cuboid construction upon which the sculptures rest evokes the simplified forms of modernist architects such as Le Corbusier to minimalist sculptors such as Donald Judd who were concerned with reducing form to its purest incarnation.

Pouyan’s sculptures by contrast deliberately refer to a colorful and diverse pre-modern architectural heritage rooted in an archaic past. Each work is made from a different type of clay and glaze so that each piece is distinct; no two works appear the same, creating a sense of diversity and even disarray. By placing these objects within the cube, Pouyan 'contaminates' the chaste minimalist structure, destroying its qualities and questioning notions of purity in relation to art, architecture and anthropology.

Alongside the series of ceramic works, Pouyan presents a series of hand-modified photographs found in imagery from Byzantine, Nordic, Mesopotamian and Persian sources. The figures (such as those seen on coins, manuscripts, miniatures, and sculptures) have been manipulated to subtly incorporate his own features – they are self-portraits of his past and present self. Through a reverse violation of these historical artifacts, Pouyan reiterates the self as embodiment of past histories of political aggression.

By performing what he describes as an 'archeology of the self’ Pouyan critiques such arbitrary classifications of identity. In today’s global climate, where radical nationalism is on the rise and migration is one of our greatest contemporary challenges, Pouyan’s exhibition is a timely exhibition for uncertain times.