This exhibition presents a suite of paintings, installations, and video from Iranian-born, Brooklyn-based Bahar Behbahani’s acclaimed Persian Gardens, an ongoing series that she began four years ago. An engineering tour de force, Persian or Iranian gardens have captured human imagination since their emergence in the sixth century BCE. These walled gardens comprise multilateral structures, connecting aqueducts, networks of water channels, and surrounding trees and vegetation that remain lush all year in the middle of the desert. Behbahani explores the intersection of politics and poetics that defines the gardens as contested spaces—objects of beauty that have attracted people from different walks of life throughout the ages, from the Persian rulers who created them to evoke their transcendence and political power to the diplomats, common folk, scholars, and soldiers who have sought out their orientalist enchantment.
Haunted by the spirits of fierce power play, the gardens are marked by tragedy, love, betrayal, death, and redemption, and are thus a metaphor for Iran’s fraught histories, past and present. Works in the exhibition are also personal and cathartic. They enable Behbahani to resolve her conflicted emotions and make peace with the late Donald Wilber, a scholar of Persian architecture and gardens who was also a CIA secret agent. Wilber was the purported mastermind of a 1953 military coup in Iran that ousted democratically elected, beloved, and pro-national prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. This singular mid-century event reshaped Iran’s modern history and continues to impact the present. Behbahani’s compelling visual language in this series draws upon the schematic architectural plans, ritual geometry, and the ornate aesthetics of the gardens, as well as the poetry they evoke, to convey rich and complex narratives.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.