Afruz Amighi is a sculptor and installation artist whose work has been exhibited in the United States, London, and Asia, who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She was born in Tehran to Jewish and Zoroastrian parents. She graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University with a BA in political science, before completing an MFA at New York University. At the inception of her artistic career, Amighi used woven polyethylene, a material used to fabricate tents in refugee camps, to create geometric patterns inspired by the shapes of mosques and palaces. Afruz Amighi’s delicate abstract sculptures refer to a complex array of architectural sources: the meandering arabesques of Islamic mosques, the angular shapes of Gothic churches, the ornamentations of Manhattan Art Deco buildings, and the urban landscape of Brooklyn, among others. Architecture in its various expressions is a medium for Amighi to investigate how humans across cultures and ages build structures that reflect common ideals and aesthetic values in spite of the complexity and precariousness of society. She realized artworks that examined issues of loss and displacement, Amighi’s new sculptures and practice became in the year more personal and more political. She was the inaugural recipient of the Jameel Prize for Middle Eastern Contemporary Art awarded by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2009. In 2011, she was granted a fellowship in sculpture by the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 2013, Amighi’s work was commissioned for the 55th Venice Biennale. In 2017, a series of Amighi’s feminist sculptures were presented at the Sophia Contemporary Gallery, London. In 2018 the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, TN presented her first one-person museum exhibition. Her work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, USA; the Houston Museum of Fine Art, TX, USA; The Cleveland Museum of Art, OH, USA; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK and The Devi Foundation, New Delhi, India, among others.
What life obstacles has art helped you overcome, and what did it help you strengthen? What is the biggest lesson you have learned from art?
For me, art is the ultimate escape. The world is undeniably beautiful, but it is also a place of immense suffering. Using my hands to make things allows me to take a break from this pain…it’s like an intermission during which I can enter a dimension that soothes. People often call art a form of ‘therapy’, and I do not dispute this, however, for me, it is a temporary escape from which I return changed, but not necessarily ‘better’. I don’t believe in progress. Transformation yes, progress no. What I have learned from art is that it is inseparable from meaningful human existence. It is not a luxury but a necessity. Because we have ripped art away from ritual and tried to fuse it to the market, we often become confused about its essence. The dark ages. It is not always found within a frame or a gallery and remembering this is the ultimate gift.
How can art help build a more inclusive world? What role can art play to cope during this time of increase in bias and hate crimes?
Art is escape, and any escape involves being transported. Often we are taken to a place that is unfamiliar. But we are unafraid of this unfamiliarity. When the synapses of the brain are engaged in this experience our consciousness expands and creates more room for things we may have previously thought impossible. We dissociate fear from the unknown. So when in life we encounter things that are different, we are not automatically afraid of them. This space is another way of describing imagination and inclusivity is part of that. New models are possible, desirable. They may not even be new. Inclusivity has existed in past societies. Hate in an institutionalized form, I think, is fairly modern. So whether we look forward or backward in the history for inspiration is irrelevant, it is that when we look, our eyes are bigger.
My House, My Tomb
Resembling a pair of delicate chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, My House, My Tomb is a sculptural diptych “drawn” with industrial materials, including chains and fiberglass, but the primary medium is light. Afruz Amighi’s art installation My House, My Tomb employs light and shadow to evoke forgotten histories of the Taj Mahal, which she understands as places of refuge and solace. With one hanging structure made of steel and its twin constructed of steel clothed with black mesh, Amighi evokes a history that never came to pass: the pairing of a black mausoleum for Shah Jahan with the shining white Taj Mahal he built as his wife’s tomb. Strikingly illuminated, the hanging sculpture casts dramatic shadows on the surrounding Beaux-Arts-style vaults and columns of the museum loggia. Viewed in this setting, the work evokes questions about the relationships between planar geometry and three-dimensional space, Islamic and Western architecture, and absence and presence. My House, My Tomb is also the first Fang Family Launchpad installation. The aim is to showcase the power of contemporary work in a historical architectural setting. The Fang Family Launchpad is both a physical space in the Asian Art Museum loggia’s and a program highlighting emerging and mid-career artists with rotating, site-adapted installations.
Can you share with us any meaningful story behind your art project? What do you want to communicate with your art?
There is a story behind this project. It is about both the formed and the unformed. The images that hover in our minds, but are never actualized. The images that make the leap from mind to earth are actualized.
‘My House, My Tomb’ is an installation inspired by a myth that grew up around the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jehan in 1632 as a tombstone for his beloved wife. As legend has it, Shah Jehan wanted to build an identical version of the Taj as a tomb for himself, but this time in black marble instead of white. This never happened. But the myth of the black Taj is widely known. And so it exists in different visual iterations in millions of people’s minds. ‘My House, My Tomb’ is my mind’s version.
I am happy for the viewer to know this story just as I am happy for them to not know it. It doesn’t matter. For me, art must be visceral. It must evoke a feeling, a sensation that is not necessarily intellectual but of the heart.
What is your experience as an artist in the era of social media? Do you think social media and new technologies are influencing art and the audience?
I use social media occasionally and each time I feel tainted. It’s a simulation that I am not fond of. People who say ‘well, it’s a way to stay in touch with friends around the world blah blah blah’ are really just addicted to digital affirmation. AS WE ALL ARE. That’s the problem. Social media plays on and exacerbates the void that is part of existence. And you can follow me on Instagram @_afruzita_ hahahahahaha!
How does social media influence art? Well, it encourages passivity. It elevates a narrow visual experience over the total engagement of all of the senses. Our eyes are trained to pass over a three-inch phone zone. We need to exercise our eyes, literally, every day. Over an expanse, up-down left-right. Not to mention our sense of feeling, even just the air around an artwork making our arm-hairs stand on end, or doing nothing to our arm-hairs as we walk away in apathy. It’s like taking those annoying museum barriers that are placed around artwork and strangulating people with them. Am I being dramatic? Well, after a year of Instagram art-viewing during the pandemic, I went with my friend to see a few exhibits in person and I wept. I was so grateful to smell the paint on the wall behind the painting, to see a scratch on the gallery floor. All the flaws and all of the warmth.
Photos courtesy of Afruz Amighi & Asian Art Museum
Special Thanks to Zac Rose
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