Zachery Kramer / Daily Nexus

On March 11, Iranian-born artist Negar Farajiani opened her solo exhibit at the Red Barn Project Space: “Red Web,” located in UC Santa Barbara’s Old Gym. Consisting of 12 curtains made in a traditional Iranian method, each with a spider of various distortions, Farajiani’s work comments on connection and the web that connects all of us.

Farajiani graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art from the Tehran University of Art in 2001 and is now a Master of Fine Arts candidate at UCSB. Originally a painter, Farajiani has become a multimedia artist. The all-textile installation highlights this departure from her early career.

“The character is different,” she emphasized when speaking about her new medium of art and the meaning associated with it. “You can easily fold it. You can hang it.”

Light danced off of the dyed curtains and baked the space in a myriad of colors, the dominant being red. Some were hung from the ceiling, allowing viewers to walk around them. To understand why that is so essential, one must understand the cultural significance of these curtains — of ikat.

Ikat — known as Darayi-Bafi in Yazd, where Farajiani was raised — is a traditional and ancient way of dying wool and silk to imbue the fabric with vivid and striking colors. In fact, Yazd is one of the most well-known places for crafting such beautiful textiles. Another element of the exhibit is the cultural importance of curtains in Iranian society, Farajiani highlighting that “curtains in [my] culture explain rules.” These weaved objects act as a barrier between the public and the private. By walking around these curtains, those social norms are broken, effectively breaking the divides that separate space.

Farajiani also elaborated on how her creation of these textiles broke traditional norms. Her presence in the ikat factories strained the fragile web that binds together the male-dominated space and social norms. And yet, there exists a weaver, a creator of webs and structure, at the center of each of these massive curtains, a spider.

“It is very important in my work, how very small subjects that you don’t care [about], that are so familiar, and [you are] used to seeing [are enlarged].”

“Now, I weave a spider between threads.” In this abstraction, the artist presents the viewer with another question as they look at the installation: a question of social norms, order and the creation (and inevitable collapse) of those structures. As the weaver herself put it, “How does the character of a spider [influence the art]?”

Yet, to Farajiani, “The curtain as an object is the most important part of this idea for me.” This doesn’t mean that one can’t extract their own meaning from the art, though. Each viewer brings into the exhibition their own background and their own culture. The differences in the meanings and symbolism one with arachnophobia and one who handles spiders daily might take away from the show is par for the course.

“You cannot see it as objective; it’s an engaging art installation,” the artist expressed.

The curtains’ forms danced and shifted as the space’s natural air currents rippled the fabric and caused waves along the surface. Each spider was wonderfully unique, nodding to the improvisational and unique nature of ikat itself. It also served as homage to the artist’s hometown of Yazd. “It’s a desert. It’s beautiful,” she said, reminiscing on the central Iranian city. The heat of the desert creates mirages, and the abstraction of the arachnid form demonstrates this perfectly. As the waves rippled, illusions of the piece floated in one’s head, unsure of how abstracted the original form was.

“Abstract for me is like an illusion, to blur everything.”

To create the many different images, Farajiani shifted the loom in order to create thick vertical lines that were either translated up or down and created sharp, jagged edges in the usually curved and smooth form of a spider. Some elements of the spiders were completely disjointed and yet it was still evidently a spider. In pondering the pieces, one must ask, where does the form end and nothingness begin? In objects and creatures so small and ubiquitous, how does one understand their details and intrinsic uniqueness? That is what Farajiani’s art helps call attention to.

While the curtain’s form and function in Iranian society acts as a staunch separator between public and private may be the top layer of analysis, through the medium, space and the hanging of the curtains themselves, this artist invites the viewer to engage with it and to ask their own questions. A striking exhibition, “Red Web” highlights the nature of the social webs we inhabit, yet it also does so much more.

“We do not see any images as an artist. No edges, no sharp, everything is blurred,” Farajiani said as she closed out the interview, a strikingly apt comment for an exhibit of equal insight and quality.
“Red Web” was on exhibit at the Red Barn Project Space from March 11-16].