"If I ask you, what is it in life we can't change? What would you think of?" asked Minoo Emami, an Iranian artist who deals with the impact of war in her paintings and sculptures, at her opening reception at the Harbor Art Gallery in McCormack Hall.
"I believe the only thing we cannot change is the time and the place we are born," she said.
Emami lived through two major parts of Iran's violent history: the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
As a witness to much pain throughout her years, Emami is a positive force to be reckoned with. Even while discussing the permanency of trauma that war leaves in its wake, she carries hopeful energy, full of laugher and compassion.
"I want you to know that even in the city bombardments, even in the war zone, people fell in love, people gave birth to children, people got divorced, wrote novels, partied, got drunk... underground, of course. Not in public places," said Emami.
As a self-described anti-war and anti-violence artist, her art, over the time of 20 years, has grown from the directly personal to societal to community-based, often working with forgotten female voices in a greater narrative. Most of her early works consist of paintings, with one common theme: a prosthetic leg.
"I hope that I can highlight women's role in facing war, which has been denied for a long time in my country. I also want to show the permanency of some of the injuries and problems people have because of the war. For example, when someone loses a body part, they will never recover. I kept a prosthetic piece as a symbol of this permanency," she said.
Although her paintings are a continuous project, Emami began working with three dimensional sculptures in 2014. Her partner of 25 years is a war veteran who has lost a leg. His prosthetic has become, as she explains, part of her household and life. Many of their friends and families have also lost body parts.
"Every summer, I go back to Tehran and I search for small places that repair these [prosthetic] pieces for people and ask them to help me. I can take whatever they don't use—broken and useless pieces. Or sometimes wonderful people give me their pieces, and I clean them first and prepare them and somehow put them together. You see, they are old and broken—but I didn't want to fix this. I wanted them to have the character that these pieces have [of being] used for many years. For the person who used [the prosthetic], this is part of their body--the real one. Without this, they cannot move. So I wanted to keep the...damage. What you see as imperfections, I wanted to keep as a concept in my work," Emami explained.
The use of real prosthetics in her work compliment the shards of mirrors, mosaic tiles, and painted patterns on each piece. Some artwork is done by collaborating with other women with similar memories and experiences as Emami. Each sculpture, some of which are available for viewing at the Harbor Art Gallery, features an interview with the collaborator beside it.
Emami is also developing pieces focusing more on the roles of women in war, which can be seen in the back portion of the gallery. The collection features breathtaking paintings with minute details and symbolism as well as glittering sculptures of traditional parts of Iranian society.
Although stating that she does not want to talk about politics, Emami acknowledges that regardless of what she says, her work is political. She explained that an estimated 18 million forgotten land mines litter Iran's landscape and pose a threat to civilians. While some put their lives on the line to find and remove them, Emami emphasized that the only way to truly create change is with a nation-wide movement. Emami hopes to incorporate this problem into a future project to increase awareness.
Emami's "The Aura of War" will be open to the public March 21 - April 26 at the University of Massachusetts Boston Harbor Art Gallery and is sponsored by the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass Boston.
Gallery hours are Monday-Thursday 1:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. An artist workshop is also prepared for veterans and students on April 20th.