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Scenes from a Distance: Sanaz Mazinani and Rola Khayyat at North of History, New York

"Appearances & Disappearances" erases the distance of time and place by bringing us face-to-face with the violence of the two women's past, which shapes their present - as well as our own.

By Bonnie Clearwater
May 24, 2018

“Appearances & Disappearances,” the two-woman show at Gene Kaufman’s North of History gallery in New York City, presents compelling photographic images representing the volatile and violent environment the artists experienced in their youth: Sanaz Mazinani was born in Tehran, Iran in 1978, one year prior to the Iranian Revolution, and Rola Khayyat's childhood was scarred by the Lebanese Civil War (1975 to 1990). For Mazinani and Khayyat, these conflicts are distant memories and their work is a means by which to remember and confront the past.


Upon my initial viewing of this exhibition, I was struck by the sensation of my distance from the subjects, both in time and place. The tranquil Upper West Side gallery was far removed from the trauma and travails that marked these artists at a young age. Moreover, Khayyat and Mazinani's use of scale and detail both contributed to my sense of remoteness to their experiences and fanned my curiosity to look more closely at their work.


Mazinani's large composite photographs with their geometric patterns look like decorative Persian rugs at first glance. Moving to a closer vantage point, it was startling to discover that these digitally-collaged abstractions are intricate kaleidoscopic patterns composed of pre-existing photographs of global aggression and armaments, within which each individual's anguish is magnified by a horde of swarming souls.


The small scale of Khayyat's arrangements of framed photograms, with their eerie reversal of light and dark, also demanded my closer inspection. The artist seamlessly directs attention from panoramic city views shot as though through a telephoto lens to close-ups of a beleaguered city's streets and, ultimately, to the chillingly personal photographs of her young brother's drawings of giant planes dropping bombs, thereby showing us exactly what it was like for children terrorized by war.


In another series, Kyayyat addresses the disappearance of more than 17,000 people during Lebanon's 15-year civil war by printing the same photograph of one missing person repeatedly on rounds of Lebanese bread installed in a grid. Through repetitive printing of the photograph, the victim's features become increasingly obscured and more difficult to identify. This single visage represents the multitude of unsolved disappearances that precludes the experience of closure for their families and loved ones 28 years since the war's end.


Ultimately, Khayyat's strategies and those of Mazinani erase the distance of time and place by bringing us face-to-face with the violence of their past, which shapes their present – as well as our own.


“Appearances & Disappearances”

through May 28

North of History, 445 Columbus Ave at W. 81st Street, New York, NY



Bonnie Clearwater is an American writer and art historian, and currently serves as the director and chief curator of NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. Previously, she ran the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami and helped build South Florida’s art world. Clearwater was also a curator in New York.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

Jason Wallace

Rola Khayyat: Selkeh W Emneh

Sanaz Mazinani: Berkleley/Tripoli

Jason Wallace

Rola Khayyat: Laqquam