Dream of Being
2 August — 21 September, Nexus Arts Gallery, Adelaide
In Dream of Being, Narges Anvar invites us to lose ourselves a little in her lines, compositions and the expressive characters she creates, which are all reflections of her inner self. During her studio residency and mentorship at Nexus Arts, emerging Iranian-Australian artist Narges Anvar has attempted to bring her familiar medium of figurative painting and drawing alive by adopting new forms of expression bridging drawing, animation and sculpture. This exhibition presents such exploratory outcomes, drawn from a deeply personal, aspirational studio project where the artist has reinterpreted her expressive figurative painting and drawing practice through studio experimentation.
The flight of the spirit
A reading of the work of Narges Anvar for ‘Dream of Being’
by Fruzsi Kenez
In ‘Dream of Being’, Narges explores her emotional landscape, translating her feelings, dreams and memories into paintings, sculpture and now animation. Her method is organic, focusing on mark-making and translating, rather than fulfilling a predetermined design in her mind. The resulting work is rich in layers both physical and metaphorical, as the loose pen lines and accompanying shapes of colour are infused with feelings and meanings, many times sitting side by side as well as in opposition with each other. Her exploration of energy is unique, for she successfully encapsulates seemingly opposing feelings and ideas, such as a sense of push and pull, absence and presence, entrapment and freedom, and finally, the intangible sensation of belonging and even being in two places at once.
She describes her creative process as not only translating the barrage of thoughts and memories that flood her mind in life and dreams, but more importantly, as processing and identifying her feelings through her meditative painting process.
“I just put the paper in front of me and start drawing. Sometimes the line surprises me. In this process I make a lot of scraps. Because this process doesn’t always work. In the beginning it is hard to be free [..] free of being perfect in your artwork.”
Narges’ paintings almost always feature a face or figure, emerging, navigating or observing its environs. These characters defy gravity, stretch beyond measure and are at times captured during what appears to be a moment of emancipation.
“It’s like the flying lady with her boobs when she’s feeling isolated at home. Isolated and lonely.”
This new work makes it’s debut in ‘Dream of Being’, a short animation painstakingly hand-drawn frame by frame. The animation is experimental, with skills acquired through a short course funded by Nexus Arts Studio Residency program. Narges’ desire to bring her paintings and visions to life first evolved into small wire sculptures accentuated by manual interventions, such as shapes and lines drawn directly onto the shelves and wall. Narges has negotiated this experimental process with great courage, sharing these new and vulnerable pieces with her audience.
The sculptural pieces and short animation perfectly encapsulate the title of the exhibition, representing a dream-like fantasy that is very real in the mind of the creator. Narges chose to explore the medium of animation after having recurring dreams of a particular character, who unlike the other inhabitants of her imagination, was moving.
“It was challenging to frame it in a paper. Like it was a live thing in my mind and at the beginning it was hard to decide how I want to show it. Like when you want to photograph an event but you know you can’t capture the whole feeling. No sound. No smell. And you just freeze a moment.“
Comprised of over 200 frames, the story is told in staggered motion. An old woman sits at table, facing away from the viewer. She looks out of an ever-growing window which begins to disappear beyond the frame. The woman turns to face the camera. We get closer and closer to her face, before a cup of tea spills over the page, cleansing the scene.
Cut to a fresh page. First a window appears, as a foetal body emerges, growing into the shape of a woman. She is soft, naked, human. She steps onto the windowsill and takes the plunge, flying into the sky. The window disappears as she flies with the help of her large breasts, which whip around on either side of her. Free at last, she disappears into the distance, never to be seen again.
The animation, the wire sculptures and her paintings alike possess an energy simultaneously tender and foreboding, hinting at a sense of unease and perhaps an invisible danger. Shadows emerge from behind faces, figures loom from darkened corners. Questions appear in the viewers mind. Is that the shadow of a lover? Or is this tender embrace between the artist and her other self? These works invite more questions than they answer, which is perhaps the point.
“I want people to feel what I've been through. To see if they relate to the same experience and also if they find sympathy inside [..] I'd like to puzzle them a bit too. With mixing contrast, like something funny in a tragedy. Or confronting them with weird elements beside familiarity.”
These works on paper are small, just A4 size, offering windows into the artist’ mind. They invite the viewer to experience what she has experienced, or better yet, draw upon a memory or feeling from their own life. These figures also represent a metaphor, or a bigger picture that reaches outside the boundaries of the frame. All stemming from Narges’ lived and imagined experiences.
These thoughts and feelings made their way off paper for the first time in ‘Dream of Being’, in the form of wire and clay sculptures. The palm-sized pieces sit interspersed between the paintings, giving rise to a special conversation between them. This way of showing the work provides a unique insight into the artist’s mind, and how she came to translate the drawings into clay and wire beings.
A large sculpture sits beside this wall, turning its back on the conversation. A hunched figure emerges out of wire, like a loose ink drawing breathed into physical form. The energy feels heavy, as though there is more than the large rock-like object weighing it down. Narges describes the rock as a child, and herself as the tired figure. The relationship between the two shapes isn’t clear. Does the rock represent the burden of motherhood, or the strength of the bond between mother and child? Is her fleshless shape suggesting an emotional absence or exhaustion, or simply winking at the duality of her spirit, soaring free elsewhere? Of the figure, Narges makes the following observation.
“It is somethings that’s floating. Something that’s moving. Something not stable.”
There are so many emotions and meanings imbued in these rich pieces, all stemming from Narges’ own life and emotional landscape. Like many artists, Narges has drawn upon lived experiences, in order to process past events, and catalyse her reflection and healing. For Narges, she confronted these angry thoughts and pains through her exhibition ‘Fears and Inertia’ at Sister Gallery in May 2017.
While she has dealt with the tides of grief and anger that defined that chapter of her life, dark themes still lurk in her work like shadows of the past. It is understood that death, loss, stress, and grief create trauma, which in turn gives rise to what American scholar Shirley Hayes describes as ‘traces in the mind.’ She observes that “the physiological imprints or memories of past experiences, often dictate how we think, feel, and cope with life. Artists, including performance artists, often scrutinize memory and trauma as a means to psychologically deal with those experiences in their art and life.”
Many artists have turned their pain into art; Frida Kahlo, Kathe Kollwitz, William Kentridge, Louise Bourgeois to name just a few. It is understood that life’s traumas can provide a catalyst for one’s own reflection, artmaking, and healing, leading to rich works of art and with some luck, catharsis for the creator.
While the chapter of drawing on her personal pain has closed, many earthly worries occupy Narges’ mind. The burdens of a multi-faceted human who wears many hats of identity. Migrant, mother, artist, wife. The duties and expectations abundant in her life, perhaps best exemplified in the old adage, ‘a woman’s work is never done.’
Narges cites the fear of imperfection, the challenges of raising her children, as well as the inherent burden of womanhood as fodder for her anxious mind. And why should she not seek healing through her artmaking? Who is to say that the making of such personal work cannot be an agent for healing, for both the artist and possibly the viewer? Narges’ primary desire in presenting ‘Dream of Being’ is that she find connection with her audience. She wishes for the viewer to engage with and interpret her art in a way that gives rise to empathy and understanding, and maybe even some healing.
‘Fears and Inertia’ was about processing the past and childhood trauma, while ‘Dream of Being’ is very much about the present time and recent events. Narges drew inspiration from her maternal line, reflecting on the strength of her mother and grandmother’s spirits, and wanting to give them a sense of relief and release from their hardship, as seen in the flying woman animation. The artist referred to this piece as “flying the soul”, which beautifully underpins this subtle piece.
Upon the suggestion of the universally relatable themes of womanhood emerging from these pieces, Narges offers a correction. As for her, it’s not about women or the feminine experience. “I wanted to talk about being human. Not a man or woman. Just a person. I want to talk about feelings.”
And without further ado, please enter ‘Dream of Being’ and traverse this intimate landscape of thoughts and emotions. Connect, feel, experience. It’s all a part of being human, after all.
Fruzsi Kenez is an Adelaide based artist and curator with an emerging arts writing practice. Find her on social media channels on @fruzsikenezart or www.fruzsikenez.com
 Hayes, S. ‘Trauma and Memory: Healing Through Art’, Journal of Art for Life Volume 7 | Issue 1, Florida State University Press