NASTARAN SHAHBAZI, Tainted Love, 2016, oil on canvas, 58 × 58 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mur Nomade, Hong Kong.

NASTARAN SHAHBAZI, The Sun Set, 2016, oil on canvas, 58 × 58 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mur Nomade, Hong Kong. 

The Sun Also Rises

Nastaran Shahbazi

Mur Nomade
Hong Kong Iran

“The Sun Also Rises,” a solo exhibition by Nastaran Shahbazi at Hong Kong’s Mur Nomade gallery, consists of six oil paintings that tackle notions of displacement and migration. As the exhibition is designed to be malleable and evolving, various artists have been invited to respond to Shahbazi’s paintings throughout the course of the show. During the opening night, for instance, Hong Kong artist Sze Ka Yan created an experimental music performance using a framed drum-like instrument as a way to “reassess the tension and space between collective and individual listening experiences,” as explained by the gallery.

Shahbazi appears to incorporate the image of water, to varying degrees, in each of her works. In The Sun Set, for instance, a vast algae-green ocean takes up the entire image. A lone figure perched atop a cliff stares out into the horizon, beyond a small boat filled with people, evoking an oppressive sense of loneliness. Here, water seems to provide a metaphor for an obstacle that one must traverse in order to reach a place of refuge. This sense of solitude is carried through in The Walking Man, where an isolated figure meanders in a seemingly endless forest, which instills a sense of hopelessness as the horizon remains constantly in the unreachable distance.

Born in Iran amidst the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), Shahbazi became interested in exploring the experience of loneliness and displacement in a world torn apart by violence and oppression. She received training in graphic design and visual arts at the Gobelins School of the Image in Paris, in 2009, and now splits her time between Paris and Hong Kong. Similar to her etchings of haunting, ghostly figures and vacant landscapes, Shahbazi’s expressionistic paintings open up to darker emotions related to the war and her personal experiences of the conflict, in which her father was a political prisoner for five years.

At Mur Nomade, the vault-like door of the gallery opens into a large room with wooden floors and concrete walls. Fluidly depicted landscape paintings appear to be arranged by color. Three works, Landscape (2016), The Sun Set (2016) and Wild is the River (2016), all have a blue-green tinge; whereas Far Away (2016) and The Walking Man (2016), located nearby, have predominantly yellowish-green hues, and Tainted Love (2016) utilizes an ominous red.

NASTARAN SHAHBAZI, Far Away, 2016, oil on canvas, 70 × 90 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mur Nomade, Hong Kong. 

Situated between such melancholic paintings of separation, Shahbazi’s Landscape (2016) is a dynamic portrayal of movement. Whether interpreted as a mountainous scene or raging water, the artist’s free-flowing brushwork of blended blues, yellows and greens illustrates motion and conjures feelings of change. The narrative that plays out in the paintings conclude this journey from a place of isolation to one of new beginnings with Wild is the River, where two figures on a boat flow through a valley. In the end, such optimism expressed in the works show the artist’s own resolution to work with her challenges as a means to find peace.

Through her paintings, Shahbazi portrays life on the road to represent one’s personal search for meaning. Her emotional outpouring as expressed in these new works not only conveys the horrific impact of her childhood experiences of conflict, but also shows how they have become a catalyst for her creative practice. Perhaps similar to the lone figures she portrays, Shahbazi has endured the despair, loneliness and the confusion of war, and has now crossed to the other side where the sun rises.

NASTARAN SHAHBAZI, Landscape, 2016, oil on canvas, 91 × 91 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mur Nomade, Hong Kong. 

“Nastaran Shahbazi: The Sun Also Rises” is currently on view at Mur Nomade, Hong Kong, until September 10, 2016.