May, 2013

Solo Exhibition, Martina Johnston, Berkeley, U.S.

Martina } { Johnston


Azin Seraj


Opening Reception: Saturday, May 11th, 2013 from 4 to 8 p.m.

Hours: Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

East Bay Express Review by Alex Bigman

Square Cylinder Review by Katherine Sherwood

A selection of works from the show are available for purchase online.

Martina }{ Johnston is pleased to announce “Sublunar”, an exhibition of video, photography, and sculptural installation by Azin Seraj. Seraj’s work is informed by the poetic traditions of Iranian culture and by her experiences of migration across political and social boundaries. Key works in this exhibition seek to raise awareness and provoke conversations about the repercussions of US and international sanctions against Iran, and resultant hyperinflation and scarcity of essential goods. These specific concerns are given weight by the artist’s story of loss and displacement, and grounded in universal elemental symbols: water, earth, light. Through a creative process that is open to chance, unexpected beauty finds its way into works that are complex, visually lush, and profoundly personal.


03.Seraj-lullabyStill from “Lullaby”, DV, 8:47, 2013

The video “Lullaby” explicitly addresses the effects of sanctions on Iran, contrasting a recording of President Obama’s speech announcing the latest sanctions with appropriated documentary footage of ordinary Iranians suffering from lack of access to essential products such as medical supplies. The artist weaves these stark images together with her own more atmospheric footage of children wishing each other “Happy Nowruz” under a full moon in Dehkadeh, Iran. Blocks of ice, dyed and arranged to resemble the Iranian flag, slowly melt and drip into water, making smoky swirls in the murk, raising questions about national belonging and survival. The conversation provoked by “Lullaby” is expanded in another video piece, “Kaseye Sabr Labriz Mishavad / Bowl of Patience”, in which four Iranians tell stories about the effects of the sanctions on their daily lives.These interviews are projected into a bowl of water that shimmers with reflected light, on the verge of overflowing.


Still from “Kaseye Sabr Labriz Mishavad / Bowl of Patience”, DV, 24:54, 2012

Iranian currency is another primary conceptual and visual motif of the show. “11,111” formally displays the 1, 10, 100, 1000, and 10,000 toman bills, an understated reference to the runaway inflation that has made it difficult for ordinary Iranians to obtain basic goods. To create “Infant Formula”, Seraj removed a container of Similac from an American pharmacy, wrapped it in the elaborately designed Iranian bills, and returned it to the shelf. The photographic documentation of this act projects the scarcity of a ubiquitous, essential product into a space familiar to American viewers, while calling attention to society’s most vulnerable people.

“Bakers”, Archival Inkjet Print, 12” x 18”, 2013

“Bakers”, Archival Inkjet Print, 12” x 18”, 2013

Seraj further explores her interest in the effect of macroeconomic policy on individuals in a small series of carefully observed photographs. The work depicts laborers and consumers in marketplace settings in Tehran and Shiraz, documenting the buying and selling of basic domestic goods, such as bread and clothing, while attempting to capture the individuality of the participants in this economic exchange.

Ghazal moon

“Ghazal Moon”, Archival Inkjet Print, 24” x 36”, 2013

In the photograph “Ghazal Moon”, the artist’s camera drifts from the dazzlingly colorful, elaborate geometric tiling of the tomb of 12th century Persian poet Hāfez, to point towards the soft glow of the moon, as if to remind us of the fleeting nature of our struggles in the vast cycles of time. Seraj’s works approach the experience of temporality by creating a shared experience of intimate, personal time on the one hand, and signaling an exalted historical time on the other. In the video “Clash of Privilege” the artist labors to dig a hole in the ground while simultaneously filling it back up, while in the installation “Persepolis” a vial of dirt from the ancient city casts an outsized shadow landscape on the wall.

video stills

Still from “Whisper My Name”, DV, 4:14, 2009

The video “Whisper My Name” captures the heart of the artist’s process and search for meaning. Seraj invites us to follow her through the empty, time-worn classrooms of her childhood school in Dehkadeh. With a sense of nostalgia and detachment, she explores this structure and the memories it contains, following the path of chance towards an encounter with the unknown.

Originally from Tehran, Seraj is a dual citizen of Iran and Canada and currently resides in Oakland. After receiving her MFA from UC Berkeley in 2010, she created and taught “Media for Social Change,” an innovative new course at UC Berkeley, and “Art of Video” at Berkeley High School. She has exhibited widely in group shows in the Bay Area, including recently at the Berkeley Art Museum, Walter and McBean Galleries, Southern Exposure, Kearny Street Workshop, and Open Space in Victoria, BC, Canada.
This is her debut solo exhibition.