Review: Art that forces us to reconsider what we think we know


Taravat Talepasand draws on the visual conventions of Pop art, propaganda and pornography to create exceedingly unorthodox images of Iranian women for her exhibition at Zevitas Marcus.

One sculpture depicts a woman wearing a burka that covers everything except her breasts. This is provocative. That the breasts would make the Venus of Willendorf blush and are painted to look like targets is a direct contradiction of the modesty the burka is intended to preserve.

A series of graphite drawings depicts burka-clad women making lewd gestures or hiking up their robes to reveal sexy lingerie and high heels. Another depicts nude women in poses that look ripped from adult magazines. These are rendered in light brown hash oil: a condensation of sex and drugs.

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Taravat Talepasand, “Khomeini,” 2015. Credit: Courtesy of (Taravat Talepasand / Zevitas Marcus)

Oversize glass pipes are arrayed on the floor on a strip of artificial turf, and decorative paintings of poppy plants float on graffiti-like abstract grounds. A painting of a torn and battered propaganda poster of Ayatollah Khomeini is rendered in acid-bright, Pop art colors.

These are not familiar images of Iran, complicated as they are by other stereotypes of women and drug culture. By mixing these disparate strands, Talepasand creates a cognitive short circuit, asking us to reconsider what we think we know. And in light of the U.S. restrictions on travel from Iran, the San Francisco artist’s work feels especially vital.

It also, however, gestures in more enigmatic directions. “Reified” is a painting of two female faces emerging from a turquoise ground peppered with dashes of red paint. The women’s eyes are inexplicably covered with white rectangles. The image is mysterious but oddly compelling. Are the dashes a patterned headscarf? Or are they merely an abstract field? Perhaps the painting is a pivot point where the flatness of Western abstraction merges with the smooth surface of the hijab.

Zevitas Marcus, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Extgended through March 18; closed Sundays and Mondays. (424) 298-8088,

Taravat Talepasand, “Reified,” 2016. Credit: Courtesy of (Taravat Talepasand / Zevitas Marcus)
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6:35 p.m. Feb. 5: This article was updated with a new closing date for the exhibition and a slightly revised description for one of the artworks.