Tehran-based painter Hoda Kashiha’s Rabbiting in the Hunting Ground (2019) shows black silhouettes of an upside-down rabbit and a hunter pointing a gun, arranged like the motifs on a reversible playing card. The flat figures cast shadows on the layers below: circles excised from rectangular shapes in red and blue, juxtaposed with patterns of green grass and yellow hearts. A squiggly line spirals horizontally between the rabbit and the hunter. In her 2020 solo show at Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Brussels, Kashiha installed this work alongside My sincere love to Kazimir Malevich, Black on Black (2020), alluding to the 1924 Suprematist painting Black Circle. She painted a black circle over a gray background of stenciled bunnies and pistols, with narrow blue and red lines running along the top and bottom of the canvas and bending in on the right side to gently touch the circle’s edge.
Kashiha graduated from Tehran University in 2009 and continued her education at Boston University, from which she received an MFA in 2014. She returned to Tehran in 2017, shortly after travel restrictions suddenly made it impossible for her to continue moving between Iran and the United States. On a Zoom call from her studio in a warehouse in Shahriar, outside Tehran, she described nonlinear narrative, dark humor, and mythological, religious, and modernist icons as the persistent themes and guiding principles in her compositions. This is reflected not only in the paintings’ titles but also their borrowed imagery and playfully expressive approach to figuration. Nonlinearity, she said, lends itself to experimentation, conveying instability and uncertainty. For Kashiha, shocks and surprises find aesthetic resonance in the mobility of stylistic tropes, severed from one context and brought into chance encounters in another.
During our call, Kashiha said that her perception of the Trump administration’s abrupt “Muslim ban” as an engine of precarity around the lives of Iranians and the Iranian diaspora was overshadowed in early 2020 when, against the background of heightened tensions with the US in the region, a passenger airplane leaving Tehran for Kyiv was shot down by Iran’s own Revolutionary Guard Corps under circumstances that are still scandalously unclear. She then recalled the black squares that flooded her Instagram feed in the days after the tragedy, interspersed between the visual glut of social media.
Kashiha’s installation “In Appreciation of Blinking” (2021) comprises eight paintings, displayed on individual panel carts, in which collage-like layers of brightly colored imagery are progressively encroached upon by fields of black, creating a vignette effect intended to mimic the sensation of eyes blinking. The Curiosity of Saint Thomas Made the Hole, as the Hole Made the Eyehole juxtaposes a crude airbrush drawing on a yellow ground depicting a figure peeking through a hole with a bleached and blurry reproduction of a cropped detail from Caravaggio’s Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601–02) showing a finger plunging into Christ’s wound, the images layered like desktop windows, casting trompe l’oeil shadows. Tantalus Punishment (2021) similarly combines different images occupying distinct, overlapping planes, among them a simple line drawing of a head trying to stay above water and a cartoonish hand offering the mythological Tantalus a flower, rendered in benday dots. In Last Sunset, Last Dive (2021), flashes of landscape imagery—airbrushed flowers, a splash of water, and a sunset—peek out from a thin strip along the bottom of the canvas, otherwise occluded by black, while the imagery in Black Is Black is entirely eclipsed, presenting as a pure monochrome.
When the series was first exhibited in Kashiha’s 2021 exhibition at Dastan Gallery’s Parallel Circuit in Tehran, she staggered the panel carts holding the paintings at an oblique angle, so that when viewers entered the gallery, the vignetted images appeared to recede into space. Despite the suggestion of a sequence, there is no particular order to the paintings’ arrangement, which is shuffled each time the work is shown. Exemplifying the current phase of Kashiha’s practice, the installation sarcastically presents a stylized reality that shapeshifts from one blink to the next.
This article appears in the May 2022 issue, pp. 54–55.