Somthing Happened by Delbar Shahbaz

Co-Curated by Ari Rizo

Basement Projects is pleased to present Something Happened, a group show featuring the works of Lissa Corona, Jennifer Remenchik, and Delbar Shahbaz. Something Happens examines the way gender and sex continues to affect and produce unequal power relations between individuals and social groups.

Through content and materiality, the artists explore how power is exercised and maintained through overt acts like sexual violence but also, more subtly, through discursive practices and normalized modes of visual representation.


2017 July Kamikaze Exhibits, Monday July by Delbar Shahbaz

In the month of July, PØST will present thirty-one different exhibits.
The 2017 July Kamikaze exhibits continue in the same tradition as the other seven rounds of Kamikaze exhibits that have been presented at PØST since September of 2009. Difficult times invite difficult gestures. By design, these exhibits remain close to art and distant from the other stuff. In the future, a book will be produced for each Kamikaze month.



seeking solace by Delbar Shahbaz


Inside Graduate Art student Delbar Shahbaz’s South Campus art studio, several of her smaller sculptures—with pale birdlike bodies and human-looking heads—line a high shelf. A quote by British artist Tracey Emin declaring “Love is what you want” is scrawled in big black letters on a wall. In the corner, on a hot plate, sits a tea kettle, trailing fresh steam.

The studio is a safe space for the 38-year-old, who moved to the United States from her native Tehran, Iran in 2013, and started at ArtCenter in 2015. It’s a zone where Shahbaz—who has a green card and is set to graduate this term—can think, imagine, work and feel free.

That feeling of freedom changed on January 27 for Shahbaz and Iranian Transportation Design student Ehsan Momeninejad they said. That day President Donald Trump issued an executive order—currently blocked by federal courts—banning citizens from Muslim-majority countries Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Shahbaz’s sister, a Canadian citizen in Vancouver, was about to give birth to a son. Their parents live in Iran.

“I really want to go and see my sister, to help her, but I’m afraid. What if they don’t let me come back?” said Shahbaz, drinking tea in her studio. “I’ve already built my career here. I’m teaching an ArtCenter at Night sculpture class in the summer. I was feeling, with this order, ‘I’m alone, and I don’t have any land.’ Until then, I thought the U.S. was my land.”

Shahbaz and 27-year-old Momeninejad—who has a student visa—both protested at Los Angeles International Airport the day after the executive order was announced. News surrounding the order, and an updated one reportedly in the works, has shifted week by week. Momeninejad had intended to visit his parents and sister in Tehran in April, and now doesn’t want to risk going back and not be able to return to finish his degree, he said. Shahbaz has thrown herself into her work, seeking solace from ArtCenter faculty.

What makes America great is all the immigrants who come here with a dream, and work as hard as they can to make that dream come true.” 

Ehsan Momeninejad

Delbar Shahbaz's 2016 ArtCenter installation The Rabbit Eye. Image courtesy of the artist.

“The co-chair of the department and some teachers sent me an email saying they had my back and that I could come and talk,” said Shahbaz. “I was able to cry in front of them. It was a good feeling. This community has helped me to be myself, and they appreciate me for who I am, which is what I’ve been searching for my entire life. ArtCenter supports your culture and your religion, and people learn from each other.”

Shahbaz sent her parents a statement by ArtCenter President Lorne M. Buchman that he had emailed to students, faculty and staff on January 30 in response to the executive order.

“I want to stress in particular our commitment to our Muslim students, faculty and staff,” wrote Buchman, adding that the College would do all it reasonably could to protect international students, faculty and staff and to provide whatever resources it could to the campus’ global community.

“We will not stand idly by while others suffer, especially when it is within our power to work toward change,” Buchman wrote in the statement, which also confirmed that the Board of Trustees had approved a Resolution representing the College’s position and principles of diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination.

According to recent statistics, 28 percent of new Fall 2015 undergraduate ArtCenter students were international students.

From Delbar Shahbaz's 2016 installation Hiding Revelation. Image courtesy of the artist.

Delbar Shahbaz working on a 2017 sculpture

Diversity and inclusion appeal on both a personal and an artistic level to Shahbaz.

Her paintings, sculptures, videos and installations revolve around cultural and gender identity, and women living in patriarchal societies, she said. Welding has become especially cathartic for the artist, who also has a master’s degree in illustration and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, both from Iran.

Her final show project will include a massive, 8-foot-tall metal female sculpture called The Monumental Fertility covered with a dozen breasts made out of knobby tea pot lids from Iran. Metal feathers chiseled by an Afghan undocumented teen immigrant Shahbaz knows in Tehran will jut out of the sculpture’s enormous, gaping resin womb. Most of her weighty, powerful sculptures have several layers: metal, resin, foam, fiber, clay and paint.

“I really want to work with metal, with heavy material, which is harsh, which is dangerous, and work with fire, because I’m angry right now,” she said. “Even though I feel more alone, I also have energy.”


Metamorphosis to Catharsis by Delbar Shahbaz

Opening of the group show called “Metamorphosis to Catharsis”, on Jan.1 (6-9 P)
at Otis College of Art and Design Graduate Studios (Main gallery space)
curator Shirin Bolourchi
Artists: Stephen Anderson, Shirin Bolourchi, Heejung Choi, Pouya Jahan, Jeff Knowlton, Elizabeth Medina, Jei-sung Oh, Marjam Oskoui, Zachary Roach, Semco Salehi, Delbar Shahbaz

Delbar Shahbaz— Artist in residence at the Wassaic Project “Non-Residential:” Re-staging a New Place and Time by Delbar Shahbaz


by Tonia Shoumatoff

Delbar Shahbaz, an Iranian artist-in-residence at the Wassaic Project, says that her generation of Iranian women are caught in the in-between - “neither here nor there, neither traditional nor modern.” 

  The Pregnant Carpet, an installation, "Heaven beneath her feet."

The Pregnant Carpet, an installation, "Heaven beneath her feet."

An installation exhibited at Pasadena’s Art College of Design is called “In Between.”  Sculptures of chickens with women’s faces are viewed through a door of the gallery that is semi-blocked by bricks. Her website says, “From the outside looking in, we catch glimpses of communing, of subjects gathering together in attempts to jump free – but they are mere chickens. They are literally and symbolically blocked from learning how to fly, let alone stepping off and flying out of their coop.”

In a 2014 her exhibit, “Terrain of Absence,” she explains that as an Iranian artist she has a heritage to remember and experiences to forget.  “Out of nowhere I arrive somewhere else. No one is like me. No shared history.  Everything is brought into question. Years of experiences — unpacked. What I formerly concealed, I begin to share, my body, my identity, my experience through these things. I have a form of freedom yet struggle now to access it.”

  Poster for installation, "Vanish in a Day."

Poster for installation, "Vanish in a Day."

We came upon Delbar on a ladder covering over the windows of her studio with black cloth.  She was working on an installation called “Non-Residential,” where she builds an imaginary land in the middle of her studio that is safe from outside influences and cannot be destroyed.  Grafitti-like messages in Farsi are scribbled on the wall. 

The studio cannot be entered or seen except through rows of strings that block it from outside viewers.  There are niches with strings in front of them with drawings of tiny people hanging behind the strings.  She calls them prisoners. 

“There are people who want to forget the disasters of their countries but you cannot totally forget, you can only put the memories away in a box.”  Delbar remembers some of the atrocities from the war between Iran and Iraq when she was a little girl.

Delbar writes poetry: “The land that offers you death, offers you her wounds….forces you to exit.  I do not belong to any Motherland.  I have cut my roots and carry my heritage in my guts.”  We ask her about what she means by wounds.  “It’s all about war.  It never gives you any resolution.  When I was in the middle of the war between Iran and Iraq for me as a kid there was no happy ending. I just didn’t want to see my mom’s worried face, that was my whole concern.”

Delbar has had eight exhibits in Tehran, two of which were not open to the public and had to be private because the subject matter was controversial.  One showed images of a pregnant carpet and explored the expectations that all women in Middle Eastern countries must have children in order to experience heaven.   “In Iranian culture, there is an expression that ‘A woman goes to heaven, when she becomes a mother,’ “ explained Ms. Shahbaz, who said the pressure to have babies is part of the culture.

  An imaginary land that represents a secure area

An imaginary land that represents a secure area

Much of Delbar’s work is sculptural.  In one series, called “Descendants of the Angels,” colorful painted clay and mixed media sculptures of women with wings who she says aspire to look upon the world with the wisdom of the angels: “I look at the city from above. Now I can understand how people dream but with open eyes….My angels are born in this way….the world that I like to see is born and the angels look like me on the days that I feel good.”

She describes the condition of women when she was growing up in Tehran in her show called Terrain of Absence. 

“Three years old - rules dictated. Seven years old - cover your body.

Nine years old, breasts appear and you begin to slouch. Ten years old, your period arrives. You tell no one…. Seventeen years old - How do I please everyone, my parents, society? I am discovering ways… but in the process I forget myself. Only in secret do I allow thoughts of self, concealing my desires.”

In a poster for “Vanish in a Day,” a female figure is face down with pins, voodoo-like, stuck into her body holding her down.  This exhibit depicts women in clear plastic boxes.  “In this solo exhibition, I have 17 Plexiglas boxes and inside each of these cubes, there is a woman, trying to live and survive by herself. In the middle of the gallery, there is an interactive installation that includes little aluminum puppets hanging from the ceiling. I ask people about themselves imagining if they were in these boxes and trying to live, and how they could survive there?”

  "Non-Residential" installation at the Wassaic Project studios

"Non-Residential" installation at the Wassaic Project studios

Delbar was discouraged from going to art school.  She got a degree in bio-mechanical engineering, was unhappy in that career and went back to school to receive an MFA degree in illustration from Tehran Art University.  She came to the U.S. two years ago to get another MFA in fine arts at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

She says she likes to work with actual materials, not just simulations and videos, and shows us a painting she painted from inside one of the charcoal kilns in Wassaic.  It shows a woman with extremely long legs dangling from the one window inside the kiln.  Phantasms of nature spirits dance on the walls.

“The idea of creating an alternative reality is how I can express most of the issues I want to talk about.  People are living in our shared reality but from inside, everyone is carrying around this other version of reality that is distorted, insecure and informed by trauma and other experiences. I like to take this inside, out!  I am interested in addressing this through metaphor. I work in a way that points to a certain kinds of psychological conditions.”

“In my work you see a woman who is haggling with herself to make sense of her life and her existence.”

Delbar Shahbaz’s new installation at the Wassaic Project explores the universal theme of finding a secure space in the midst of the shifting sands of life.  She has an open studio, along with other Wassaic Project residents, on Saturday May 30.