Arts & Events

Farnaz Shandravan's Art Gallery Opens in Uptown Oakland

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday November 30, 2011 - 09:15:00 AM

A prominent feature of the art of the past century has been the juxtaposition of unlike objects, radically different motifs, stylistic elements, materials ... Dada and Russian Formalism (with its "Defamiliarization") brought this to the fore; Surrealism canonized it. 

An artist's studio in Uptown Oakland, opening as a gallery this Friday, will be showing works that display this kind of juxtaposition, not so much a relic of the old avant-garde as with an intensely personal feeling and meaning. 

Farnaz Shadravan, who has exhibited around the Bay Area and in Tehran, where she grew up, will be displaying her unusual pieces in different media, work that subjects banal, everyday objects to intensive workmanship in order to release a profound spiritual element, in the most personal sense—"spiritual" not being a codeword or substitute for religious feeling, so much as a reaction to its loss, and to the fate of human beings, sometimes their fate in mass, that such profound sentiment once bore witness to in the greatest works of art. 

There're four bathtubs, "almost for self-baptism! but I'm going to run it dry this time ..."—each engraved with one of the four Angels of the Apocalypse from Albrecht Durer's great woodcut. "I make some works low, so people can kneel to see them. I've put cushion before my light boxes." The light boxes illuminate photographs; in the case of one, x-ray film showing a human bone and a row of bullets facing it. 

The theme of prayer or meditation runs throughout ... There are bones intricately carved with prayers. "When Iraq invaded Iran, I had a dream—and when I woke up knew I had to carve prayers in human bone. I started looking for bones, found them—and carved them." 

The prayers are both Islamic and Christian—the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 23. 

Shadravan talks about a struggle over losing her faith: "I used to pray three times a day. Somehow, I lost that practice." The American custom of putting things to remember on refrigerator doors with magnets was strange to her. "I put magnets with prayers onto my own refrigerator door. Then one day I found a [detached] refrigerator door and drilled a prayer on it" She has a series of nine of these doors, some of which will be on display. 

"It all became something religious; I wanted to remember religion. My work became my prayer, making these these doors almost like meditation to a Gregorian chant." 

Another unusual, common element, something unique to her art-making: the carving and engraving comes from her profession. Shadravan uses dental drills to work bone like scrimshaw, cut shapes and words into refrigerator doors. "I majored in art, minored in chemistry, then went to dental school ... I keep going back and forth between two different worlds. I do a lot of root canals, and do my best so people won't feel anything. Then I do my art so people feel something!" 

The beginnings of her artwork go back to early school memories. "When I was about 10, the principal of my school called me to her office and asked if she could buy something I made. I gave it to her. That went on at art school, with the teachers approaching me, too, including the San Francisco Art Institute. After a year there, an instructor came to me and said, 'We have nothing here left to teach you; you know what you're doing.' " 

Her father's street light factory was an inspiration, too. "After school—elementary school—I'd get picked up and taken to my father's factory. I was bored in school but came alive when I went there. It was my heaven! Everything was done there, the casting ... I had a dream of having a place like the factory, to make things ... " 

(About 30 years ago, her father left his factory, also to become a visual artist.) 

Shadravan sold her house, at one point, so she could work just one day a week as a dentist during the 18 months she carved the "Durer-Shadravan tubs." She also previously opened a gallery, in the Mission District in San Francisco. "For the same length of time, a year and a half; maybe that's my tolerance level." 

Her earliest works on display will be oil paintings dating from 1999, one with her grandmother's marriage contract. 

Shadravan's next project will be dedicated to the ancient Iranian city of Isfahan—and to Walt Whitman. 

Shadravan's Art Gallery, 2515 Telegraph Avenue (near 25th Street), Uptown Oakland ("In the Art Murmur district"). Opening Friday, December 2, 6-10; Saturday, 1-6. (Facebook page under "Shadravan's".)