Talepasand’s studio was on the top floor of a residential loft building in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. I was immediately drawn to the skyline of empty vodka and gin bottles. They belonged to her boyfriend, an architect, who had plans for using them as structural material for a future project. Positioned at the base of the spirits monument, however, was a collection of even deeper interest—Talepasand’s hookahs—an object that often appears in her paintings.

An Iranian, Talepasand borrows visual elements from Persian miniature painting, Old Masters, and Western popular culture. For example, in her painting Corpus Deliciti, 2011, a Classical female bust’s head is wrapped in an Iranian turban (typically only worn by men). The figure is holding her breasts, as if feeding, with shattered arms. Her face is painted black to reference Hajii Firuz, the Iranian Santa Claus who comes for the Persian New Year. “My father always said ‘that’s so racist, I can’t believe they paint their faces black. Why do we have to paint our faces black? Can’t we just be men wearing red?’

Another example of Talepasand’s cultural mishmash is the ‘residue’ left over from her porcelain doll series Mullah’s Ghost (2011). Talepasand’s inspiration was an Internet image of an Arab woman with fake breasts. The meme made it into one of Talepasand’s paintings, depicted as a sculpture. Talepasand then reversed the direction and turned the image into a series of porcelain figurines. Pictured below are the outcasts that had broken or cracked. “The bad girls,” Talepasand laughed. “I love having them here, they’re kind of these soldiers.” Their rosy Balinese companion to the right was given to the artist by a friend who had found it in New York during the 70’s.

Among Talepasand’s inspirational objects were nunchucks that her uncle, a black belt in karate, made out of olive wood and a cigarette lighter with an image of two men in traditional garb on camels in the foreground and modern Dubai skyscrapers behind them. Talapesand felt the latter represented the hypocrisy existing in the conservative culture there—touting traditional, tribal values while raking in revenue from the modern, global economy.

At the end of our visit, we climbed to the roof where Talepasand takes breaks from painting. The ritual has inspired recent work. “I’ve been dealing with the issues of being an insider and an outsider. In Farsi, there’s a word which literally means outsider-insider, but it also references people living abroad or outside of Iran now and those people which have kind of this duality… in an Iranian home there are all these walls and you go inside and there’s a garden. You go inside again and there’s a home and there’s another garden inside. This loft has been such an inspiration being able to look outside but being guarded inside.”

View Talapasand’s site

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