In organizing the first two exhibitions celebrating the UConn Reads program, the permanent collection of the William Benton Museum of Art offered many works of art that connected thematically with that year’s book selection.
The Benton’s permanent collection contains a number of works that provided historical perspective on the gender-based oppression issues raised in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It also includes a wide range of art created during the 1920s that reflected F. Scott Fitzgerald’s themes of wealth, widespread urbanization, and modernity in The Great Gatsby.
This year’s selection for UConn Reads, the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, posed a challenge for Carla Galfano ’05 (SFA), ’11 MA, assistant curator at the Benton, who organized the current exhibit, “Persepolis: Word & Image.”
Galfano says that while the museum’s holdings did not quite match the content of the book – which deals with, among other things, the experience of a young woman growing up at the time of the Islamic Revolution – the art itself offers a strong visual link to Persepolis, as a graphic novel.
“Instead of focusing on the content of the book, we focused on the format,” Galfano says. “We looked at works that feature text [as well as images], because this combination of text and image is interesting and also is pervasive in art. Many contemporary Iranian artists use text because calligraphy is such an important part of the culture.”
Drawing strong visual art from the Benton collection, the exhibition includes a wide variety of works. ranging from 15th-century illustration and woodcuts to 19th-century lithography and 21st-century mixed media art created for the exhibition.
The pieces in the exhibition were created by an international array of artists, including Iranian artists who lived through the time of the Iranian Revolution. Works by artists born in Iran include:
- “Life in Iran” by Ardeshir Mohassess, reproductions of five line drawings on loan from the U.S. Library of Congress created in the post-revolution period 1976 to 1978.
- “Recess of a Journey #1 and #2,” paintings by Afarin Rahmanifar ’96 MFA, an art professor at Eastern Connecticut State University. Galfano says her paintings “are like decoupage, with layers both of her own drawings and cutouts, and she draws or prints over them.”
- “Grid 34 and Grid 35,” two ink and acrylic on paper works adhered to wood panels by Hadieh Shafie, who lives in Baltimore and created the art for the Benton exhibition. In other work by the artist included in the show, the Farsi word for “love/passion” is written on paper that she has tightly rolled into scrolls. “She was influenced by texts being banned or hidden,” Galfano says. “She was rolling up paper and stuffing them into holes into the floor.”
- “Entropy 17 and 18,” two paintings by Pouran Jinchi, on loan from the Leila Heller Gallery in New York City, that are a colorful swirling cluster of calligraphy on canvas.
- Two photographs by Shirin Nashat, one of the most widely acclaimed of all contemporary Iranian artists, that depict photos of women with Persian texts on their faces and bodies.
Also in the exhibition is “No Names #1-#4,” a watercolor and typeset text on paper series by Deborah Dancy, UConn professor of art and art history in the School of Fine Arts.
Among the works from the Benton collection are “Petroselinum petersilgen,” a hand-colored woodcut on laid paper from 1485 that is an illustration from a gardening book by Johann Wonnecke von Kaub; a series of World War II era cartoons by William Gropper that were published in The Daily Worker, the Communist Party USA newspaper; “The Institution of Passover,” a color woodcut by Anton Koberger from the Koberger Ninth German Bible in 1483; and “Building a Walled City,” a woodcut on laid paper by Jean Dupre, from “La Mer des Histoires” in 1491.
“Persepolis: Word & Image” will continue at the William Benton Museum of Art through March 16. Three programs addressing the exhibition will also take place: Feb. 12, 12:30 p.m., an Artist Talk with Afarin Rahmanifar; Feb. 28, 5 to 7 p.m., The Salon at The Benton: Art & Conversation; and March 4, 12:30 p.m., Gallery Talk in French with docent Nancy Silander. For more information, go to the Benton Museum website.