Roksana Pirouzmand: ‘I was praying at home while you were dying on the streets’

We speak to the Iranian artist, a highlight of the Focus section from Frieze Los Angeles 2023, about her experience as part of the Los Angeles diaspora and making work in the wake of traumatic news from back home

in Frieze Los Angeles , Interviews , Videos | 01 MAR 23
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Born 1990 in Yadz, Iran, Roksana Pirouzmand is a multidisciplinary artist currently living and working in Los Angeles. 

In this video, the artist speaks to us about her new series of ceramic wall works, presented with Murmurs (Los Angeles) for Frieze Los Angeles 2023, the series entitled ‘I was praying at home while you were dying on the streets,’ 2022. These pieces are psychological spaces representing how Pirouzmand feels as an immigrant living far from her birth country, experiencing the news coming out of Iran of the trauma and civil unrest there especially in the wake of the Mahsa Amini protests. These praying and meditating figures that are piled on top of each other, relying on each other’s bodies for support, evoking a sense of longing for connection and relief.

2 ceramic works with women praying/offering har as escape
Roksana Pirouzmand, I was praying at home while you were dying on the streets (1), 2022 Ceramic

Top piece: 9.75 w x 8.25 h x 0.5 d inches, Bottom piece: 10.5 w x 9 h x 0.5 d inches. Copyright The Artist. Courtesy of Murmurs Gallery

The artist explains how these works grew out of her performance pieces, such as the one seen in the video where she activates two physical works installed as part of her 2022 solo show at Murmurs. It would be an oversimplification to consider the wall in the middle of the gallery in The Past Seeps Through the Present as a metaphor for the delineation of a physical border between two countries, and between the past and the present, but it is a place to start when considering her practice. On one side of the wall is a portrait of the artist’s great grandparents who lived in Yazd, Iran, where she was born and lived until 2012. Pirouzmand’s family practiced Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest faiths that originated in Iran but has been supplanted by Islam as the dominant religion. Through immigrating, she swapped her position in a religious minority to be part of an ethnic one. This is just one unintended consequence of diaspora.

In the performance Tapping, Rocking, Remembering, Pirouzmand can be seen pulling hair through a wall, the strands connected to ceramic casts of the artist’s grandmother’s finger on the other side. Hundreds of fingers cover the image of the previous generation, obscuring it while gently stroking its surface: a constant tap on the past that fills up the present. The artist pulls these strands whilst rocking on a chair that belonged to her father. This chair was in his first home in the US, where he spent countless hours, rocking as he ruminated on the pressures facing an immigrant in a new country– joblessness, money worries, the language barrier, family problems. But the chair also contains memories of home, a whole other life left behind. The chair is thus an apparatus of remembering, oscillating between marching forward into the future and being pulled back into the past. As Pirouzmand activates the piece by rocking in the chair, the hairs that fall on her shoulder gingerly pull the fingers so they almost lift up to reveal the image underneath, then refuse, dropping down to hide it once more. Of the piece, the artist has said “My work delineates our family history without betraying its secrets.”

Still from performance pulling hair
Still from performance documentation: Roksana Pirouzmand, Tapping, Rocking, Remembering, 2022, courtesy of Murmurs Gallery. Videographer: Aaron Farley. 

In her practice, Pirouzmand has charted a journey through intertwined layers of history, using only a few materials that are notable in their fragility – gossamer thin strands of hair and brittle clay – presented in precarious arrangements that remind us of the unsettled person who is pulled between two countries, languages, religions. She is constantly resisting the erasure of her past while attempting to move forward into her future.

In-video: Footage of Roksana Pirouzmand, Tapping, Rocking, Remembering, 2022, courtesy of Murmurs Gallery. Videographer: Aaron Farley.