Conditions of Longing: Golnar Adili in the Studio

April 17, 2015 by


01-20150413-golnar-adili-007“I grew up between two places and parents—always missing someone.”

Multimedia artist and Legacy resident Golnar Adili grew up in Tehran after the Iranian Revolution, a tumultuous political climate that left her stranded between two parents—one in Iran and one in the United States. A leftist writer, thinker, and activist, her father was forced into exile soon after the revolution and eventually came to the U.S., where he lived out his life. Due to tenuous Iran-U.S. relations, her mother’s multiple attempts to immigrate to the States failed.

“This is the core of my longing . . . I was always reaching for my father,” Golnar says. “He had to leave us. All these remainings that I’m dealing with echo that landscape of longing and separation.”

Golnar mines her parents’ vast archives of photographs, documents, and letters to extract symbols of physical and emotional separation. Drawing from a background in architecture and working across various media, she interprets these motifs in tactile, sculptural forms that continually reference the body and domestic space.

Hanging in the WSW gallery is a small collection of these archival fragments: the airplane logo from her father’s ticket to the U.S. rendered three-dimensionally, cast in plaster and emerging from a pillow; her mother’s two passport photos from the first years of the revolution, reproduced larger-than-life on a quilt; an image of Golnar’s bare chest, the heart of her longing, deconstructed and reassembled in terracing planes of paper.

During her residency, Golnar is exploring screen printing and Persian poetry, a longtime interest which she found scattered throughout her father’s letters. Her newest works meditate on the tension between verbs throughout “Saman Bouyan” (loosely translated as “Jasmine-scented ones,” referring to how the wise are said to smell), which is a classical poem by fourteenth century Sufi mystic Hafez. Each stanza of the poem is a meditation on life organized around a central wordplay between two verbs, at times similar and at times contradicting.
03-20150401-golnar-adili-092“’When the jasmine-scented ones sit, they settle the dust of sadness,’” Golnar translates the opening line of the poem, an image of rest that captivates her. “Sitting and settling stem from the same root. Sometimes, the verbs are very close in form; sometimes they’re identical, but evoke different meanings in separate lines.”

For each verb pair, Golnar crafts a design that describes their linguistic interaction. She then strips the words of their traditional calligraphy to render them in pixelated forms. Using light gray ink, she silkscreens a constellation of each verb on separate sheets of translucent Japanese paper, which are superimposed to create a layered pattern of the verbs’ relationship.10-20150413-golnar-adili-005


Sitting and settling alternate and overlap with ghostly impressions. On its own, Settling repeats through four layers of tissue, fading and blurring like dust. Two more pairs—to bind and to be bound, and to quarrel and to rob—are staggered and stacked in cascading diagonal waves that mimic the tension of their actions.

Their resulting patterns can’t help but reference the rich history of Islamic mosaics and calligraphy, yet their clinical rendering also alienates them from this tradition. The tension between past and present, between words and their multiple meanings, evokes the longing and separation inherent in Golnar’s story and practice. Layered light gray on delicate tissue, the words seem to evade knowing.

Golnar’s time at WSW is only a small part of her life’s work to unravel and decode her identity. “Longing is living with something that’s not there, constantly missing someone,” she says. “This is my condition. I have to work with it. Art for me is processing and healing. It’s my own personal history, but what is there that’s not universal? It’s about loss and love, death and healing.”08-20150413-golnar-adili-017

Golnar Adili studied architecture at the University of Michigan before receiving a grant that allowed her to pursue a more conceptual artistic practice. She has been awarded residencies at The MacDowell Colony, The Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, and the Lower East Side Printshop, among others. Golnar lives and works in New York City. See more of her work at