Northern California picks from Christopher Alam

Cliff Notes

Each week our regional Cliff Notes columnists Christopher AlamSharon ArnoldDemian DinéYazhi’, and Angella d’Avignon pick the most exciting events and exhibitions on the West Coast.

Altered Perception: Sarah Hotchkiss, Lordy Rodriguez, and Susie Taylor
ICA San Jose, San Jose, CA
March 31 to August 13

This pick is a tribute to British artist Bridget Riley and her geometrical style that helped advance the Op Art (optical art) movement. Three Bay Area artists in this tradition display pieces in color and monochrome. Each challenges us to question our perception of reality, or to confront the distortions that we overlook or refuse to see. I especially enjoy these pieces for being what I perceive as nonrepresentational art that is suggestive of figurative art.

Maybe I’ve just been surrounded by the right-angles of a city for too long now, but in viewing this artwork I can’t help but trace a maze of roads, intimidating towers, and bold textiles seen in a glance on the sidewalk. The modernist style developed in this environment, but these works also point out the universality of geometry beyond our vision. From minerals and maps to the growth of molds and refracted light, all things take on a shape perceptible and imperceptible to our senses that nonetheless affects our experience of it.  

Reflection: What is your relationship with your own sight — do you consider what you can’t truly see?

Sameh Khalatbari: 1401 N m2 Resistance
Modernism, San Francisco, CA
May 18 to July 1

This exhibition is a reaction to the killing of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran over the way she wore her hijab.

This event last year triggered a revolution that is ongoing today — an aspect of which has been the art Iranians are making on the themes of feminism, morality, solidarity, and state-sanctioned violence. Khalatbari focuses on the symbol of hair to join the outcry of Iranian people over the injustice they are facing and to bring awareness to as many people as possible.

Typically working in acrylic paints, Khalatbari decides to use natural hair and fibers over hand stretched canvases for this series. She says this approach evokes actual women’s hair and the grassroots origins of the movement. Similar to the artists at ICA San Jose, the technique also suggests geometric constructs and “interwovenness” in our cities, societies, and bodies.

This is emphasized in the four black works in this series, each named after an Iranian city that saw intense violence against protestors and clashes with police. The gold threads in these pieces provide an especially powerful contrast that suggests both a snuffed out light and a hopeful “silver” lining. The artist draws an intimate and violent portrait that captures the zeitgeist in a unique way. 

Reflection: Khalatbari shared how they had to be indirect in their artistic depictions out of concerns for her and her family’s safety. Reflect on the stakes involved in creating art, political art, and what those stakes mean to you.

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