Born in New York, as a child Mark Shetabi lived for five years in Tehran, Iran. His family returned to the United States in 1979, on the eve of the Iranian Revolution. The experience of being between cultures is an enduring subtext of his artistic practice.
The Ambassadors is based on Shetabi’s examination of cultural, architectural, and geopolitical models. The exhibition explores shifts in scale, time, and realities, whisking the viewer between (partially hypothetical) misty aerial views of New York City and Isfahan, Iran. An alternate reality of lower Manhattan is imagined in a dream-like painting based on an architectural model by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Dirigibles and 747’s fly between the worlds of East and West.
The vantage point for observation is of paramount importance in all the work, as is the degree of clarity or fog that mediates the visual experience. In his sculptural work, Shetabi frequently uses security peephole lenses as a way to create a dialogue between public and private space. The Rapture is a model of a futuristic gas station containing a hidden bomb shelter/panic room.
The painting Ahmadabad (Ghost) memorializes the unmarked tomb of the former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. He was secretly buried under his kitchen floor years after being deposed in a CIA-engineered coup in 1953. Signifying the link between one’s culture and native food, Shetabi’s painting of an ordinary colander takes on added significance.
Shetabi’s palette at first appears to be monochromatic, but subtly shifts between varying tones of tan, grey and white. The palette operates as a lense, focusing between what is remembered, imagined or possible.