Teen Art Group organizes online exhibit at ISU of Iranian-born artist

ISU News

A Nazafarin Lotfi photo called “Transit, 2020” (Photo courtesy of Nazafarin Lotfi).

University Galleries of Illinois State University presents Nazafarin Lotfi: Subtle Time as an online exhibition. This exhibition is organized by the Teen Art Group at University Galleries.

Nazafarin Lotfi: Subtle Time presents 20 recent sculptures, drawings, and photographs, and premieres two performance videos created since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rooted in her experiences of growing up in post-Revolutionary Iran and continuing her education and artistic practice as an immigrant in the United States, Lotfi’s works address temporal and physical displacement, the ambiguity of borders, and the disruption of expectations placed on individual bodies. 

She writes, “In all the different work that I do, there is an urgent need to create space, to open up the boundaries, and to complicate borders.” For example, her recent paintings are based on her research on stylized forms in Islamic world maps and, in her words, ways to “map psychological landscapes drawn from lived experience.”

Meanwhile, the geometric forms in Lotfi’s colored-pencil drawings are derived from the floor plans and architectural details of her own home, as well as those of her family and friends living internationally. Rather than creating representational drawings of specific locations, she addresses memories of space through her process of cutting shapes, combining portions and angles, and collapsing indoor and outdoor distinctions.

View the exhibition Nazafarin Lotfi: Subtle Time.

Composed of papier-mâché, found objects, and layered graphite, Lotfi’s sculptures offer surprising relationships between positive and negative space, interior and exterior, lightness and heaviness. They evidence the physical touch of the artist, recall the forms of boulders and other geological formations, and serve as an extension of one’s body in space.

Lotfi takes this idea beyond the studio, often carrying the deceptively lightweight sculptures through parks, lifting them near monuments, rolling them through crosswalks, and sitting next to them on bus stop benches, as ways to engage people in public.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lotfi has begun making performative videos of her walks through the desert near her Tucson home. In the 10-minute videos, the artist individually walks through the landscape, navigating terrain and wildlife, but never encountering another human—the epitome of social distancing.

She evidences gaining a deeper understanding of a place, while also providing a portal to a new landscape for so many who are sheltering-in-place in cities worldwide.

While she was a fall 2019 visiting artist in the Wonsook Kim School of Art, Lotfi presented her work to the Teen Art Group. She has been working remotely with the group and University Galleries’ staff since that time.  The Teen Art Group interviewed Nazafarin Lotfi

The Teen Art Group was founded in 2018 at University Galleries by director and chief curator Kendra Paitz, with support from the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation—Mirza Arts and Culture Fund. Each academic year, 15 students from Bloomington High School participate in professional development activities, take a field trip to Chicago, and curate an exhibition. The 2019–2020 cohort was led by Paitz; Monica Estabrook, Bloomington High School art teacher; and Tanya Scott, University Galleries’ curator of education.

The group visited the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park; participated in art-making workshops, meetings, and exhibition tours at University Galleries; attended an artist lecture by Nazafarin Lotfi; curated this exhibition of Lotfi’s work; interviewed the artist; and developed ideas for educational workshops.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group’s last three meetings were conducted via Zoom and this exhibition transitioned to an online format. The 2019–2020 Teen Art Group was supported by a grant from the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation—Mirza Arts and Culture Fund.

Teen Art Group participants in 2019-2020 included Brianna Berndt, Jeremiah Berndt, Grace Bingley, Ellie Braun, Katya Cline, Darrell Cope, Joshua Dahmm, Lydia Fisher, Aspen Goss, Kasia Jankowiak, Grace Marcy, Kathryn Novotny, Korynne Russell, Maddison Satterfeal, and Jeremy Swanson.

Nazafarin Lotfi was born in Mashhad, Iran, and is currently based between Chicago and Tucson, Arizona. She received both her MFA and her Post-Baccalaureate certificate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her B.A. from University of Tehran.