Material Forces: a Visit with Parvin Peivandi

Jennifer Cane

In her BAF residency studio, Parvin Peivandi offers me apples and Persian sweets. As we chat she hauls a large bag from beneath a table, unzipping to reveal bundles of raw wool, dyed with natural materials that surprise me with their electric hues. “Smell it”, she says. I take in the lanolin, grass and earth smells as she tells me about her early life in Mashhad, in Northeastern Iran, and the exploration of her family’s background in textiles, one she didn’t know too much about until recently. While already pursuing an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a focus in Fibre Studies, she discovered that her Great-Grandparents were master carpetmakers who exported their products to Europe more than 100 years ago. Her Grandmother, she learned, started weaving carpets when she was only eight years old.

She discusses this exploration of her ancestry as a process she undertook “without shame”, which has me thinking of the social hierarchies associated with different categories of labour. Even though the art of carpetmaking has a history of 2500 years in Iran, the socio-economic position of a carpetmaker, she tells me, is low. Looking at one work of patched rug pieces on a scaffolding of steel, we talk about the history of the materials, the allegorical tensions of bends and folds, the ruptures between one life and another, and the life of the objects themselves. Peivandi’s first years in Vancouver were spent working as a security guard at the Vancouver Art Gallery, an experience which often made her think of her own self and body as an object within space. Other times she felt invisible and part of the building. I can’t help but think of the place of the rug as part of the room as she describes these states of objectification and enmeshment. Her study of art and viewership over this time, standing quietly in the corner of a gallery, has offered her unique insight into the spaces of an object’s reverence.

The wool we’re running our hands through is from one of the small villages Peivandi visits when returning back to Iran for short periods. She works with craftspeople in harvesting and dyeing, coming back with her suitcases stuffed with raw wool and scraps of worn out tribal rugs which are incorporated into her work. We discuss the value of objects made for the economy of the home, in the service of the family, and the low value placed on things made in rural places. Situating her work within the space of contemporary art and craft, Peivandi has spent much of her time doing research about new materialism and learning specific processes, from jacquard weaving to kilim, and extensive work with metal, which has a 5000-year old tradition in Iran dating back to the Mesopotamian era. She relates her joy in learning the skills, feeling proximity as she learns the specific language of each material. She cites a wide range of traditions, from Persian geometric abstraction to the minimalism of the Western art cannon.

Her works are all around us, bent and folded metal edges layered with pieced and patched fibre works, carpet sections, felted bursts, and thinner, screen-printed lengths of cotton. One work in particular keeps drawing me back in, with a central motif of embroidered patches, young girls dancing in a circle on a worn, elaborately-designed rug that moves into space at the edges of its precisely-folded metal backing. Thoughts of the material conditions of the makers of the rugs, and Peivandi’s ancestors, contrast with the play of the girls, making me think of her process in uncovering and elevating the history of her family, and the so-called decorative arts.

“Whether we are humans, animals or objects, we have aggressive forces acting upon us. I am interested in making abstract works to carry these narratives”, she says, “Minimalism cannot exist when we understand the story of the materials – there is sweat, blood, pain and suffering in their production alone”.  Then our conversation turns to pride in work, the voice of craft and the care of the family again, and then to the privilege of our place in time to discuss in her studio on this day, eating apples.

Parvin Peivandi’s exhibition Returning Tenderly Triumphant at Burrard Arts Foundation opens September 9.

Jennifer Cane is a curator and writer. She is the Director/Curator of the Burnaby Art Gallery, where she has produced numerous exhibitions and publications. Holding a BFA in Art History from Concordia University and an MA in Art History – Critical and Curatorial Studies from the University of British Columbia, her past research interests have included the cultural and material histories associated with labour. She was a recipient of the “Award of Outstanding Achievement in Exhibitions” from the Canadian Museums Association for her co-curated exhibition “Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads.” She has curated and co-curated exhibitions that have toured throughout Canada, including the Or Gallery (Vancouver), Yukon Arts Centre (Whitehorse), Nanaimo Art Gallery, and the Musée des Arts de Sherbrooke, Quebec. She lives with gratitude in the ancestral and unceded territories of the Qayqayt Nation.