Mahshid Rafiei: Of Mythic Proportions

5 February - 8 May
10:00 - 20:00

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Mahshid Rafiei: Of Mythic Proportions

The first solo exhibition presenting the work of Mahshid Rafiei, Of Mythic Proportions is a large-scale installation of five newly commissioned works. This installation, which takes up the entire space in Gallery 1, suggests that illusion is not the antithesis of truth but a co-conspirator, guiding us in a world of loss. Of Mythic Proportions includes sculptures and sound pieces where elements are intentionally hidden to offer a deceptive reading, and asks us to consider how art provides a stand-in for what might be missing. 


Through this play on illusion and perception, Rafiei explores the myth of origin and the aesthetic processes of its conservation. One of Mahshid Rafiei’s inspirations for this exhibition was a 19th-century poem by a Bedouin woman. To assuage the grief of a she-camel in her flock who had lost a calf, she inflated the skin of the camel’s dead baby, so that the animal might believe it was still alive.


Rafiei’s work draws on long periods of research into fields such as language and conservation practices, and the relationship between heritage and nationhood. She worked with scholars and practitioners based in the UAE to learn about the conservation of earthen architecture in the region. Through these interactions, the artist tested the fiction of conservation practices: houses are often venerated as heritage sites but their walls are usually rebuilt with new material and recycled original matter. This observation is brought into the gallery space with a sound piece projecting the calls of endangered regional and migratory animals. In the absence of sound, a speaker spits. Water slowly drips onto the wall, causing damage to seep throughout the exhibition. The wall, however, stays put; its fine, smooth facade is not load-bearing, but merely an exterior hiding the organ-like workings of the building––the air-conditioning, the plumbing, the electrics––that allow the pleasant climate-controlled atmosphere of 421 to function. 


In another work, Minor Witnesses, a ladder placed on top of a mirror leads to a salt-encrusted form where Rafiei will routinely place dead flies. The placement of the insects references Old Master paintings, where flies represented decay, death, and melancholia. Here, rather than present an image, she has included the real thing, collected in fly-traps; a real death rather than a metaphor. 


Elsewhere, the idea of representation is deliberately toyed with. The sculpture chora imagines the possibility of reflection where there is no one available to see it: silver nitrate has been applied to the exterior surface of a glass sphere to create what Rafiei describes as a mirror folded in on itself, ad infinitum


Accompanying the exhibition is a publication that further explores the fiction of a pure or single-source reality. As part of the 421 mission to support knowledge production, Rafiei collaborated with scholar and translator Rana Issa  to explore how language inherently undermines the narratives constructed around its perceived “purity,” and where such origin stories recur in conservation practices. The publication will be available to view as part of the exhibition. 


This exhibition is a result of the 421 Artistic Development Exhibition Program, which is organized in collaboration with pedagogical partner The Institute of Emerging Art. Of Mythic Proportions is the inaugural presentation of the 2023 edition of the program. 


Photography by Ismail Noor, Seeing Things. 

About the artist 

Mahshid Rafiei's (b. 1992, Tehran) work considers the ways a process, a material and an image can become so inextricable that they ossify projections of a prejudiced imaginary. Her work has been exhibited at Fri Art Kunsthalle, Fribourg (2018); and Rheum Room, Basel (2018); among other spaces. Collaborative and discursive projects have been hosted at Mercer Union, Toronto (2020); Temporary Art Review, online (2016); and Knockdown Centre, New York (2013). She participated in March Meeting at Sharjah Art Foundation (2019) and has held residencies at Darling Foundry, Montreal (2021), Warehouse421, Abu Dhabi (2020) and Spring Sessions, Amman (2019).


Download the press kit for the Winter 2023 Program: RE/COLLECT THIS here

Download the children's In-Gallery Activity Guide here