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Cheryl Haines’s Magic Carpet Ride

The renowned gallerist assembles an international roster of artists working in an unlikely medium.

SLIDESHOW

Shiva Ahmadi

(1 of 4)

Jeffrey Gibson

(2 of 4)

Hank Willis Thomas

(3 of 4)

Ala Ebtekar

(4 of 4)

 

Don’t call them prayer rugs. Sanctuary, the latest public installation from Cheryl Haines and her For-Site Foundation—which previously organized the massive Ai Weiwei Alcatraz takeover @Large and last year’s Home Land Security show at Fort Scott—includes 36 rugs made by artists from 21 countries, laid out across the floor of the Fort Mason chapel. Each artist (including Ai) painted, designed, or screen-printed a four-by-six foot rug that was then colored and handwoven in Pakistan. And though many of the participating artists hail from the Middle East—President Trump’s proposed travel ban was the initial inspiration for the exhibition—Haines and company are insistent that the works aren’t meant to symbolize religion. Rather, they’re individualized meditations on the meaning of sanctuary. We asked a few of the participating artists to reflect on their designs. Oct. 7–Mar. 11, 2018

Shiva Ahmadi
Having grown up in Iran during the revolution and the Iran-Iraq War, Ahmadi, a 42-year-old El Cerrito–based painter, understands what failed leadership can do to civic peace. In her design, Ahmadi eschewed traditional Persian floral and ornamental patterns, focusing instead on a central and startling image drawn from memories of her childhood: a bomb-wielding king sitting atop a throne. “Instead of offering peace and prosperity, he’s offering bombs and blood,” Ahmadi says. “It’s about a leader who, instead of helping people, is offering more war.

Jeffrey Gibson
“The only way out is through,” Gibson says of the current political moment. Gibson, 45, is a Choctaw-Cherokee descendant from New York whose art runs the gamut from intricate Native American bead designs to computergenerated patterns like this one. His colorful, geometric piece is intentionally loud. “The exuberance,” he says, “comes from a place of not wanting to give in to a sense of victimhood—just having a very active voice in the face of something that can otherwise stop you in your tracks.”

Hank Willis Thomas
In 1967, the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the first African American member of Congress, famously told his supporters to “Keep the faith, baby.” That’s the sentiment that Thomas, a 41-year-old Brooklyn artist (who attended CCA in Oakland) and cofounder of the artist-run For Freedoms super PAC, wants people to remember. “It’s about being heard during times of fear and uncertainty that a lot of people feel now,” Thomas says. “There’s a need to look beyond your circumstances.”

Ala Ebtekar
Ebtekar’s “paradise garden” design incorporates the traditional Persian rug theme of four earthly spaces connected by a central medallion representing the celestial world. Ebtekar, a 39-year-old Iranian American and a visiting professor of art and art history at Stanford, was inspired for this design by the 14th-century poet Hafez and his writings on the symmetry between the physical and celestial worlds. “I really like that idea where you come in, you take off your shoes, you actually sit with it,” Ebtekar says of Sanctuary. “You can have a conversation there.”

 

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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