On September 21, 2019 I had the privilege of attending the gallery opening for recent PCA graduates Mina Asgari and Archie Chekatouski. These two artists collaborated with jewelry designer Laura Essayie and the new fashion brand SCHANDANI to present the event, entitled “Unapologetically Innocent”.
Mina works in black henna, a medium she uses to dye her hair. While dying her hair one day she noticed the black dots from the henna powder on the floor of her bathroom and on her body. She was particularly aware of this after going to her home in Iran and hearing her father talk about the invasive pollen that was moving through the gardens in their city. This pollen spreading from the invasive plant was killing the local plants, and it was her father’s job to protect them. So, when she saw a similar pattern in her bathroom of how the black henna was spreading like pollen and trying to contaminate her bathroom and herself, she was inspired to explore deeper. Seeing the organic beauty and chaos it caused inspired her to begin working with the medium and pushing it to its limits while recognizing the connection of the natural pollen and the natural dye, henna. She began this study during her senior year at PCA, developing her art in this medium in many different ways. Tonight, we were able to see where she left off at PCA and what she has created since.
She explained to me that the piece from her senior project is one of many. They all started the same: same size papers with the same size henna pile in the middle of each. She would have people nearby come and blow the henna around that paper. What is amazing and surprising to me is how different each piece turns out when all that changed was the performer. From there she lets the henna sit for 3-4 days. Then she removes the henna and has her drawing. Now since leaving PCA she has continued her studies of drawing with henna. She explained to me that she now draws her image, letting the henna sit anywhere between 2-5 days, which changes the intensity of the mark. She explained to me that she has discovered that the change in temperature changes the colors in her work as well. When you look at her work you will see some have a purple hue to them and others will have a warmer red/ pink hue, while in her original work it was more of a brown/tan hue mixed with grey and black.
In her new collection, she draws beautiful artwork with the henna as if it was sand art. Letting it sit for a few days, she then wipes away the dust leaving a beautiful mark of a swan or a mountain. Another new element she has added is going back into her work after it has set and been cleared of the dust, to add more henna and letting that sit longer. You can see this in her work where the black dots remind us of birds flocking in the sky. This beautiful chaos that they cause us to feel bring Mina back to her original inspiration for working with this medium: the black dots on her bathroom floor and the pollen that covered the plants.
These images are so powerful and as she explained to me, are so important to look at both sides of her work as the henna stains completely through, creating another drawing on the other side. Mina also explained to me how important it is to her to use a natural medium like henna. She feels a great responsibility to the earth which is also why she uses recycled paper for her drawings. All of her work is on recycled paper as to not create extra waste on the planet. She emphasizes how important and powerful it is to take something as common but necessary as paper and a natural material used as a common beauty product in Iran and by combining the two, she can make a beautiful and powerful focal point in a room.
When I had the privilege to speak with Archie, he expressed similar responsibilities as Mina had expressed to respect the planet. He uses found objects–everyday, mundane objects–and makes them the focal point. Tonight, he worked with stackable green chairs, something very common to see at a function like this, but stacked in an unnatural way. Creating a confusing, eye-catching piece. He compared the chair to the human body: numerous and able to be found anywhere, so common we don’t really pay much attention to them. But when they are intertwined in an unnatural way, out in public to be seen by anyone, they are transformed into a work of art. That is what he has created tonight. It was beautiful and simple, but not. I also appreciated his accidental use of green chairs. He was simply using objects that already existed in the space creating a “green” work of art, but he also created a literally green work of art.
“Unapologetically Innocence” was an example of the beauty of artistic collaboration. When I learned more about the jewelry and fashion that accompanied Mina and Archie’s work tonight, I learned how organic and sustainable their pieces were as well. The have created a natural and responsible collection to not only be enjoyed by the crowds but also underlying education and influence for a responsible lifestyle. It was very inspiring to see PCA graduates curating their own artwork into a successful gallery show. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we can’t wait to see what they create next.
Written by Ann Dahlman, Class of ’21 MFA Drawing