Sara Madandar is an Iranian artist based in New Orleans. Her newest project, The Window (2019–ongoing), explores the home—a domestic, familial space—as an extension or embodiment of the individual and as a shelter from the outside world. Madandar’s realist depictions of the women in her family position ‘the window’—alluded to in form, size, and color in some of the works—as a connection to the public sphere that both allows the individual to look out and permits us to inquire within.
Expanding across the first two rooms of The Front gallery on St. Claude are five paintings and a video installation that commemorate the women in Madandar’s family and memorialize her maternal grandmother, Aziz, who passed away two decades ago in her home in Heev, a small town about an hour outside of Tehran. The project started in 2019 with the video work, In Memory of Aziz, in which Madandar recorded the movement of a lace curtain hanging from a passageway in Aziz’s home. Through the video Madandar attempted to capture a moment she had experienced in the space: a breeze gently moved the lace curtain, and she felt her grandmother’s presence. While Aziz had passed years ago, the space still holds her memory. It is kept alive by those who remembered.
For the installation at The Front, the same curtain has been transported to the gallery and holds additional symbolism that runs throughout the exhibition. As Madandar explores in her statement,
“In Farsi, the word purdah [curtain] has several meanings… As a verb, one can say ‘lifting the purdah’ to mean revealing the truth. As a noun, it can also mean a veil for women’s body and hair… The world’s most embellished metaphor as a noun is its meaning of virginity or the state of being immaculate, and more literally, it also means a woman’s hymen.”
Drawing from her personal experience and cultural heritage, Madandar’s paintings—titled Windows # 1–5 in order of their creation—present the canvas as a curtain and its frame as a window, revealing truths about herself and the women in her family. Window #3 features a detailed interior, with a lush red rug on the floor, a window dressed in a white lace curtain with bars bolted to the exterior. Light is cast across the scene from a window we cannot see that we are presumed to be looking through. On first approach, a portion of the work appear blank; part of a wicker chair positioned just left of center is obscured by a body-shaped void made of raw canvas, hinting at the presence of a figure. On the backside of each canvas, on the other side of the void, Madandar paints portraits of herself, her mother, and her sister, rendered invisibly by the curtain-canvas. However, each frame is lined with LED light strips that slowly illuminate the voids, unveiling the women painted on the reverse. The lighting is triggered by a system that brightens the canvas while darkening the gallery, mimicking that moment at dusk when the light filters through thin window dressings, permitting voyeurs a glance into somebody’s home. As veils lift, visitors are invited to witness unglamorized visions of the women in Madandar’s family.
In Window #2, a rounded arch frames the interior scene featuring a red and gold rug, dark paneling, and a window with a lace curtain. When lit from behind, viewers are presented with a self-portrait of the artist as she breastfeeds her baby boy. Seated on a window ledge, Madandar holds her infant against her bare body, nourishing him. A sheer lace curtain covers a window behind the artist’s non-descript form (the same curtain that hangs from the wall in the next room and is featured in the video work). The artist meets the viewer with her steady gaze—acknowledging our presence and daring a reaction. Madandar’s paintings move us beyond the curtain and explore the relationship between the individual and domestic environments, spaces where women can physically and psychically undress.