Conceal/Disclose: featuring the paintings of Hagit Barkai and the photographs of Tala Vahabzadeh

Presented by Art League Houston at Art League Houston

May 8-June 19, 2009

Every Body Knows: MIDDAY2Art League Houston is pleased to announce ConcealDisclosean exhibition of paintings by Hagit Barkai and photographs by Tala Vahabzadeh, which will be on view in the ALH project space May 8 through June 19, 2009. The opening reception for the exhibition is Friday, May 8, 2009 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m., with an artist talk by Hagit Barkai at 6:15 p.m.

Both women come from the Middle East, and their works are filtered through the vantage point of personal experience. Although they work with different media, subjects, and approaches, both Vahabzadeh and Barkai deal with issues of concealment and disclosure, hence the title of the exhibition.

Hagit Barkai is from Israel. "Growing up in the ideological atmosphere in a Jewish Settlement Bet El in the West Bank, I was at the center of an increasingly hostile moral and political quarrel, which resulted in extremely defensive attitudes. Part of my education included a rewrite of events and ways of thinking that did not sustain the religious and national convictions while at the same time assuming to hold ideals such as liberalism, democracy and basic human rights. I see this work as creating a visual echo of public discourses that weave a camouflage around such events."

Her paintings focus on public and private demands addressed to the body. Viewing the body as the primary receptacle in which rights are given and removed, and through which histories take place and are understood, Barkai's subjects stand as metaphors for those social imperatives which direct and enforce aspects of identity and self. Through observations of body language, Barkai depicts the body for what it fails to be - how the body refuses to settle into any image or concept that confines and regulates, and how the body can never bridge the gap between its outward appearance and its inner realm of experience.

The series Every Body Knows is deeply informed by Barkai's personal history, and questions the borders, both literally and metaphorically drawn between victimization and victim-hood. Within Every Body Knows are four families of characters - the Blindfold, the Vomiters, the Middays and the Waiters, whose imagery stems from real events which form the basis of the political atmosphere in Israel, including unjustified detainments, public strip-searches, harassments, violence, and torture, all dependent upon a person's identity.

The portraits in Barkai's series Cross attempt to blur the line or "border" between young and old, alive and dead, normal and monstrous. In these, Barkai also demonstrates how the potential of a person, and the threats to that person's body are not so very different things. By creating images of newborns, along with, the dying, deformed or traumatized, the artist constructs a realm inhabited by those no longer fully existing, those not yet fully realized, and those that are for one reason or another considered not to be there at all.

Tala Vahabzadeh's current series of photographs are based on her personal experience of being an Iranian/Muslim woman undercover since she was nine years old. These works seek to show the conflicting worlds of tradition (public life) and modernity (personal life) and the effect this conflict has in the lives of contemporary women in Iran. Through simple, fairy tale like stories, Vahabzadeh uses the image of the veil in both its traditional iconic sense, and as a metaphor of the lack of freedom. Herself as subject, Vahabzadeh uses various props and arrangements, and different printing processes to create the appropriate ambience and atmosphere needed to expose the meaning behind her untitled pieces. In one work, the fully veiled Vahabzadeh perches high in the branches of a tree.

The image of a woman as a bird is based on a common joke in Iran that compares a woman wearing full veil to a black crow. In another photograph, the artist is hunched down, surrounded by greenery, as though in a garden. Again fully veiled, she munches on an apple, and on top of her head she wears a mask, which depicts the typical face of innocence in Persian Miniatures. As one might guess, this photo is a metaphor for Eve and the original sin. By not covering her face with the mask, Vahabzadeh asserts herself as a normal woman, who like any other woman is not that innocent, and is subject to on occasion doing "wrong" things.

Vahabzadeh says "These photographs are a representation of how I feel about being forced to cover myself and how in constantly being physically censored, I both consciously and unconsciously apply that censorship to my personal life."

Hagit Barkai is from Israel and currently lives in Houston. She attended The Jerusalem Studio School and the Maryland Institute College of Art, and has a B.A. in Philosophy from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an M.F.A. from Penn State University, School of the Visual Arts. Her work has shown at venues that include the Susquehanna Art Museum and the State Museum in Harrisburg, PA, Penn State University in State College, PA, and Crane Arts in Philadelphia, among others. In the summer of 2009 she will be in an exhibition organized by MFANow entitled Identity, Self, which travels to New York, Los Angeles, and Beijing.

Among her awards are a 2008 CAA Professional Development Fellowship Award, 2007 First Place for the Visual Arts in University-Wide Research Exhibition, and a Penn State University Graduate Student Travel Grant to Israel.

Tala Vahabzadeh is from Tehran, Iran and currently lives in Houston, Texas. She received a Bachelors in Photography from the University of Tehran and is a Masters Candidate in Photography/Digital Media at the University of Houston. While living in Tehran she worked as a commercial photographer for an advertising and industrial photography company, and also assisted on a major documentary photography project that focused on the historical monuments of Iran. She has exhibited her work in both Houston and Tehran, at venues that include the University of Tehran, The University of Houston, Lawndale Art Center, Commerce Street Artists' Warehouse and Lone Star College, among others.

This project is funded in part by a grant from the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance. This project is funded in part by Texas Commission on the Arts. This project is also funded in part by the Houston Endowment, Inc., The Brown Foundation, and the Wortham Foundation.

ABOUT ART LEAGUE HOUSTON: Art League Houston is one of Houston's longest operating non-profit visual arts organizations and was the first alternative art space in Texas. Founded in 1948 and incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1953, Art League Houston (ALH) was created to promote the public appreciation of and interest in the visual arts. During the past 61 years, ALH has provided over 760 exhibitions to the Houston community, showcased the work of nearly 22,200 artists, and instructed over 35,000 students through the Art League School and Outreach Program. OUR MISSION The mission of Art League Houston is to cultivate awareness, appreciation, and accessibility of contemporary visual art within the community for its cultural enrichment. Art League Houston provides an opportunity for all members of the community to experience the contemporary visual arts. We achieve our mission through exhibitions, education and outreach programs.

Art League Houston acknowledges the following private foundations and corporations for their support this season: Laurie and Kevin Foxx and Aqua Foxx Productions, Houston Endowment, Inc., Brown Foundation, Inc., Eleanor and Frank Freed Foundation, John P. McGovern Foundation, Mrs. Katherine McGovern, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Oshman Foundation, Target, and the Wortham Foundation, Inc. Art League Houston also wishes to thank its many generous individual donors for their support.

Pictured:  Hagit Barkai, detail Midday3. H60×W36 inches, oil on canvas, 2007.