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    Galleries | Cate McQuaid

    Thinking very big at AMALGAM

    “Asleep” is among the works by the Safarani sisters that engage Iranian societal prohibitions, Western art history, and reflections about identity.
    “Asleep” is among the works by the Safarani sisters that engage Iranian societal prohibitions, Western art history, and reflections about identity.

    Bahareh and Farzaneh Safarani, identical twin sisters from Iran, produce big, classically painted canvases overlaid with video projections. They have a show organized by Olivia Ives-Flores in a lovely gallery space at AMALGAM, a branding and digital marketing agency.

    At 27, the Safarani sisters are skilled painters, and they employ video with remarkable restraint. The biggest paintings, more than 13 feet across, replace monumentality’s tendency toward preening self-importance with quiet immanence. The works depict women in softly lit interiors: Farzaneh paints the women: Bahareh models, and paints the interiors.

    The works craftily engage Iranian societal prohibitions, Western art history, and contemporary reflections about identity.

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    Black fabric here symbolizes the hijab. Often fluttering and veil-like, it’s both revealing and protective. In Iran, interiors are a women’s realm. The paintings invite us inside a place fraught with political projections and cultural taboos. Pale light from windows and the figures’ inward turn make it a holy place, filled with whispers and ghosts.

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    In “Asleep,” a woman lies on the floor beneath a window, a black cloth wrapping her torso. Video projection stirs the curtains. Water dapples the floor, and the shadow of another figure steps over the woman.

    Reclining Middle Eastern women are emblematic of the male gaze in Western art, but “Asleep” is the size of a history painting. At this scale, we expect to see warriors and kings, agents of change and power. Instead, here’s a sleeping woman, and the shadowy hints of her dreams. She is more subject than object. The interiors are only the first stage of the internal domains depicted here.

    The slippery, compelling animated shadows suggest an inner life or the presence of another. In “Pause,” a woman stands by a window, and a shadow passes outside. Is it someone else, or another self? Despite the solidity of flesh, identity is porous. That could be frightening, but in the elegantly wrought art of these identical twins, it’s simply the mysterious way of things.

    SANCTUARY: A SOLO EXHIBITION WITH THE SAFARANI SISTERS

    At AMALGAM, 338 Newbury St., 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, through Feb. 10. 646-269-8909, www.oholivecreative.com

    Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.