Aphrodite Désirée Navab: Landmines of Memory
January 16 – April 11, 2021
Aphrodite Navab is an Iranian-born, New York-based artist whose work mines her Iranian, Greek, and American heritage to explore its competing histories and politics and its impact on her personal identity.
Created while Navab was an Addison Edward E. Elson Artist-in-Residence, this series of ink drawings is inspired by her brother, Alexander Navab, who graduated from Phillips Academy in 1983, and who passed away unexpectedly in 2019. As Navab explored the campus her older brother once traversed, she discovered an outdoor circular seating area comprised of 11 large stones as well as the Cochran bird sanctuary. From her meanderings, two cultural touchstones emerged: the Labyrinth and the patience stone. Referencing the ancient Greek myth in which the princess Ariadne gives her lover Theseus a ball of thread so that he can escape from the Labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur, Navab equates drawing with the cathartic act of retracing one’s steps. Using line as a thread of memory, she links past to present, and interrogates her demons and heroes. In Persian folklore, the stone of patience is a magical black stone that absorbs the confessions of those who confide in it—much like paper absorbs the marks of the artist. It is believed that one day the stone will explode, overflowing with the secrets that it keeps. In this sequence of drawings, the patience stone is a labyrinth housing Navab’s stories of exile and migration, rupture and suture, loss and survival. As the series progresses, the stone--rather than disintegrating--transforms into a crow, suggesting metamorphosis, reinvention, and unfettered flight.
Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Elizabeth and Anthony Enders Exhibitions Fund. The artist’s 2019 residency was supported by Joseph Bae (PA 1990, P '21, '23) and the Edward E. Elson Artist-in-Residence Fund.