Razi Mizrahi operates from the premise that beauty exists because we exist and that it is the responsibility of the artist to notice that beauty and make it meaningful for viewers. With this in mind, she assembles large-scale collages using found objects--the artifacts of human life that may be damaged or worn, but still retain a rich history that Mizrahi exploits in developing the themes of a series of artworks. One inspiration in Mizrahi's collages arises from her self-imposed limitations—primarily the prohibition against using newly manufactured materials. Nearly every element of her assemblages, from frames to wiring, has been culled from cast-offs found by chance in the urban environment. To communicate with viewers through visual messages, often coded and layered, using only the materials she finds by happenstance is not just ecological; the randomness requires discipline, and the serendipity ignites an intellectual tension in Mizrahi's creative processes. In each piece, she must "speak" in a new, unfamiliar language. Thus, every piece on some level reflects the good fortune of adventurous discovery. Each is a testament to the romance of grand coincidences. For Mizrahi, the joy of making art is built in part upon the fortuity of finding visually interesting objects and alluring *cabochon* that spark memories common to us all. Since her earliest days in Berkeley, CA, the materials used in her artworks have been dragged from the streets--increasingly from sites around the world, from New York City to London, from Stockholm to Tel Aviv. Her motivation is to rescue the abandoned, to make relevant what has been deemed obsolete, to reclaim beauty from detritus in compositions that contain humor and tragedy.
Ruins for Zenobia
One of the alluring features of Rome is the co-existence of placid ancient ruins and the dizzying elements of modern city life. Reminders of the city's central role in the once-vibrant Roman Empire are everywhere--in the piazzas and arches, the Forum and the Colosseum, the temples and columns. Yet these architectural remains reflect as much about the durability of these standing structures as they do about the continuity of what is not visible. One piece of Roman history that is overshadowed by the phallic stone tributes to past kings and emperors are the contributions by their female counterparts.
The artworks to be shown in the ArtRooms-Rome are intended to draw our attention to the power of feminine forms by adapting the prototypical male form, the phallus, as the "framing device." The artworks will consist of a series of columns (approx. 120 cm H x 40 cm D) encircled by draped canvases depicting female nudes, each of which is gently imperfect and painted in soft raw colors. As with my previous series of nudes (shown in image attached), the female sensuality, emphasized with thick paint and powerful brush strokes, will be offset by desensualizing objects integrated into the composition, such as chains and gears. One unanswered question presented in this exhibition will be the question one may ask when visiting Rome: How can we understand these opposing forces? Is the tension depicted in the drama of the artwork one of feminine versus masculine; fleshy curvatures of maternal bodies versus the unyielding stance of warriors; new modes of power versus ancient authority; or something else?
Although the paintings will not depict specific individuals, the exhibition is titled for one historical figure who offers a key lesson for understanding women's roles today: Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, who was known for her physical strength, superior intelligence, and beauty. Zenobia claimed to have descended from a great King of Macedonia and lineage from Cleopatra, but her reputation was built upon her own attributes, not those of her ancestors. She was viewed as an upstart, unwilling to conform with the expectations of her male contemporaries, but politically savvy enough to achieve her goals. Yet, Zenobia was not judged on her own terms. Like other female heroes, Zenobia was admired because she compared favorably with men. This gracious yet rebellious leader reminds us how long the standards for human admiration have been oriented around male guidelines. In lauding Zenobia's multilingual fluency, her skills in the field, as well as her appreciation of poetry, one historian noted that this knowledge gave her a "manly understanding" of the world.
The city of Rome, with its tumbling stone facades and worn columns, also gives us a manly understanding of the world, and this exhibition will echo those shapes in small-scale "monuments" to a female perspective on the world.