When Pretty Hurts: Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s Depictions of Daily Confrontation

There’s a feeling of unrest in Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s work. It takes the form of twisting and turning strokes, flattened, into layers upon layers of translucent media that seem to perpetuate out of the paper from which they seep. In no more than two dimensions, a viewer finds incredible depth.

What Ilchi has done, these movements, render a more precise portrayal of the subconscious than of the figures and landscapes that comprise her illustrative narratives. Her paintings somberly remind a viewer that every moment has its layers, and every scene is embroidered by a powerful inner dialogue, and, that sometimes this inner dialogue speaks so loud, that it drowns out the visions of reality.

If She Only Belonged is such a painting. It offers a snapshot of the subconscious layers that alter, cover, or construct– and sometimes in very real ways– a scene. Tucked underneath translucent strokes of paint, colored pencil, and ink on Mylar is not simply a crisp day at the park. It is a crisp day tainted by post-traumatic visions of a different country’s warfare; diverted by an invisible eruption of emotional turmoil herein suppressed like lava beneath tectonic plates; and made both sweet and fragile by a juxtaposed symbol of beauty: a faint and colorless layer of ink petals in this chaos.

Or, perhaps, the images recorded here are those of a girl standing in the middle of a battlefield, yearning for the peace that comes from a life with flowers, trees, grass, and people at ease: talking calmly to one another, doing nothing more than standing. Or running, for leisure instead of survival.

Beneath the bleakness of an empty “sky” and drips of watery paint that melt into bare Mylar, it is unclear whether the nightmare or the dream is reality in this captured moment. But whichever is, the other surely was before it, depicting the perpetual weaving of interpretations one experiences within a moment. Regardless of the location of this moment in time or space, one thing holds true: our protagonist is a victim. She is as much a victim at the foot of a smoking volcano, or beneath volatile military aircrafts, as she is in the shiny and safe suburbia, alienated by her own memories and identifying experiences. Dressed in mourning, we see here the heartbreaking inner dialogue of a girl trapped between worlds.

And yet, there is an eerie hope to be threaded out of If She Only Belonged. Ilchi illustrates here our complex world: one in which confusion, clarity, longing, peace, energy surmounted and energy drained, can exist within the very same frame, or the very same second. A day at the park does not always have to instill the typical feelings of a day at the park, and nor should it. Layering emotions onto a scene, though at times painful and alienating, produces a multifaceted way of viewing the world that makes us human. And it is a viewer’s hope that, like the gossamer-fine floral etching that peeks through smoke and fire in If She Only Belonged, the interconnectedness seen here can serve to heal, not harm, the victims of everyday beauty.

By Grace DeWitt


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