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Leila Mesdaghi obsesses over childhood story in FGCU’s ’20/20′ alumni exhibition


FGCU 20 20On view now through September 21 at Florida Gulf Coast University is 20/20: Art Alumni Exhibition. As the name connotes, twenty alumni of the FGCU art program are exhibiting their work in celebration of the university’s twentieth anniversary. Among the twenty is artist Leila Mesdaghi, a member of the class of 2016.

Leila Mesdaghi 202In her work, Mesdaghi often investigates her self-imposed illusions, emotions, relationships and memories. In fact, she prefers the term obsess. “My process becomes about finding tangible ways to relate to them,” Leila acknowledges. And in her “Barzakh Series,” she obsesses about one childhood memory in particular.

Leila Mesdaghi 201When she was a little girl, she heard in a story about a man who “saw a woman hanging by her hair.” The image made her more curious than afraid. “To this day, I keep questioning that memory,” states the artist. “What an extreme punishment! How would that even be possible? What would it feel like? How long would one last before the scalp tears off the skull and where would one fall?”

While the latter musing may seem gruesome to some, Mesdaghi has built a reputation for provocative visual installations and Privilege of Removal Installation 08performance art pieces that comment on psycho-social and political issues. For example, in the video performance piece she put together for her FGCU senior project, Privilege of Removal, she threw dead fish against a pane of glass to metaphorically challenge the ways in which we observe, react and respond to social and political issues. “We watch real life behaviors of physical, verbal, and moral abuse on T.V. and computer Privilege of Removal Installation 06screens, and instead of rejecting, we justify and accept them as socio-political norms,” Leila noted at the time. “By literally throwing dead fish at a pane of glass, I act as a violent exhibitionist and also remind the viewer of our silent voyeuristic nature. I smash dead fish against the barrier that separates the world we live in from the world we witness.”

Mesdaghi has never been one to shy away from childhood memories, even those that may be somewhat unpleasant. When Leila Mesdaghi 203she visited her father in Tehran recently, she discovered that the pool in his garden has been empty for forty years. So she used the chalky concrete walls as a canvas on which to inscribe her childhood memories. For Quest for Permanence, she reconstituted the pool and her inscriptions in the Wasmer Art Gallery to not only make a powerful statement about the fragility of memory, but the ways in which we alter long-term memories each time we retrieve and review them.

Leila Mesdaghi 204“I used the pool as a personal piece to reflect the memories that we all have and can relate to,” she noted during her gallery talk at the opening of the exhibition. “Who died, who got married, who beat up someone. Like most families, not all the memories there are sweet.”

Mesdaghi welcomes emotions related to guilt, love, regret and despair. She knows deep down that they are not only personal, but universal as well. “My body becomes my medium, a body continually waiting, repeating and enduring,” she tells. “I make L Mesdaghi 09art to take control, to find refuge, and to see comfort.” The only suspense is the form these emotions will take in any given visual installation or performance art piece.

And in “Barzakh,” the suspense is endless.

Leila Mesdaghi lives and works in Fort Myers. In 2016, she was represented at the 2nd Contemporary Art Biennale Peace on Paper in Tehran, Iran, at the Leila Mesdaghi 200Abadan Contemporary Art Museum and the Isfahan Contemporary Arts Museum. For more on Mesdaghi and her art, please visit here.

The opening reception and 20th Anniversary Art Walk will take place in connection with the exhibition from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 31. The Wasmer Art Gallery is in the Arts Complex. The ArtLab Gallery is at the west side of the Library building on FGCU’s main campus at 10501 FGCU Boulevard South.  Parking is available in Lot 7 for gallery visitors. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.

August 26, 2017.

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