Pardiss Amerian at Zalucky Contemporary

Artist: Pardiss Amerian

Exhibition title: Dew and Dust

Venue: Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto, Canada

Date: September 18 – October 23, 2021

Photography: Toni Hafkenscheid / all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Zalucky Contemporary

In the tradition of illuminated manuscripts, the process of assembling a book is multifaceted: from the preparation of the parchment (and later paper) to the mixing of pigments, to the cadre of painters and calligraphers who painstakingly composed images and text, and then finally, to its binding. Throughout its production, there are a number of hands involved in the making of a manuscript. Within Islamic art, paintings in manuscripts have commonly “functioned as illustrations of written narratives and thus provided descriptive or interpretative augmentations to a reading experience, while simultaneously adding an aesthetic dimension to the production of Islam’s written heritage.” (1)

The illuminated manuscript has historically served both religious and secular purposes. Commissioned by wealthy rulers and patrons, the illumination of a book most often took place in a workshop environment. Central to courtly life, book ateliers created both manuscripts and paintings, but also a variety of other luxury items. (2) By the sixteenth century, Persian artists in particular “were keen to align their occupation with that of calligraphers, since both fields required mastery of linearity, contour, balance, and rhythm of form.”(3)

Drawing from this visual tradition, artist Pardiss Amerian utilizes the conventions of illuminated painting —such as its history and layered process— to create ethereal, abstracted works. These oil on canvas paintings show traces of the illuminated tradition particularly in-between the contrasting fields of colour where biomorphic and lattice patterning emerge to provide a painterly kaleidoscope of imagery found in manuscript paintings. As Amerian points out, her approach involves not only thinking through historic Persian literary prose, but also investigating more experimental methods of image making: “The forms I arrive at are used as cut-out tools for monoprinting,” continues Amerian, and “the process of pressing paper together creates suction and pushes diluted paint around when lifted off the flat surface; outlines are approximated and gaps are left behind while the material is animated by chance.”(4)

What starts as a studied meditation on manuscript painting, opens up to experimentation with
form and colour that is further pushed on the canvas. “Divergences” remarks Amerian, “become generative and determine the next steps.”(5) While her method of adding and subtracting imagery and colour has material connections to modern art and the visual language of abstraction, there is another, metaphoric way to see these images: as part of the fragmented lineage of manuscript painting. No longer part of a bound folio of images and stories, historic manuscript images are now often seen as stand-alone art objects that have circulated across the globe through auction houses and housed in collections primarily based in Europe and North America.(6)

Amerian’s processed-based work also envelopes this fragmentary history of manuscript
painting. Well-known historical narratives such as the Alf laylah wa laylah (One Thousand and One Nights) and Nizami Ganjavi’s 12th century epic poem Haft Peykar (Seven Beauties), tales that have also significantly contributed to the broader understanding of the manuscript tradition, underpin the imagery within Amerian’s canvases. While these stories are interwoven with the materiality of contemporary painting, they also insist on a dialogical understanding of storytelling and its visual representations. Indeed, these stories are part of living traditions that continue to resonate and be reimagined.

The paintings in Amerian’s exhibition Dew and Dust, combine the narrative and style of Persian painting to showcase the ways in which these images and stories continue to have parlance in contemporary art – and due to the fragmentation of time, patronage and connoisseurship, simply have not been told enough. Pardiss Amerian’s works are not fixed in the past, but resist a singular reading, and as she notes, “might urge the visualization of an uncharted elsewhere, for each viewer to wander in.”(7)

– Nadia Kurd, PhD


1. Gruber, Christiane. The Islamic Manuscript Tradition: Ten Centuries of Book Arts in Indiana University Collections. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009, 5.
2. Ruggles, D. Fairchild, eds. Islamic art and visual culture: An Anthology of Sources. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, 27.
3. Gruber, Ibid.
4. “FrameWork 10/20: Notes on Process,” Susan Hobbs Gallery, 2020.
5. Ibid
6. Gruber, Christiane. “The collectors who cut up a masterpiece.” Prospect, October 17, 2019.
7. Amerian, Pardiss. Artist Statement, 2021.

Pardiss Amerian is an Iranian-Canadian visual artist currently based in Montreal where she recently completed her Master’s in Fine Arts at Concordia University. Her practice is a process-based exploration of painting and collage driven by narrative asides as a way to address temporality, transhistoricity, and the lyric potential of an imagined elsewhere. Recent exhibitions include You Are (I Am) Here at Pierre-François Ouellette Contemporain, Montreal (2020), Maureen IV at Gallery Yves Laroche, Montreal (2019) and Looming City at Espacio Pinea, Cadiz, Spain (2018). Her work has been supported by the Tom Hopkins Memorial Award.

Pardiss Amerian, Dew and Dust, 2021, exhibition view, Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto

Pardiss Amerian, Tunes for Shirin, 2021, oil on linen, 36 x 30 inches

Pardiss Amerian, Nabla, 2021, oil on linen, 48 x 41.5 inches

Pardiss Amerian, Dew and Dust, 2021, exhibition view, Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto

Pardiss Amerian, Terrace and Tress, 2021, oil on linen, 36 x 30 inches

Pardiss Amerian, Tale of Bright Water, 2021, oil on linen, 25 x 20 inches

Pardiss Amerian, Dew and Dust, 2021, exhibition view, Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto

Pardiss Amerian, Dew and Dust, 2021, exhibition view, Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto

Pardiss Amerian, Lyre Player’s Fate, 2021, oil on linen, 36 x 30 inches

Pardiss Amerian, Opening, 2021, oil on linen, 36 x 30 inches