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Peeling Back the Petals:
Saba Farhoudnia’s
Exploration of the
Human Psyche

by Rory Martin, May 13, 2024


The work of Saba Farhoudnia greatly rewards attention and encourages viewers to engage with it to avoid missing out on intentionally elusive details. Although interpretation and understanding of Farhoudnia’s work will entirely depend on the individual viewer, she provides details and directions to assist in this process. Her careful use of figures and animals conjures a familiar scene and reassures the viewer that what they are viewing is real. However, as the eye roams the canvas, this feeling of familiarity and comfort is stripped away just as quickly as it had been awarded. Immediately, you find yourself lost and navigating the ethereal and grotesque landscape of the human psyche, desperately seeking familiar concepts as they pass you by. As you examine closer, these once recognizable companions sometimes transform into devilish humanoid beings and imaginary conjurations, sure to pique your curiosity.

Born and raised in Tehran in 1987 during the war, the immediacy with which Saba Farhoudnia was thrust into the strife of life emanates throughout her artwork. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Art and a Master of Art from the University of Science and Culture in Tehran, receiving a second Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting from the LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Her exhibition “Falling Petals, Standing Roses” currently on view at Fou Gallery efficiently encapsulates her range as an artist. The show consists entirely of her recent artwork, but their subject matter and composition ensure that her varied approach is represented from all angles, highlighting its thoroughly consistent nature. Her paintings beckon you forth by taunting you with recognizable imagery; it is only once you are in adequate proximity to the work that you willingly concede to your confusion and move even closer to remedy it. 

The work My Red Shoes, Your Silver Teeth, 2024 is of note because of its multidimensional composition and depth. Initially providing static elements to cushion the viewer’s entrance into the work, the girl holding the kite and the perspective from inside a mouth solidify the foundation on which the less obvious aspects of the work stand. The composition is uprooted from the left side with the emergence of an accomplished bear, showcasing the gored product of his survival instincts, hanging limp from his mouth. It appears the bear’s energy causes a breeze that allows the nearby girl’s kite to fly, reinterpreting the implied violence of a kill as the wind supports something feeble and delicate. The complex understanding of human experience exhibited in this work represents the duality we must face in our day-to-day lives, as we try to redirect raw emotion towards productive outlets. This perpetual mortal feedback loop is universal.

The momentum of Farhoudnia’s work naturally guides you toward the painting Eden in the color of Saffron, 2024. The movement in this work is palpable, most evident here out of all the works in the Fou exhibition. The literal viewing experience is welcomed with the development of a horizontal female figure in the background, flanked on all sides by figures of varying sizes and activity. A story is being told here, except the chapters and events are ambiguous and undisclosed. As figures walk defiantly in opposite directions, a consistency is evidenced through the simultaneous leftward flowing of the female’s river of hair, and the plumes of smoke rising from her volcanic chest. The inevitable contradictions of life are depicted by the assured strides of figures that cannot seem to agree on a singular objective. The female nude could alternatively be interpreted as mother nature, ever-present and subtle in all aspects of life. Through this, we are reminded that our existence is simply a circumstantial byproduct of our surroundings. This notion encourages reflection on the fleeting moments of life as we move to and from various tasks, often failing to think meaningfully about the greater impact of our actions. 

Saba Farhoudnia seeks to blend narratives, providing us with the culmination of her lived experience up to this point. This is an advantage of the fact that the works in the Fou show are predominantly from 2024. The imagery she combines in her paintings can be hard to interpret, and even more so to understand. However, this was the intention. The work Falling Petals, Standing Rose, 2024 is a prime example of this approach. The multitude of interactions simultaneously depicted: love, leisure, survival, and solace, all require attention. The item you see first will decide your initial reaction, as is the case with any first impression. However, as you learn more about the piece through observation, you begin to understand it more as a whole. This phenomenon is akin to the process of meeting another person. Do not let your first impression dictate your feelings toward any of Farhoudnia’s works, because there is always something lurking beneath the surface waiting to present itself.


Above: My Red Shoes, Your Silver Teeth, 2024;  Acrylic on canvas; 16 x 20 inches

Header Image: Eden in the color of Saffron, 2024; Acrylic on canvas; 14.75 x 20 inches

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