Media only: Ellie Reynolds, 202.633.0521; Elizabeth Bridgforth, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: March 15–Oct. 13, 2008

March 7, 2008

“Perspectives,” the Sackler Gallery’s five-year program of contemporary art installations in the pavilion, resumes with an exhibition of new works by Y. Z. Kami. On view March 15 through Oct. 13, “Perspectives: Y. Z. Kami” presents two works from the artist’s recent series of large-scale portraits and one mixed-media work that incorporates verses by the poet Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273). A student of philosophy and Sufism, Kami creates works that draw on both Eastern and Western aesthetic traditions to explore the relationship between physical form and spiritual essence. This is the first exhibition of Y.Z. Kami’s work in Washington, D.C.

Since the mid-1980s, Kami has focused on the human face and the expressive possibilities of the painted portrait. Many of his early portraits, often compared to the ancient funerary portraits from El Fayoum, Egypt, depict anonymous sitters gazing directly at the viewer. Rendered with a restrained palette and composition, each portrait conveys a still, otherworldly presence. The exhibition presents two of his large-scale portraits, “Untitled” (2005) and “Untitled (Marina I)” (2007), from his current series of portraits of individuals in a state of meditation. Gently blurred and with eyes closed, the subjects of these paintings have a haunting presence that both engages and withdraws from the viewer’s gaze.

In the third work on view, “Rumi—The Book of Massanvi e Manavi,” the artist reproduces verses from Rumi’s masterpiece of Sufi philosophy and poetry, the Mathnavi. A monumental text of approximately 26,000 verses, the Mathnavi seeks the “intrinsic meaning of all things” through rich allegorical tales based on religious stories and ancient myths. For “Rumi—The Book of Massnavi e Manavi,” Kami has copied onto pieces of paper the introductory verses, known as “The Song of the Reed,” a well-known tale of the reed lamenting its separation from the reed-bed. By arranging the rectangles of paper in concentric circles, Kami references both the architectural form of the medieval Persian dome and the whirling movement of the ritual Sufi dance.

Born in Teheran, Iran, in 1956, Kami studied at the University of California, Berkeley and later received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Université de Paris-Sorbonne, France, in philosophy. His works have been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe, including in the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007); the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2006); and the Ninth International Istanbul Biennial (2005). He currently lives and works in New York.

Carol K. Huh, assistant curator of contemporary Asian art at the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, is the curator for “Perspectives: Y.Z. Kami.”

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other events, the public is welcome to visit For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.