Dozens filtered into the U-District’s boutique clothing shop Moksha on Friday night for the gallery opening of “Nomadic Veilia,” a Middle East-themed show by Seattle artists Mahroo Keshavarz and Yasmin “YA$$A” Almo.
On social media, the pair advertised themselves as “veilians” coming together for their first joint art show, a portmanteau to describe the the specific identity of being outsiders in the U.S., as “aliens who sometimes wear the veil.”
Along with veiled mystery and the alien sense of not really belonging comes a deep nomadic Middle Eastern tradition.
Almo, never staying in one place too long, spends six months out of the year in Los Angeles.
Inspired by literature about the nomadic tribes of Iran, Keshavarz, who is part Kurdish, says her paintings connect her to her culture. The people in her paintings don’t have faces. They are simple, mysterious, and magical: black-and-white drawn figures floating against a colorful galaxy of stars.
“You can’t tell who they are or what they’re doing,” she says about the characters in her paintings. “They live simply, weaving carpet and making bread with no interruptions out in the mountains.”
The vibrance of Keshavarz’s galaxies compliment the bright pinks of Almo’s provocative pop art. Sexuality and female empowerment are strong themes in Yassa’s work. One piece entitled “Rich Man” features a veiled woman, naked and curvy from the neck down. Scrawled across her body are the words “YOU MUST MARRY A NICE MAN. YOU NEED TO MARRY $RICH$” in a subversive style reminiscent of graffiti.
“My mom always said that to me since childhood,” she says. “I feel like it’s been part of our culture since we came to the U.S.”
Almo has defied her mother’s ideal by becoming a struggling, traveling artist.
“But I feel rich in experience,” she says.
Almo’s Syrian-Armenian family arrived in the states as refugees when she was three years old. She feels “American, but not,” always torn between two worlds. She says she struggles to find people like herself because “a lot of people only see black and white.”
Keshavarz discovered Almo’s work at the 2312 Gallery in Pioneer Square in last June. There, as part of her “The Power of the P” exhibit, Almo showed a series of pop art portraits of rappers and pop stars painted with abundant body hair. It was something Keshavarz could really relate to.
“There are few kinds of people that know the struggle of body hair,” she says, “and most of them are Middle Eastern women.”
The pair finally met later that summer a party at Jaam Rek Studios in the Central District, then quickly formed a bond over social media.
In December Moksha co-owner Robin Guilfoil, asked Keshavarz to show her work at her shop gallery. The artist already had a Middle East-themed show in mind, and thought Almo was the perfect person to team up with.
On opening night, Guilfoil described Keshavarz as someone who makes friends easily.
During the “Nomadic Veilia” opening, the artist spent the evening burning sandalwood in one hand, and greeting people with big hugs with the other, flashing a generous smile.
“Nomadic Veilia” will be on display at Moksha’s University Way location through Feb. 18.