Aryana Minai: Soft Waters Heard Here

6 January - 10 February 2024

Opening Reception: Saturday, January 6, 6-8pm


Shulamit Nazarian is pleased to announce Soft Waters Heard Here, Los Angeles-based, Iranian artist Aryana Minai’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. 

Presenting a new group of paper pulp paintings, Minai continues her investigation into the sensory dimensions of memory, reflecting on the details that define a place in our mind when we are no longer there. The show’s title is an oblique reference to the process of papermaking and its relationship to water (pouring, dipping, draining, leaking . . .) that informs Minai’s practice, as well as a suggestion for how the viewer should approach the work: listening for the sounds of distant waters.

“My absence has been an exile from an exile.” So remarks Etel Adnan, the late Lebanese painter and poet, near the beginning of a book of recollections too fragmentary to be called a memoir. Its title, too, is worth recalling here: In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country. These thought figures, which revolve elliptically around the idea of home, seem to have offered Adnan a way of measuring distance along an axis of belonging and absence. When home is no longer a place that can be returned to, what becomes of its memory?

Like Adnan, Aryana Minai is an artist with multiple origins. Born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents, she soon returned to Iran with her family, spending much of her childhood in Tehran before immigrating back to the United States as an adolescent. Minai channels this experience of moving between two radically different cultures, with their different notions of what constitutes home, into the compositions of her large paper pulp paintings, which reference the walled gardens of Iran while using the same dimensions as the pickup truck beds of Los Angeles day laborers. For Minai, these spaces are related to cycles of labor and rest in a way that allows them to function as metaphors for both mental and physical exertion. Pushed to the point of exhaustion, Minai asks, what kind of memory persists in the body?

The paper pulp paintings on view in Soft Waters Heard Here embody the process of their own making. They are the arrested results of a technique that transforms paper into pulp and back again, with the artist’s hand literally impressed into the surface of the material, which records the traces of the labor that formed it: the artist’s hand, an outline of bricks arranged intuitively around floral motifs embossed with old woodblocks and handmade stencils mimicking the wallpaper patterns of childhood bedrooms. For Minai, the goal is to create an image that recalls the spaces she inhabited as a child but through a kind of alchemical resonance in which the memory of these places becomes strong enough to endure their destruction. This idea is pushed even further in the small panels which house the seed-like remnants of earlier works within an enclosure of skeletal leaves. 

Having been invested with a touch longing for home, Minai’s paper pulp paintings transform from topographical landscapes describing the nearly forgotten places of her childhood into mnemonic portals that, through a kind of dream logic, demolish the distance of time and momentarily restore to the world the innocence in which it was held: diaphanous fields of color behind grids of brick and floral pattern. In the recent protests that gripped Iran, women fighting for the simple freedom to live their lives raised a slogan that has served as a lodestar for Minai in her work: You may have burned our gardens but we still carry the seeds. Seeds that will grow where the ground is made fertile.


Aryana Minai (b.1994) makes paper-based sculptures and wall works that are intimately linked to philosophies and histories of architecture, migration, labor, the body, and the handmade. Minai identifies paper as a material that links storytelling, tradition, and craft, centering her practice on the diasporic subject's daily lived experiences as she draws from her personal archive of decontextualized Iranian-American content. The architectural quality of Minai’s works embody a lived survival instinct—to preserve historic space and inhabit safe spaces—as well as an interest in what salvaged and saved materials can teach us. Using bricks and stones from buildings that no longer exist, woodblocks used a generation ago to create textile patterns, parts of vernacular decorative architecture, Minai embosses into paper that she pulps from found materials in her studio. Minai envisions architecture as a living entity that continually sheds and acquires memories as bodies pass through its spaces.


Aryana Minai (b. 1994) received a BFA from Art Center College of Design in 2016, an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2020, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. This is her inaugural solo exhibition at Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles. Select solo exhibitions include James Fuentes, New York; Ochi Projects, Los Angeles; and Steve Turner, Los Angeles. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Craft Contemporary Museum, Los Angeles; Benton Museum of Art, Claremont, CA; Brand Library, Glendale, CA, amongst others. Minai was the recipient of The Hopper Prize Shortlist in 2023, and has held residencies at The Macedonia Institute, Chatham, NY; The Print Shop LA, Los Angeles; and Maple St. Construct, Omaha, NE. She was a visiting artist and lecturer at California State University and University of California, Santa Barbara and a visiting artist at Yale School of Art MFA Program in 2023. Minai’s work has been featured in ARTFORUM; Art Review LA; WhiteHotMagazine; and Cultured Magazine, amongst others.

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