‘FOLDS: MARY JO KARIMNIA’
The artist plies her craft within a tradition that existed simultaneously with the deepening creative and philosophical facets of the feminist movement of the 1970s and ’80s during which female artists exploited the heritage of “women’s skills” — china painting, knitting, embroidery, applique, collage — to paradoxically flaunt the “femininity” of those activities while creating works of tension and commentary.
Karimnia celebrates the beauty of shining, reflecting beadwork — she uses seed beads — and its intricate patterning, as well as the anonymity and character-creating sense that dressing up in costumes endows on the wearer. We see few faces in these pieces, and the contexts are sketched in with ink and pigment, leaving a great deal to the viewer’s imagination. In “Ascension,” we are obviously riding an escalator, looking up at the gorgeous red-and-white striped skirt and red shoes of the girl several steps above us. That’s a small piece. In the much larger and frankly sumptuous “Delta Fair Sparklers,” two young women wearing gowns of different shades of blue bend over some sort of display while the crowds of people around them, in their ordinary clothes, are drawn in spare
but elegant lines. The special nature of their costumes sets the girls apart, lending a magical quality to their presence among mere mortals.
The artist delves into another medium in several pieces of embroidery on vintage pillowcases, like “Blue Angel” and “Biergarten (on pink),” again emphasizing the fetishistic, indeed the holy taboo nature of costumes and their ability to expose the wearer to a parallel reality. That power of transformation occurs in more static form in the multitude of small origami shapes — most mixed media with seed beads on panel — that Karimnia imbues with iconic force in the stillness and resonance of their tarot-like placidity.
“Folds,” true to its naming, unfolds in metamorphic sequences as the viewer walks through the gallery — actually a wide corridor — as testament to Karimnia’s skills, curiosity and intuition. It’s a complicated, multidisciplinary exhibition that offers much to look at and contemplate. And as is the case with such internationally known artists as Kiki Smith and Lesley Dill, this artist plays around the fringes of folklore and the transformation of the psyche through the magic of women’s work and the way it impinges on the ordinary.