By Cara Vincent
A collection of women—dark-eyed, dark-haired, nary a smile among them, indelible and composed, full of that quiet power poised women possess and at the same time the disquietude of resilience from a life long endured. They are rutilant; adorned with gold leaf and glass, Swarovski crystals, ethically sourced deceased bumble bees, dried flowers and butterflies—these are the artistic creations of the multi-talented Nargus, for her series aptly titled, WomenByNargus. Nargus is more than just a capable artist, though. She is also a writer, a scholar receiving her Doctorate (DNP) in Psychiatry, a daughter of Iranian immigrants, a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE), a yoga instructor, a psychiatric NP intern with the Department of Corrections with sex offenders and mentally ill, a lover of literature, and a passionate purveyor of righteousness in a world of the helplessly insipid. That is a lot of things to be.
“My mission is pretty simple, I think. I paint women to give color to their multitudes and their history. Women have been through a lot. But my women are bold, loud, magnetic. They have integrity and tact in the face of a societal impulse to contain us, or to put us in some box and define us or in some cases silence us outright. The women I idolize are those who really break the mold in whatever field they happen to occupy but who don’t get in your face and up in arms about it.”
Nargus’ career as a painter did not really begin until she was out of college. As a young woman, in high school, she wrote poetry, as we do, and found herself “doodling” alongside her poems. It began with a pair of eyes, heavy with dark make up in the fashion of her mother and grandmother and turned into full sketches of women inspired mainly by whatever she had written or recently read. In undergraduate studies at UPenn, her major was known as PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) and her second major was English Literature. There was a lot of reading. And once college was over and she lived in New York working in finance, she began to paint (only women) mostly as a way to decompress.
“I hadn’t really considered it too much before, but once I started studying Psychiatry I really began to understand why women were my defining subject matter. It is important for us, in my field, to do a lot of work on ourselves, on our own psychology so that we can work with our patients. Through this work on myself I realized that what kept coming up for me was the subconscious tie that I had to Iran and to the way women exist in that country.”
There is a distinct duality to being the girl child of immigrants, especially if they are immigrants from a country in which women are marginalized1. This girl child lives two existences; one of her own, rooted in American ‘apple-pie’ idealism, oppressive only insofar as the limitations of a democracy’s out-of-date laws and mass media made for-and-by men can suppress the actual rights of women, and one of her ancestors: the women who have fought and struggled and suffered and sacrificed under true oppression in a country regulated by morality police, so that this girl child may live in her less oppressive existence. But so, there is a phenomenon proven to be true within the field of psychiatry known as trans-generational transmission of trauma. What this means is that if your grandmother/father or your parents experienced societal traumas such as genocide, or warfare or rape or genital mutilation or having all of their family members murdered or being the concurrent victims of dictatorial oppression in which rights are elusive and punishments beyond harsh, it is likely that you, this beautiful, young, American child will also experience residual traumas. It is likely that you may have a darkness, and that this darkness will come out of you in a multitude of ways, not the least of which being an acute desire to create, in any way you see fit, some semblance of balance and recognition of your separate lives.
“My art is informed by a variety of things. Usually it comes from certain phrases or words or memories I have of literature that I tie into something I learned in philosophy pr psychiatry and then subsequently apply to my relationship and appreciation of women. It’s like playing connect the dots, in a way,” Nargus explains. The example she give is impressive and hard to explain.
“One of my most connective pieces is called “Fire in Cairo”2 and it depicts Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti reflected, looking at herself. And then there is the last stanza from the Percy Shelley Poem called ‘Ozymandias’3. In college we learned that Nefertiti was one of the most powerful women in Egypt, and yet while we know where all of the important men were entombed, the whereabouts of her burial site remain unknown. ‘Ozymandias’ is about the transience of empire, how everything gets brought down at some time or another. And so I found myself compelled to bring all three of these things together; Egypt is burning, Nefertiti is lost, Ozymandias is ‘The King’ and yet he falls as they all fall. I reclaim what was theirs (men’s) and I make it mine,I give it to the women I paint and this is empowering.”
Nargus is prolific, creates works of her own endeavor as well as pieces commissioned by those seeking works with meaning and with abundant heart. She had her first show in 2010 where she sold half of her collection, and has had many since, including a private show in February. Coming up, Nargus will have an exhibition on July 23rd on 5th avenue to showcase her ROYAL BLOOD collection. She is working on several new and exciting pieces that may be finished for this show. A portion of the funds will go to the Mt. Sinai SAVI (Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention) Program. Your correspondent implores you to go, if you find yourself in New York in the early Summer. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
To see more of WomenByNargus you can visit her website at: nargus.org or view her Instagram: @nargus.
1Full disclosure: your correspondent has little to say in the way of explaining the immigrant experience in any capacity, and so what follows is an extrapolation of Nargus’ own words on the topic combined with a considerable amount of research and soul-searching.
2A title of a song by the band The Cure, which means there is no way of knowing what Robert Smith intended with that title, but for the sake of Nargus’ painting, one can only imply a literal translation and assume that Cairo was, in fact, engulfed.
3You may know this name, Ozymandias for a variety of reasons. Like, for instance, if you read graphic novel “The Watchmen” in which the entirety of the Shelley poem was reproduced over the course of the text. Or if you are a fan of Ancient Egypt and know that Ozymandias was the Greek name of the Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses. The defining line in Shelley’s poem being “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”