Giving directions to the Shulamit Gallery would be an easy task. Just take Venice Boulevard all the way west until you see the sand. Stop.
Located in a converted home right off the famed Venice Boardwalk, the gallery founded in 2006 by Shulamit Nazarian, of L.A.’s philanthropic Iranian-American Nazarian family, is now showcasing its inaugural exhibition in its brand-new home: “My Heart Is in the East, and I Am at the Ends of the West” will be on view through Jan. 5.
“I specifically chose Venice because I felt that Venice has had a very creative history,” said Nazarian, sitting at an elegant table on the second floor of her gallery. “The people that reside here have an edge of creativity to them which is quite raw, and very much in-your-face, which you cannot run away from. And there’s a beauty and fear to it, which kind of intrigued me.”
Nazarian, who was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States in 1979 along with her family, had another reason for choosing Venice: “I felt like I should push myself to come be exposed to the beauty of the Pacific Ocean.”
Part of the charm of the Shulamit Gallery (shulamitgallery.com) is in its location, 17 N. Venice Blvd. The view from the rooftop deck is an eyeful of sand and blue sea. Spread out over five light and airy levels, the gallery still bears many signs of having once been a functioning home, though it is every bit a gallery space. You can’t turn a corner without encountering art.
The current exhibition, a satellite exhibition of the ongoing “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews” at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, mostly occupies the ground level. Four of the artists — Farid Kia, Jessica Shokrian, Laura Merage and Soraya S. Nazarian (Shulamit Nazarian’s mother) — are contemporary artists. In a twist, the Shulamit Gallery pairs their work with that of artist Ben Mayeri, a more traditional Iranian artist who worked with silver and gold. The Mayeri works came courtesy of the Fowler Museum.
The work covers a wide range of media, from Kia’s massive paintings, one of which depicts an almost grotesquely wrinkled Golda Meir, to Merage’s provocative photography/installation art, which includes some female nudity.
“We’re interested in showing work that has a powerful story to tell and that also is executed in a way that’s of high caliber,” gallery co-director Anne Hromadka said. In pairing the modern artists’ work with Mayeri’s, Hromadka hopes to show people the link between the different generations of Iranian artists.
“Supporting emerging artists is an essential. Likewise, midcareer [artists]. They all need the space, they all need to be exposed, and when you combine both experiences together, always one learns from the other,” Shulamit Nazarian added. “Anne has brought great skills into what we have created here together.”
Shulamit Nazarian and Hromadka first met five years ago while serving on the USC Hillel art and gallery committee. Back then, they were working on an Iranian art exhibition.
“In some ways, this project actually brings [us] full circle as a team,” Hromadka said.
According to Shulamit Nazarian, the two just clicked. “We both have a huge love of Judaism and Israeli artists and the Middle East.”
In that sense, the Shulamit Gallery is the perfect partnership. The two have big plans to potentially host everything from educational events to Shabbat dinners.
“We view art and culture as a way of opening up a dialogue and having those conversations. Programming really is an essential part and also allows us the ability to work with nonprofit organizations and different groups across the city,” Hromadka said.
The gallery’s next exhibition, opening Jan. 14, is a sort of companion piece to the current show. “Leaving the Land of Roses” will feature the work of artists David Abir, Marjan Vayghan, Tal Shochat and Krista Nassi, and it will focus more on Iranians in exile. It will run through March 9.
Attending the opening reception for “My Heart Is in the East, and I Am at the Ends of the West” are Homeira and Arnold Goldstein, Jane Glassman, Steven Neu and friend
“What does it mean when you long for the physical landscape, for the sights and the sounds of the place you were born and raised, but you know it’s unsafe and you can’t go back?” Hromadka asked.
For many Iranians, according to Shulamit Nazarian, the home they left is very much a paradise lost.
“There is a whole history of us which has never been talked about,” she said.
Art, Shulamit Nazarian said, is the perfect way to speak about that hidden history.
“You can talk about your wishes, your fears, your experiences through art and express it without necessarily being aggressive,” she said. Smiling, she added, “In a very selfish way, I wanted to learn more about my own heritage.”
“The rose in Iran has a very special connotation,” said Hromadka, explaining the reason for the name of the upcoming exhibition. “The rose is such an important part of the Persian garden, of rosewater, of food, even in their rituals ... for Havdalah, rosewater is used. That’s the scent that’s passed around. For Iranian-Jewish funerals, flowers and rosewater are poured into the grave. So it really follows the Iranian-Jewish experience from birth to death.”