On Threatened Beauty

In Yeshiva University Museum Exhibition, Artist Uses Rich Legacy of Islamic Motifs to Express Fears of Nuclear Iran and Extremism

The provocative work that caused a global sensation by meshing ancient Islamic art and modern political angst is coming to the United States with an exclusive engagement at the Yeshiva University Museum (YUM) this fall.

In Threatened Beauty, American-born, Israel-based artist Andi Arnovitz deconstructs Persian, Anatolian and Uzbek textiles, rugs and ceramics, to reflect on today’s nuclear arms race and political turmoil – and the tension between present-day Iran and the tradition of beauty it represents.

With controversy raging over the Iran nuclear deal, Threatened Beauty feels even more urgent.  Arnovitz has said she is making a direct commentary on President Barack Obama’s dealings with Iran through the exhibition, which made international headlines during its run this past spring at the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem.  Arnovitz told The New York Times she would like to hang her work “on the walls of Congress” and make President Obama “look at this every night before he goes to bed.”

By manipulating traditional Islamic imagery into 35 lush circular collages and watercolors, Arnovitz also sensitively expresses deep-seated personal fears and global concerns about fanaticism, erosion of women’s rights, and extremist violence.

The works in Threatened Beauty “reflect this tension – the majestic beauty – the riot of color, the magnificent decoration, the meticulous craftsmanship of these arts which I so love on the one hand, and the potential for disaster and my own personal fears on the other,” says Arnovitz, an Orthodox Jewish feminist whose studio sits within walking distance of the Arab Souk in Jerusalem’s Old City.  “There is a kind of terrible beauty here – a paradox, a collision of the past and the present, good and evil, a looking forwards and backwards all at the same time.”

Interwoven in these pieces are references to ancient Persian folklore, fables and fantasies, as well as subtle and not-so-subtle acknowledgments of contemporary politics, disasters and current events.

Among the works on display is Making Yellowcake, a watercolor and collage work inspired by yellowcake, a type of uranium concentrate powder which is necessary to create fuel for nuclear reactors. The image is based on a facility at Isfahan, Iran, which operates four nuclear reactors.

Another piece, All That Is Precious, was inspired by the destruction in March 2001 of two monumental 6th-century statues of the Buddhas of Bamiyan at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“We felt this was an important exhibition for people in New York and the United States to see – and now,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of YUM, who worked closely with the artist to re-conceive the presentation of the show in New York. “Normally, we would take considerably more time to adapt an exhibition from another venue and develop a curatorial vision that works for us. Not only does this series of work stand on its own, but Andi’s voice is so strong and her aesthetic approach so clear that there was not much for us to do but hang it on our walls. The show provides a clear-eyed evaluation of and reaction to the real values and threats of Iran and its leaders. Her work is beautiful, richly layered and absolutely devastating.”

“Threatened Beauty” will be on display at the Yeshiva University Museum from September 6-January 10. For more information, click here