The politics don’t swarm out at you from Nanda Sharifpour’s installation One, on view in a large corner window of Soho Lofts, Las Vegas Boulevard and Hoover Avenue. A six-line poem, rendered in English and Farsi and backlit by bright, changing colors, One offers its commentary quietly, by induction; if you prefer political art delivered like a sack of doorknobs, walk nine minutes to Main Street for Izaac Zevalking’s mural Chain Migration (Lady Liberty bent over the hood of an ICE vehicle).
But make no mistake, Sharifpour means for One to be viewed through the lenses of current events, even if its topicality comes by way of 13th-century Persian poet Saadi Shirazi. His lines (sample: “All human beings are members of one frame / since all, at first, from the same essence came”) are a wisdom-of-the-past plea for the cross-cultural recognition of everyone’s common humanity. It’s underscored by the cycling colors, color being one rather obvious notion that divides us. Such are the times that if you stand there long enough, absorbing what should be a simple, not-at-all-contentious sentiment, multiple contexts eventually barge in to complicate it, turning the 763-year-old verse into a very contemporary critique: Why do we — why do you, the viewer — “feel not for others’ misery”? Add to any day’s headlines and shake thoroughly.
Born in Iran, now living in Las Vegas, Sharifpour conceived the piece around the same time the U.S. assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, President Trump threatening to bomb the country’s “cultural sites” if it retaliated. In a video about the making of One, she says the surging tensions between her homeland and her home “pressured my heart.”
By the time the piece was installed, it had, in her mind, become capacious enough to refer to more than her own heartache. This was in March. Even as the pandemic tightened its grip, America’s ongoing fissuring continued: immigration, racial inequities, political and cultural hatreds, with the George Floyd demonstrations yet to come. The poem’s assertions about the need to see ourselves reflected in others, and vice versa, echo near the center of each.
“There were a lot of things happening in society and in politics,” Sharifpour says, “and I wanted to do something that would be relevant.”
As a visual experience, One benefits from its prominent placement on Las Vegas Boulevard, even though quarantine has surely curtailed its potential audience a bit. The large-scale color shifts, with their hint of spectacle, firmly anchor the piece in the aesthetics of Las Vegas, and the graceful cursive swoop of the Farsi lettering lends the display an eye-catching abstract quality.
But did we mention that there’s a political dimension to this piece? “It’s going to be up until November 2020,” Sharifpour says in her video — “until election time.”