Suggesting ruined architecture—perhaps reclaimed by the advance of moss, veiny root systems, and other subsuming devices of nature—the mixed media sculptures of Armita Raafat hint at unsettling narratives and an ambiguity between beauty and entropy.

Displayed as both stand-alone pieces and installations, her works combine papier-mâché, plaster, styrofoam, mirrors, mesh, and fabric into what look like the scattered ruins of a mosque, shrine, or high-rise building. The textured, flour-white surfaces are often flecked with purple, turquoise, and indigo pigments—as though the once-splendid colors were slowly being bled out.

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Born in Chicago and raised in Iran, Raafat returned to the United States to receive her MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008. The formative years she spent in Iran were marked by the Iran-Iraq war, an arduous and drawn-out period of conflict for Iran which one can sense ever present in Raafat’s exploded and deconstructed installations.

Currently working from a studio at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Raafat’s work draws from both Persian architecture as well as sensibilities found among the buildings of Chicago. Like honeycombed muqarnas, the architectural vaults often found in traditional Persian and Islamic architecture, Raafat crafts her sculptures into intricately tiered cellular patterns.

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I can’t help but also see the glass walled high-rises of Chicago echoed in the hexagonal mirrors she embeds in the cavities of her sculptures (a gesture that also conjures up Robert Smithson’s blending of mirrors with earth) or the botanical ornaments of Louis Sullivan, orderly and yet baroque, like much of Raafat’s work.

In addition to influences that connect directly with Raafat’s background, there is also the spirit of the more abject abstraction of post-WWII Europe and America here (I’m thinking of Alberto Burri and Eva Hesse in particular).

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For all its balance and craft, Raafat’s work has also been dismantled by the artist’s hand, décollage-like, to create the effect of ruins and decay. The works is war-battered, abandoned.

There is a sense of memory, of things lost, even of melancholy, in the entropy of her work. Yet there is also an aesthetic pleasure taken in this corrosion that soothe the darker implications. There is a quality about these sculptures that you find in beautiful patinas of rust and oxidization, or in the fragments of great, ruined cities like Ancient Corinth or Persepolis.

It is the ambiguity of Raafat’s works which compels me to linger on them. The deconstruction of them is just as pleasant as their craftsmanship, teetering between nature and artifice, and not settling on either. (Alessandro Keegan)

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