Art museum presents the first U.S. exhibition for Iranian artist

"Caspian Tiger,' by Naeemeh Naeemaei

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is presenting the first United States exhibition by Iranian artist Naeemeh Naeemaei from June 15 to Dec. 31. 

The exhibition features work from two series, “Dreams Before Extinction” and “Under the Earth, Over the Moon.”

“Naeemeh’s work is such a surprise,” said Jill Hartz, the museum’s executive director and the exhibition’s curator. “She is such an accomplished painter, and her themes, focusing on endangered species and Iranian village life and their stories, draw us in so completely that we find ourselves in her world,”

Naeemaei uses her real dreams and memories to evoke an emotional response from the viewers of her work. “Dreams Before Extinction” addressed the loss of wild animals in Iran and elsewhere. 

Naeemaei’s work was first brought to American audiences in a bilingual book featuring the paintings, which was published by Perceval Press in 2013 and republished this year in conjunction with the exhibition.

“I use my dreams, wishes, memorabilia and legends, plus information about the species, to extend my imagination,” Naeemaei said. “In each painting, I’ve lived with the animal in my mind. It is deep connection.”

Her new series, “Under the Earth, Over the Moon,” is inspired by the story of a friendship between a young girl named Mina and a Persian leopard. Mina, who lived in a village named Kandelous more than 100 years ago, experienced a peaceful friendship with a leopard.

As the story goes, during the season of collecting firewood, her beautiful voice attracted the leopard and gradually they became friends. The story turned into a tragedy when the leopard was shot by a villager who was in love with Mina.

“A few years ago, I went to Mina’s village and in spite of some renovations, her house was still there, with its yard and tree,” Naeemaei said. “During several trips to the area, I talked to people, took pictures and developed my ideas until today, when three (including a tryptich) of an anticipated 15 paintings are ready to be shown here. You may find Mina somewhere in a painting, or me in her place in another piece, or even none of us but still sense something that has remained of us, something like a deep sorrow and a deeper love.”

Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1984, Naeemeh Naeemaei received her bachelor’s degree in art in 2006 from Tehran Art University, where her major was sculpture. Her art — paintings and sculpture — has been displayed in Tehran as well as Berlin.

Prior to moving to Oregon in 2017, Naeemaei was active in Iran’s environmental movement and involved with several organizations that raise awareness about endangered species and other environmental issues.