I see the garden as a place of resistance, and the plant as a parallel way of living.

In 2012, I began a series entitled Persian Gardens that drew upon my personal history to present a collective history of Iran. Reinvigorating Persian gardens has become an intellectual quest as I have searched through a complex historical maze to understand the pragmatic and spiritual significance of these gardens. Over the past several years, I have composed numerous projects with the Persian garden as a figurative and metaphoric template for the examination of personal, social, cultural, and environmental issues. A transplanted artist, I am finding much to discover in the social history of plants, the connection of body memory to climate exile, and the politics of water rights.

Bahar Behbahani was born in Iran and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York: a very concise label. But what is packed within that barebones tagline is a complex life, one that has been uprooted and transplanted into an entirely different environment, with its consequent advantages and disadvantages, its disruptions and resettlements, its triumphs and sorrows, its shocks to the system. It is not surprising, then, that Behbahani’s projects resound with themes of memory, loss and adaptation, with reality and dreams. And it seems equally inevitable that her central, multi-tiered motif for the past several years has been the Persian garden, one that she has re-tooled to suit her own syncretic imagination. In Behbahani’s envisioning, it is a brilliantly protean habitat, encompassing the aesthetic, the poetic, the philosophical and psychological, the political, social and the ecological, furling together past, present and future.

—Lilly Wei
Lilly Wei is a New York-based art critic, independent curator and journalist.