Vian Sora (b. Bagdad, Iraq,1976) is an Iraqi American artist who lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky. She received a BS from Al Mansour University in Baghdad, Iraq in 2000, studied printmaking at the Istanbul Museum of Graphic Art in Istanbul, Turkey in 2007, and received an MBA from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky in 2012. Her work has been included in solo and group exhibitions domestically and internationally including KMAC Museum, Louisville, KY; Louisville Metro Hall, Louisville, KY; U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington D.C.; Dar El Cid Museum, Kuwait City, Kuwait; Istanbul Museum of Graphic Art, Istanbul, Turkey; Japanese Foundation Culture Center, Ankara, Turkey; Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. She participated in the KMAC Triennial in Louisville, KY; the Baghdad Art International Art Festival, Baghdad, Iraq; and the Sharjah Biennale in Sharjah, UAE. Her work is included in the collections of Dar El Cid Museum, Kuwait City, Kuwait; KMAC Museum, Louisville, KY; Ministry of Culture Contemporary Collection, Baghdad, Iraq; Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY; as well as numerous private and corporate collections.
In a word, karma. Together, the 20 paintings on view feel heavy with the accumulation of history: karmic cycles of violence, pestilence, and death. (Sora, who was born in Baghdad, remained in the city through multiple wars, including the 2003 United States invasion, before emigrating.) And yet, the work also sings with the equally abiding presence of growth, rebirth, and new life.
“For years, I was just trying to turn my back to a little bit of the intensity of the experience of not only being an immigrant, but being an Iraq immigrant in America, but also being an American,” Sora said. “And I feel like I was really faced with that here, not in a bad way.”
In another corner, works focus on citizenship through the individual experience: Cuban native José Manuel Nápoles’s portrait of his fiance expresses a childlike exuberance that belies the agonizing displacement of emigration, while Iraqi-American Vian Sora paints silhouettes of human heads, their faces obscured in crimson fissures resembling desiccated deserts and violent blood splatters.
The work is undeniably chaotic, struggling to contain the exploded forms of color and texture and memory in a surge of energy and heat. And yet it also holds a persistent beauty, lines of elegance and grace that cut through the debris and roughness in lucid and reassuring curves. What is left is both a hope and a hollowness: streets clear of foreign tanks, skies absent of fighter jets, the silent stillness of a bombed-out city, this vast and sudden absence, this aching emptiness.
Stare long enough and you will find things hidden in the paintings — a moon here, a figure there, or maybe even a few things that aren’t really anything at all, like what you see when you name the shapes of clouds. Sora thinks of the work not as being about her experiences, but being driven by them. For her, that explosive section of a painting could be reminiscent of a car bomb, though a viewer might never make that connection. One wonders if abstraction becomes a kind of armor in her work, a way of confronting past trauma without being overwhelmed by discernible representations of it.
In painter Vian Sora’s latest solo show, she illustrates a similarity between Berlin, Germany and Baghdad, Iraq. During a residency in Berlin last year, she had the chance to learn about the city’s rebirth after World War II. “As an Iraqi born artist,” she said, “my first-hand experience of war, political upheaval, migration and subsequent geographic and cultural displacement has deeply affected my life and my art. Since leaving Iraq, my works expressively address these issues.”
Artists’ creations can be inspired by many different experiences. Traveling to a foreign city, meeting a new person, undergoing illness or even facing political upheaval can provide ideas for new work. For Iraqi-American artist Vian Sora, inspiration comes from a mixed palette of life experiences. She was born and raised in Baghdad and grew up with certain expectations as the oldest daughter and granddaughter of a Middle Eastern family.
“It’s not a direct response to any one political or military event in Iraq,” said Abrams. “It is inspired by the experiences of Vian Sora, a person from Iraq who has come to the United States and made her home here as a visual artist. It’s a piece that takes the totality of now well over a decade-and-a-half of our shared experience — both Americans and people abroad — as we try to absorb this world history.”
There is an unexpected delicacy to Vian Sora’s exhibit Displaced Narratives (1619 Flux:Art + Activism). The Iraqi-born artist approaches the difficult subject of displacement with a thoughtfulness that makes her art accessible. There is also timelessness to this collection; found in the use of ancient Mesopotamian technique of engraving the canvas, the reference to ancient iconography, the use of gold thus referencing byzantine art, the more modern floating and abstracted figures and compositions, and the contemporary color pallet, which are combined beautifully to create a transcendent visual experience.