Water binds me to your name: Bahar Behbahani

Bahar Behbahani’s artwork succeeds in being both political and non-prescriptive. Her personal histories and their intersections with culture, transnationalism, and ecology are etched into her work, both figuratively and sometimes literally. Water binds me to your name is curated by Klaudia Ofwona Draber in partnership with KODA. This exhibition presents works anchored in the politics of water stewardship, and dares to reclaim a new mythical form of architecture that holds the water ecosystem.


Informed by Behbahani’s childhood in Tehran, Water binds me to your name is an extension of themes explored in her earlier museum exhibitions, such as Let the Garden Eram Flourish, at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, and Mother River, a video series at the Asia Society Museum in New York City.


Water is central to Behbahani’s artistic practice. She notes that when children learn to read in Farsi they all begin with the word water (اب), which is comprised of the first two letters of the Persian alphabet (Ab). In telling this story, Behbahani mused, “I wonder if this impacts our relationship with water.”


The artist’s primal childhood memories are likewise rooted in the home garden in Tehran that once belonged to Behbahani’s grandfather, who named the artist ‘Bahar’, meaning ‘Spring’. His garden was an otherworldly refuge for her to play hide and seek, to learn how to count and draw, and from which family gatherings and poetry readings transpired; it was her responsibility to water the garden’s roses, a prophetic gesture captured in an old photograph. ‘All the memories are around the central pool… under the cypress trees,’ she recalled.

– Aliza Edelman in Transnational Belonging and Female Agency in the Arts, ed. Basia Sliwinska and Catherine Dormor (Bloomsbury, 2022)


Water binds me to your name includes a monumental painting entitled River Goddess (2021), intended for exhibition at the Hudson River Museum of Art in 2023. Behbahani spent substiantial time on River Goddess, consulting heat maps and studying the effects of heat-related stress on the color of coral reefs. She found herself inspired by the thermotolerance and resistance quality of such reefs. Behbahani’s extensive practice has been focused on the interrelation of waterways, migration, and precarious culture. The palette of River Goddess is mostly drawn from those ocean topographies and Persian miniatures.


The Edge Is The Center (2018) series explores the politics and language around rivers and liquid borders, and Oasis, Under Construction (2019), another recent series, explores the structure of memory. These works were inspired by Behbahani’s observations of ancient Persian Gardens undergoing contemporary construction and facing drought due to climate change and sanctions. The River (2019-2022) series is a reincarnation of the octagon-shaped pool from All water has a perfect memory (2019) — Behbahani’s public art installation at Wave Hill, a garden and cultural center in the Bronx, NY. Each side of the pool represented rivers that are a locus of conflict: the Hudson, Rio Grande, Karun, Euphrates, Ganges, Mississippi, Nile, and Wouri. The River series blooms with light carvings inspired by diverse botanicals, including immigrant plant species.


Behbahani considers the relationship between water and borders, invasive and native species, immigrant flora and how waterways have served as a means of human and plant migration. Examining horticulture history, which includes questions about nomenclature and associated political narratives, the artist incorporates philosophy and design of Persian gardens into her creative practice.

– Eileen Jeng Lynch, Curator of Visual Arts at Wave Hill