The Imagined Persian Gardens of Painter Kimia Ferdowsi Kline - OZY | A Modern Media Company

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By Charlotte Buchen

It’s an age-old story, paradise lost. But for Iranian-American artist Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, the story is personal. After all, the word “paradise” has its roots in the old Persian word for gardenparidaida.

The Ferdowsi family had everything in Iran — houses with lush gardens and pools, orchards and shared stories about how their juicy watermelons would spontaneously burst, as if they couldn’t contain their happiness. The idyll ended abruptly when the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution began to imprison and execute religious minorities, like Ferdowsi Kline’s Baha’i grandfather. The family lost their Eden and scattered across the globe.

Ferdowsi Kline grew up in Nashville and attended art school in San Francisco, which, ironically, almost halted her fledgling career. Teachers, perhaps overly concerned with modern, Western notions of art as something that challenges social order, discouraged her tendency to paint “beautiful” things and encouraged, in her words, “shock value.” But Ferdowsi Kline reconnected with her source of inspiration once out of school. She began a painterly exploration of the Iran that was lost to her, and in the process found reverence for her ancestors and the old country. When she’s not painting, you’ll find her at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel, where she curates not only the hotel’s gallery but also the art in each room.

Ferdowsi Kline is about to have a major solo exhibition, in Detroit — another paradise lost, of sorts. Painting, she says, “fills her up,” and she is proud to show her artwork to her grandmother. The day after her show opens? She’ll make her first journey to the Baha’i pilgrimage site in Haifa, Israel. 

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