Alisha Sofia @ Iris Project

Alisha Sofia’s latest body of work Queens Of The Caucasus depicts strong yet graceful dark-haired women amongst nature. Currently on view at Iris Projects in California, the paintings take inspiration from the artist’s own travels in the Caucasus, as well as Greco-Roman sculptures and Byzantine masks. Using a colour palette from pigments found on her travels, the paintings also draw on the pagan roots of the region to give a unique insight into its history. Gallery Girl spoke to Alisha to learn more about her work.

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T’aguhi, 2019. Image courtesy Alisha Sofia

Who are the queens in the paintings?

The original idea of the show and title came from my admiration for Queen Tamar of Georgia, who governed a big part of the Caucasus, including Armenia. It was unusual to have a woman rule during this time as you can imagine. She was next in line to the throne after her father’s passing and to everyone’s surprise she led the country her entire life and brought it much success and flourishment. As an Armenian American artist that mainly depicts resilient and tenacious women, I immediately felt a connection to her. I was particularly drawn to the portraits of Queen Tamar, showing her stoic posture and gaze. I wanted to depict this in the women I chose to paint for this series, who were mainly people I knew or saw in Georgia, Armenia and back in the States.

 

There are pots on display as part of the exhibition too. What do they symbolise?

These vessels were made by my sister Nairi Mila. She is a ceramicist also based in Los Angeles. The shapes are consciously inspired by the abandoned pots dispersed in the fortresses and monasteries from her visit to her motherland, Armenia. The colors, textures and overall designs are sourced from messages gifted by her subconscious.

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Reflection II, 2019. Image courtesy Alisha Sofia

Often in Armenian culture, women are expected to hide their bodies, why did you decide it was important to paint them nude?

In our culture and most cultures, nudity is regarded as indecent. I wanted to defy this societal way of thinking by showing the woman’s body. We feel as though we can still judge a topless woman, but not when a man is. I am always looking to challenge this idea and find a sense of vulnerability and honesty when showing nude subjects.

 

You made your own paints, where did you source the pigments from?

I found all of the pigments in Greece, Armenia and Georgia on walks or hikes in the mountains or by the sea. The natural colors made an impact on me and I really wanted to use them in the women’s bodies that I painted.

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Dancer II, 2019. Image courtesy Alisha Sofia

Armenian’s usually celebrate themselves for being the first Christian nation, why did you think it important to uncover Armenia’s pagan roots?

I didn’t think about it that way really, I’ve always been drawn to the aesthetic of pagan religions and values more than Chrisianity. Pagan ideals are uncomplicated and of the purest form. I feel it’s more definitive of Armenia and its history from the very beginning.

 

Alisha Sofia: Queens Of The Caucasus is on display at Irish Project, 953 Amoroso Place, Venice, California until 1 March 2019

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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