Outside The Lines

If packed First Fridays are any indication, Denver’s art scene is booming. Meet seven local artists who are dripping, collaging, and welding their way onto museum and gallery walls around the country.

September 2012

The Intellectual

Laleh Mehran

Step into the Denver Art Museum’s Fuse Box Gallery: An oversize black cube dominates the sharply angled room. Brown lines swirl around the exterior, a topographical map of the contested Middle East—though you won’t know that yet. Recognizable but elusive sounds play overhead—you won’t know what they are, either, until you ask and discover they’re bits of religious hymns, buzzing bees, breaking surf, and other common noises. Walk around the cube to find a door. Through it, mirrors show your reflection in fragments, and images on video monitors shift based on your movements.

This is Laleh Mehran’s Men of God, Men of Nature (on view through February 17, 2013). The daughter of Iranian scientists, Mehran, 44, fled with her family to the United States during the country’s cultural revolution when she was 10. It’s that history that influences her video and installation work. “I’m interested in the core beliefs, philosophies, and ideologies that make us who we are, and make cultures what they are,” Mehran says. “They are one of the most powerful ways of understanding our world.”

Which explains why Men of God resembles the Kaaba, Islam’s most sacred site: a granite structure in Mecca toward which Muslims turn five times a day to pray. But to Mehran, a full-time professor at the University of Denver, her pieces are more than just structures. They include a performance element in which she involves audiences in ideological conversations. It’s a lot for a woman who, as a preteen, stopped speaking for a whole year because she was embarrassed by her accent. Now, she simply speaks through her work, grand spaces that are simultaneously inclusive and divisive but always reflect contemporary realities. “There’s something about a space, even if you can’t really put it into words or understand it,” she says. “There’s something about it that makes you go, ‘This feels good. I’m comfortable here.’ ”

5280.com Exclusive: Meet installation artist Laleh Mehran.

Outside the Lines: A Conversation with Installation Artist Laleh Mehran from 5280 on Vimeo.