Y.Z. Kami

Y.Z. Kami, Masque mortuaire de Pascal (Pascal’s death masque), 2017, oil on linen, 75 × 51 inches (190.5 × 129.5 cm) © Y.Z. Kami. Photo by Rob McKeever

Y.Z. Kami Listed Exhibitions (Selected) (31 Kb)
Y.Z. Kami Bibliography (Selected) (37 Kb)

Y.Z. Kami’s large-scale portraits recreate the visceral experience of a face-to-face encounter, suggesting a connection to the presence of each subject. Through a uniform haze or sfumato, he depicts family, friends, and anonymous strangers with eyes open or closed, gazing forward or looking down. Rendered in matte oil paint on linen, the portraits recall Byzantine frescoes or Fayum funerary portraits, continuing the art historical quest to locate the unknown and the infinite within material form. In his abstract work, Kami continues this interplay of surface and interior, using forms inspired by architecture, geometry, and poetry. In the Endless Prayers series, Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit prayers and verses are cut into rectangular fragments and pasted into mandala formations, their spiraling patterns echoing the repetitive nature of prayer. These, in turn, led to the Dome paintings. In black, white, blue, or gold, the Domes are comprised of square or rectangular marks arranged in concentric circles to create tessellated, pulsing voids—universal evocations of the passage from darkness into light. Kami has also expanded his figurative painting to include depictions of hands. The hands, often shown with palms pressed together in prayer, underscore the physical nuance of this expressive part of the body, as well as the pervasive symbolism of its gestures.

Y.Z. Kami was born in Tehran, Iran in 1956. His work has been collected and exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the British Museum, London; and Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London. Solo institutional exhibitions include “Portraits by Y.Z. Kami,” Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (2003); the 52nd Biennale di Venezia (2007); “Perspectives: Y.Z. Kami,” Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (2008); “Y.Z. Kami: Endless Prayers,” Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London (2008); “Y.Z. Kami: Beyond Silence,” National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (2009–10); and “Y.Z. Kami: Endless Prayers,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA (2016-17).

Kami currently lives and works in New York.