Cryptic Dimensions 

By Nasim Makaremi Nia
Craft Council Annex Gallery
February 17, 2024 – March 22, 2024

Reviewed by Meagan Eve Cole

The Show:

Cryptic Dimensions, by Nasim Makaremi Nia, is a collection of five multimedia pieces exploring the artist’s experience as an Iranian woman living and making art in Newfoundland. Cryptic Dimensions comprises two sculptural pieces on folded canvas, drawings on paper, and a digitally mapped projection on a folded screen. The canvas, paper, and screen are folded into geometric shapes and displayed either hanging from the ceiling, mounted on the wall, or on a mirrored pedestal. The mirrors in the room throw reflections onto the ceiling while the soft sounds of waves and seagulls come from a laptop and projector in the corner. These pieces invite you to crouch and bend to see their full dimensions, even catch a glimpse of yourself looking back from behind the art. 

The Feels:

Nasim Makaremi Nia shares in her artist’s statement that her work in Cryptic Dimensions explores the censorship of women’s bodies, as well as her identity as a woman from Iran who is drawn to the news, tastes, and sounds of her home while living and making art in this new place, Newfoundland. I see these messages are separate as represented in her work – certain pieces address the censorship of women’s bodies, and others address the contemplations of her identity in place. Nia’s projected piece “Beyond the Visible” depicts the artist studying herself in a tall mirror perched on a rocky Newfoundland beach. Little paper boats drift along the rocks toward the mirror, all projected on a loop onto a disjointed and folded screen. The imagery is elegant and clear: Nia is not simply seated on the beach, connected to the land, rather she exists in the glass rectangle of the mirror, separate and contained as if in an aquarium. 

Nia’s drawings on paper, “Untitled” and “Secret Codes,” are where her stance on the censorship of women’s bodies becomes clear. “Secret Codes” is two drawings on crumpled paper. These drawings are of women’s bodies with the heads of animals, surrounded by disembodied animal body parts: heads, beaks, claws, antlers, and fins, combined liquidly in a way that I find echoes the aesthetics of both the intricate designs seen in Persian art and architecture and the pictographic style of Anishinaabe or Ojibwe artists like Norval Morrisseau. The fluid animal parts have nipples and breasts dripping from their mouths and eyes, while some fish or bird bodies have appendages that look like ripe bean pods or penises. In the chaos of the animal and human body parts, it is clear that the censorship of bodies makes no sense in the natural world. Every living being has some combination or iteration of the parts used for nourishment, creation, and pleasure, it makes no sense to exclude or hide certain pieces of the whole. 

The paper piece “Untitled” features similar drawings to “Secret Codes” but is presented as a sculpture of hexagonally folded paper, built like a molecule, displayed on a mirrored pedestal. The mirror allows for viewing the underside of the piece, with the added benefit of catching your own eye alongside the belly of a fish with a human penis. While I looked at my face beside a breast in a drop of liquid dripping from an animal’s mouth, it felt like a game of Where’s Waldo, inviting me to look toward the things that are censored elsewhere with curiosity rather than shame.

Untitled, Cryptic Dimensions, exhibition detail, Nasim Makaremi Nia

Where I see these two streams of messaging converge – Nasim Makaremi Nia’s exploration of censoring bodies and her contemplation of her identity as a woman who has immigrated to Newfoundland from Iran – is in the final two multimedia pieces on folded canvas, both untitled. One piece is a triangular prism, suspended from the ceiling, hanging near the wall with many little triangle mirrors on the wall behind it. The other mimics the geometric folded shape of the projector screen and is mounted on the wall. Both canvas shapes are painted a rich yellow with layers of photo transfer, paper, glue, painting, and drawing. The painted layer features iconic imagery of Iranian art, with figures riding horses and wearing bright clothing. The photo transfer is a woman’s face, where the drawn layer is the outline of a bird. The prismatic shapes show containment. Like the mirror on the beach, they keep these layers of identity in their bounds, something that can be put aside and picked up to study when needed. 

I saw myself again, this time in the little mirror behind the prism containing what I interpret as these symbols of identity. At first, I was unsure where a show entitled Cryptic Dimensions was going to lead me and why such an engineered, beautiful, sorrowful show was even called “cryptic” to begin with. But the show allowed me reflections on my own life, in which I have dimensions of my identity that I only share in spaces I can recognize as welcoming, and I find those spaces by recognizing the symbols and signs that resonate with me. As a neurodivergent person, sometimes I find it easier to mask that part of myself rather than stand out too much, invite ridicule, or have to explain myself in palatable ways again and again. I find myself often only being my true self in the little box of my apartment or around people who understand me – I recognized this feeling of otherness, or not fully belonging in the geometric containers within which Nia’s show places the iconography of her identity. Seeing myself in the mirrors in the space reminded me of my own pleas to be seen and understood.

Meagan Eve Cole is a photographer and writer from St. John’s, NL. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, English Literature, and Film Studies from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. Meagan creatively concentrates on works that explore self care and emotional growth.