In “Custodian of Vacancy: The Iranian Embassy in the USA”, Iranian-American artist Eric Parnes exhibits a series of rare photographs featuring the empty and dilapidated building that was once filled with people and parties, much like any other embassy in DC.
Silent and inaccessible, the Embassy of Iran in Washington, D.C. has been closed for 34 years. And in this unprecedented and unique opportunity, Eric Parnes ventures into the calm of this defunct institution, providing an exclusive glimpse into a world forgotten by history.
Once a hub of American celebrity immersed in Persian culture, the Iranian Embassy’s current uninhabited status still retains a particular rich aesthetic that captures the solitary nature of this institution. Parnes’ photographs distinctly express a historic moment in time. Yet crossing through the gates bearing the traditional Persian coat of arms emblem the Lion and Sun, the dust casts a layer of enchantment over this derelict residence.
“This has been a dream of mine since I was little, and my Baba would drive by Massachusetts Ave and talk about the Iranian Embassy,” recalls Parnes. “As my art has revolved around identity, specifically what it means to be both a part of the East and the West, the narrative of the embassy became the embodiment of this concept. I was blessed with the opportunity to get these photos, and took advantage of such a miracle.”
As if peering through a portal to another world, gilded mirrors and stained glass windows reflect a past in which expansive ballrooms echo the laughter and mingling of Hollywood celebrities, tycoons, socialites, diplomats, politicians and artists.
Alive with vibrant festivities and decadent soirees–held by then-Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi–such events were attended by the Shah and Shahbanu, her glittering tiara matched only by the brilliance of renowned beauties like Elizabeth Taylor. This glamourous coexistence came to a halt when the embassy doors were flung shut.
“The space was haunting in its distinct scent, dare I attempt to compare it with accessing a tomb, yet that is what it felt like,” Parnes quips when asked what the embassy smelled like. “It’s a particularly interesting question, because you do have an emotional component in terms of your sense of smell, and the most basic feelings of emptiness and innate sadness overwhelmed me. I found myself standing there as an Iranian-American, a citizen of the United States, and technically that of Iran in a physical space that further challenged my notion of what it means to be both. This space , which should have provided more answers to my own identity, pushed the boundaries even farther.”
Easily forgotten, the Iranian embassy building interiors reflect traditional elements of Persian folklore and design. The majestic structure stands today a living testament to what once was, a silent memorial that is neither recognized nor visited.
The grain quality of Parnes’ images, capture the haunting quality and eery silence of each abandoned room. He peers inside this rich by-gone culture and era, as an outsider…An apt metaphor for an American-born Iranian reaching into his own dreams.
“I feel that this conceptual art project speaks to both the Persian, and American viewer.” Says Parnes. “The embassy itself was and is about dialogue. It is symbolic in that it is a piece of Iran inhabiting within the United States. Certainly there are elements of remembering a past that the USA and Iran had with open forms of communication, but more importantly its closure and sadness give way to the possibility of a future whereby a mutually respectful dialogue will hopefully allow for the Iranian people and the American people to come together.”
“Custodian of Vacancy: The Iranian Embassy in the USA” will be on view at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai from : December 16, 2013-January 30, 2014.