Maryam Ladoni, a photo-based artist who grew up in Iran and came to UW–Madison to pursue a master of fine arts, was looking forward to opening her MFA exhibition to the public March 23-26.
But on March 11, due to growing public health concerns over COVID-19, the university announced that when spring break was over, there would be no face-to-face classes through at least April 10. On March 13, Ladoni says she was still rushing to her framer and planning for some sort of in-person exhibition, even if that meant limiting the number of people who could attend.
“It was sad, but I was still emotionally solid,” Ladoni says of that time.
The situation quickly worsened, however, and within days it became clear that any sort of in-person MFA show would not be possible due to the pandemic.
Ladoni was told she had to grab essential materials from her campus MFA studio and move everything out within 48 hours. “It was a very quick change and now I was sitting in my tiny room, looking at this mess. It was so shocking.”
But she didn’t quit.
Instead, Ladoni refocused and worked hard to get her MFA show posted online in early April. And on April 8, she shared a powerful video she produced that showcases her journey to UW–Madison and the staged photography work that led to her MFA exhibition, “Cheltikeh.”
A preview of Ladoni’s online MFA show explains: “My camera, which ironically this time is not in my hands, explores a multitude of answers in ‘Cheltikeh.’ The word means 40 pieces in Persian. It conceptually means infinity and the word for quilt as I see my life as a quilt of experiences.”
Ladoni adds: “My marriage ended in the winter of 2016, and immediately after I moved to the United States to pursue my art. As a result of these significant changes, I walked in the streets alone and deepened my understanding of my identity, my culture, and all of my past relationships. I analyzed my experience living in the US and the new layer it has added to my life.”
Ladoni previously earned a master’s degree in photography from the University of Art in Iran. She notes that her art practice was started in 2015 with the collection, “Abandoned: Photos from Iran after the War.” For this project, she travelled back to her hometown of Shankrekord, Iran, to explore her childhood home, where she grew up during the Iran-Iraq War, which ran from 1980-88. The images are a narration of her experience and memories of childhood. Her work has been exhibited in places including the International Center of Photography Mausam in New York, and Overture Gallery in Madison.
In addition to being an MFA student with the School of Education’s Art Department, Ladoni also works as a Persian language lecturer at the university.
When explaining “Cheltikeh,” Ladoni adds: “I do not know where my home is, and no physical wall or boundary can define my sense of home. Most times rather than being responsive I am questioning what has made me or is important for me. My goal for ‘Cheltikeh’ is to represent all of this complexity through collaboration with a diverse group of friends who have the same experience of living far from home and watch the layers of my identity unfurl through their perspective.”
To learn much more about Ladoni and her work, visit her website: maryamladoni.com.