Y.Z. Kami, Untitled, 2009–12, oil on linen, 112 × 75 inches (284.5 × 190.5 cm)
The flux between matter and spirit, life and mortality, the outer layer and the inner soul lies at the core of Kami's oeuvre. Kami binds his study of Sufi poetry and philosophy to the traditions of figure painting, portraiture and collage. His work reflects a diverse range of interests, from portraiture to Islamic architecture, from photography to sacred and literary texts. Kami’s silent, meditative paintings project a quiet monumentality that invokes various mystical traditions culled from both the East and West, as well as the austere Persian mausoleums and somber ruins of the ancient world. In earlier small-scale paintings that recall Fayyum funerary portraits, anonymous sitters gaze directly at the viewer. Larger than life portraits of people, some friends, others complete strangers, have a haunting presence. These “quotidian mystics,” as Homi Bhabha has called them, are centered on their axis as in a state of meditation. His paintings possess a distinct sense of fluidity—between the various faiths and texts that constitute his philosophical influences; between representation and abstraction; and, most unexpectedly, between painted portrayals and life energies.
Y.Z. Kami was born in 1956 in Tehran, Iran. He attended Holy Name College, California, in 1973 and the University of California, Berkeley, from 1974 to 1975. He received his B.A. and M.A. in 1981 from the University of Paris-Sorbonne, France, and then studied at Conservatoire Libre du Cinema, Paris, in 1982. Recent solo museum exhibitions include “Portraits by Y.Z. Kami,” Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca (2003); “Perspectives,” Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (2008); “Endless Prayers,” Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London (2008); “Beyond Silence,” National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (2009–10); and “Endless Prayers,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California (2016–17). Kami’s work has been featured by public collections including 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.; Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London; British Museum, London, and many other institutions worldwide. Kami’s work was included in the 52nd Biennale di Venezia in 2007.
Kami currently lives and works in New York.