In the frame: how Nargess Hashemi imagined a new urban utopia, one colour shade at a time

Each week, we analyse a piece of art that is on show in the UAE. Here we look at the mesmerising drawing by Nargess Hashemi

Nargess Hashemi, 'Satellite View from 500m – Cultural City for the Less Privileged,' 2018.
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In Nargess Hashemi's intricately detailed drawing Satellite View from 500m – Cultural City for the Less Privileged (2018), small teal squares zig-zag across the page. Little pockets of pinks and yellows dot the artwork, and across the middle, like an enormous lopsided T, lines of blue and black squares jag across.

Inscrutable and abstracted, the work jostles with potential for meaning. The dashes of colour make you want to trace your finger upon them, as if they are a series of paths leading across the page. Encased within small squares, the colourful forms seem pixilated, as if bearing some secret code.   

The idea of a code is not far wrong. The work is a schematic for a new, fairer city – pictured, as the title suggests, from a satellite at a height of 500 metres. It’s one of a series of works imagining a vast urban plan for a new utopia. The Iranian artist has devised a colour chart in which shade denotes a different urban section: the yellow represents areas powered by solar energy; green designates parks; blue is for water features.

In Cultural City for the Less Privileged, the big T marks the waterways, the main – carbon-friendly – means of transportation; the parks outnumber roads; and the white gaps in between buildings give the world a sense of free, open space. The domiciles are roughly the same size as one another: this is a city built for the many.

Hashemi's current exhibition at Galerie Isabelle van den Eynde in Dubai shows Cultural City for the Less Privileged and her other maps, all of them imagined cities from different satellite heights. In the centre of the gallery hang crotcheted panels, which represent the interiors of buildings. Here, in this utopian world, rooms are divided by hangings, a softer alternative to walls.

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As Mandana Mohit suggests in an essay for the show, Hashemi’s vision bears the influence of historian Beatriz Colomina, who analysed the hidden role of women and domestic work in modernist architecture.

Although modernist homes might look stunning in photographs, their right angles and transparency leave nowhere for the messy realities of life – toys, the washing-up, stray jumpers and books – to hide. In Hashemi's imagining, the clean right angles of modernism are replaced by the folding, intricate, knotted walls of craft, returning the sphere of women to the fore, and offering new opportunities for privacy.

Cultural City for the Less Privileged carries over that spirit of softness. Its half-tone colours and meandering pathways do away with the dogma of abstraction – pure colour, pure form – and suggest, in its place, a series of delicately offered propositions.