7 May 2024–28 June 2024

The Sky of the Seven Valleys

Part of Ongoing Exhibitions

by Ala Ebtekar

Starts 7 May 2024

Ends 28 June 2024

Venue The Third Line

Warehouse 78


The exhibition sits engorged with the subjective weight of epic flight, enduring beings, and immense galactic scale within a room of endless perspective and possibility. Combining multi-wavelength photographic processes with the distinct brushstroke of cloudmaking, Ebtekar continues a quarter-century of art practice and commitment to spatial collapse and explosion in these doorway sized panels.

For the artist Ebtekar, this series of his ongoing Zenith large-scale paintings take inspiration from the well documented, centuries old poem منطق†الطیر†(Conference of the Birds), (1177 CE), the Persian text by Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar, commonly known as Attar of Nishapur. The framework of the exhibition takes structure from this epic work championed for the flights of countless birds through seven valleys, fraught journeys of distinct endurances. They are, in order, as follows: (The Valley of) the Quest, Love, Knowledge, Detachment, Unity, Wonderment, Poverty and Annihilation.

Ebtekar grasps the turmoil and anguish of these compounding life missions, grueling trials towards enlightenment, leaving the survival of only thirty birds. The Sky of the Seven Valleys takes this earthly poem into the realm of spatial and architectural form, amassed through his decades-long practices of scaling, skillful use of centuries-old photo exposure processes, and reconfiguring the technique of Iranian coffeehouse painting.

Ebtekar or perhaps here as this current Starling Leader (a term for the lead bird in formation of a traveling flock, or murmuration, until another takes the front lead) welcomes viewers into a single room of continuous, almost 360 degree view of seven complete portals, a control room of mythic responsibilities. Noting the most common view of looking at galactic forms, upwards at night or inside a planetarium, one naturally feels miniscule in the immensity of the sky. Here Ebtekar elevates the viewers’ scale, now face to face with stars, body to door/portal with universes, eye to eye with the level of gods.

Seven sections, each one to four panels, become one choreographed installation, all fraught and spacious with combinations of exquisite exposures alternating from sources of either sun, moon, or starlight. Ebtekar then places cloud and wind formations with luscious brushstrokes across these ultra saturated canvases. Witnessing these prints darker than midnight, spots more luminous than the naked sun, we as audience become both skydiver and deep water explorer, cirrus and currents in every direction we look.

These curving strokes bring the realization that billions of lives are gone or born with one sweeping mark. The viewer’s urge to hold one’s breath, as there is no depicted grounds or single gravity in the exhibition, endures as this room continuously unfolds the work of a star maker and cloud forger. Here the atmosphere becomes the galactic landscape, where nimbus and wind dwarf actual stars, one brush of paint spans larger than our solar system.

For the viewer, and now here as equal starlings actively moving across these seven universes, what would you do given this power and vision? The nod to the Conference of the Birds fits with Ebtekar’s commitment to life decisions of the highest consequences, presenting these doorways and portals to something immeasurably larger.

Enigmatic questions arise within the crossfire of these seven gateways:

Are the conflicts of this earthly world relevant at all when rising to this view? Are we working together with the artist, one of many guiding birds, to shape these galaxies, with each threshold?

The Conference birds have endured so much throughout this epic path, but are the responsibilities of deities themselves something we can only dream to comprehend?

Through this anguish, will there simultaneously be equal entrances of hope?

May we already be in this sanctuary?

Due to the cascading inquiries this ring of Zeniths present, this may be the most terrifying and thrilling exhibition, the most otherworldly in Ebtekar’s lifetime after previous Third Line iterations of Safina and Nowheresville. Those previous exhibitions embraced physical landscape and books, spacecraft, transporters and earthly skies. This exhibition continues with subjective valleys, now they are at the scale where stars and gods meet.

In The Sky of the Seven Valleys, we are the surviving, endless thirty birds alongside the artist, presented with the choice of which panel is our next destination. This fullest life of responsibility and inertia towards all seven valleys, is being in the simultaneous presence of them all, and the elevated self to have the faith to change them and ourselves, is perhaps the grandest journey most worthy.

- Text by Jerome Reyes

Ala Ebtekar, Zenith IV, 2023, Acrylic and charcoal underdrawing on cyanotype on canvas exposed by moonlight, 182.88 x 182.88 x 5.08 cm, Diptych