The Mandala Project: Digital Prints by Massood Taj
Through May 12
Spot Art Gallery
2509 Nolensville Pike
Hours: noon-5 p.m. Tues. and Thurs.-Sat. or by appointment
For information, call 513-7692
John and Wendy Watts, owners of Spot Art Gallery, met while studying art at the University of Georgia. Three years ago, the couple moved to New York City to pursue their art careers, marrying in a ceremony on Statue of Liberty Island and settling in Brooklyn. Then came Sept. 11. “Like everyone else, it caused us to really adjust our priorities,” Wendy recalls. “We moved to Nashville six weeks after the attackswe basically evacuated.” The couple had actually visited Nashville less than two weeks before the terrorist attacks, thinking even then that they might be ready to move closer to their families in Kentucky and Georgia. “We liked what we saw,” Wendy says. “We felt we could have more of a sense of connectedness to the community there than we had in New York.”
The couple found that connectedness in the culturally diverse Woodbine neighborhood along Nolensville Road near 440. The mix of blue-collar businesses and ethnic eateries appealed to the couple; so did the Woodbine Streetscape Enhancement Project, which is turning Nolensville Road back into the walkable retail destination it was decades ago. The Metro initiative is adding new trees, sidewalks and on-street parking. “Phase one of the project started right in front of our building, and it’s been a great asset for us,” says Wendy, who has taken part in the community meetings that have helped shape the project. Phase two, which will extend the improvements farther along the street, is currently under way, with future changes to include crosswalks and street lamps.
The building that houses Spot Art Gallery was previously a flower shop and, before that, a jewelry store. Its light-filled front rooms needed little but a coat of white paint to make them suitable for displaying art. The Wattses also painted the gallery’s pale-aqua circular logo on the building’s tan stucco exterior. Wendy, a graphic artist, and John, a sculptor who teaches at Watkins, have office and studio space in the building.
The response from the neighborhood has been very positive. Nolensville Road is also home to Finer Things Gallery, and area residents and entrepreneurs recognize the value of having more art galleries in their midst. Not only does it create the kind of environment that encourages other businesses to settle there, but it adds to the street’s offbeat, funky appeal. Neighborhood connections have also yielded artists featured in recent shows. “Norma Finney is the mother of someone who works next door at the salvage yard,” Wendy explains. Finney’s elegant abstract stone sculptures were showcased in the gallery last month. The 80-year-old artist began sculpting stone 20 years ago and creates her finely polished pieces in her backyard using only hand tools and sandpaper.
The artist featured in the gallery’s new show contacted the Wattses soon after they issued an informal call for submissions at an exhibition last year sponsored by the visual arts group Untitled. Like the Wattses, Massood Taj relocated to Tennessee because of family connections and world turmoil, albeit several decades ago. “I was born in Iran, and because my father had a good friend in Nashville, my brother and I were able to live here and attend McGavock High School,” he says. “The purpose was for us to get an education and then go back to Iranbut then all hell broke loose there [leading to the Islamic revolution and the exile of the Shah in 1979]. My life turned upside down and I couldn’t go home, so I had to get a job.”
Taj eventually landed a job in the printing department at Service Merchandise and worked there for 19 years, until the company closed its doors in early 2002. During his 30 years in Middle Tennessee, he has studied art and digital graphics at a number of schools, including MTSU, UT-Knoxville and Belmont University. He is currently enrolled at Nashville Tech, taking advanced courses in graphic software programs. “Especially in the field of digital graphics, if you’re not keeping up, then you’re already behind,” he says.
The images on view at Spot Gallery are among the hundreds Taj has produced, mostly for his own satisfaction and for friends, over the past decade. The images are all personal interpretations, in the form of colorful digital prints, of the ancient symbol known as the mandala. Meaning “circle” in Sanskrit, the mandala has been used for centuries in Hindu and Buddhist sacred rites and as an instrument of meditation. Tibetan monks create elaborate, intricate and carefully constructed mandalas out of colored grains of sand, as a visiting group of monks demonstrated in Nashville recently. When finished, the monks gather and chant as they sweep the mandala into a jar and empty it into a nearby body of water, an action symbolizing the cycle of life. Navajo tribes in the American Southwest have also used circular sand paintings in their spiritual rituals for centuries.
Taj’s mandalas are circular explosions of fuchsia, gold, turquoise, emerald, black and red that Western eyes may equate with the patterns seen through a kaleidoscope. There are 25 framed mandala prints in the show, as well as several three-dimensional mandalas created in collaboration with Chelle Bushong, a local stained-glass artist and owner of Living Arts Gallery at The Factory at Franklin. Taj has been apprenticing with Bushong to learn more about stained glass and metal art. Their collaborative pieces include exquisite tables that mix digital mandala images with mosaic glasswork, hanging chimes and jewelry. Miniature mandala prints, framed for tabletop display, are also included in the show.
Though he finds personal enjoyment in creating and contemplating mandalas, Taj doesn’t attach a specific spiritual message to his work. “I make no claims regarding any metaphysical, spiritual or otherwise mind-expanding benefit derived from concentration on these images,” he says. “For me, the mandala, whether in the form of a flower or a galaxy, in my dreams or in various religious sites, has always brought a reassuring feeling of connectednessthat I am part of a whole and one with it,” he says. “They are my response to the chaos and dissonance in the world and, I hope, are a way of bringing people of different cultures together.”
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