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Art à la Carte with James Glisson, Vian Sora, Rachel Kaganoff, and Amada Cruz., Photo by Joanne A Calitri.

Art à la Carte with James Glisson, Vian Sora, Rachel Kaganoff, and Amada Cruz.

Photo by Joanne A Calitri.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art Women’s Board held its first of two fundraising soirées, titled, “Art à la Carte,” at the University Club on Monday, March 25. 


The lovely event featured an in-depth artist talk with Iraqi American abstract artist Vian Sora, and the museum’s Contemporary Art Curator James Glisson,PhD. 


The opening cocktail hour in the club’s comfy living room with lit fireplace and live piano music saw guests connecting with SBMA Women’s Board members, Trustees, and SBMA Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Director and CEO Amada Cruz. 


Following the reception, guests were ushered into the dining room for the one-hour discussion and art presentation. SBMA Women’s Board President Isabel Wendt welcomed everyone and introduced Director of Development Susan McLean who thanked the guests for their funding support of the board’s events in this, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s 74th year. Cruz spoke and referenced the image of Vian Sora’s art on the cover of the evening’s program, thanking Sora and her husband Jed Hayden.


Art à la Carte with James Glisson, Vian Sora, Rachel Kaganoff, and Amada Cruz (photo by Joanne A Calitri)


Glisson seamlessly led the presentation of Sora’s artwork and asked her keynote questions. Sora’s willingness to be vulnerable and share about her life experiences as expressed in her art was everything. 


Sora spent most of her adult life relocating, moving from Baghdad to Istanbul, Dubai, London, and in 2009 to Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband. In 2023, she began her representation by the David Nolan Gallery, NYC, with a major exhibit there. 


The first art image presented at the University Club gathering was her work titled, Landscape with a Moth (2016), which was the turning point in her art to create a new direction. She said it originated from having a hysterectomy, “I woke up and it changed painting for me. Before that my work was political. I am interested to pull in the viewer and not give you the answer, I’m trying to reach the sublime.” 


Next were Dilmun (2022), Hanging Garden (2022), and Subduction[2022]. Sora explained, “My new series started with Subduction. There are figures in it, it’s very spring-like, the rock turns back to magma, like California earthquakes. All these images parallel to my background, symbolism from Ancient Mesopotamia, war in Baghdad, and processing it emotionally into something better.” 


The final image discussed was Abzu, (2023, 84 × 350 inches), that she said she created in eight weeks for the annual international gallery fair Art Basel. “With my current schedule I don’t have the time to obsess for a year about my work like I did before. This work contains tension, chaos, and moments of peace. It has 50 layers of bronze color paint made from recycled Ohio River toxic waste.” 


Although she studied printmaking in Iraq, she said she decided to experiment and develop on her own. “I knew I did not want any influence from anyone. The way the art world works, you know they make it about something. But no one is there with the artist going through all the process. My work – think of Rothko. This is very psychological for me, it’s complicated to explain. I’m lucky to create and express myself in art and make a living at it. This is how I communicate. I’m not about guilt. I want beauty in my work.”


Indeed, reviewing her art overall, she is similar in intent to Picasso’s anti-war sentiments – in particular comparing her Abzu to his Guernica (1937). Yet where Picasso’s graphic works may make the viewer feel tense and uncomfortable, Sora’s use of bright blues, greens, yellows, and oranges amidst darker tones of the same colors, soften the deeper tension. Her signature technique – of additive painting to subtraction of the paint to adding mixed media – suggests from the whole to destruction to whole again; the life she experienced around her and to her. It causes questioning, leaving an opening for the viewer to enter, note the tension and emotion she imparts, encouraging interpretation.


This year, Sora will have a debut solo exhibition at The Third Line Gallery in Dubai. 


A survey exhibition of Vian Sora’s paintings will open in 2025 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and travel to the Asia Society Houston, TX and the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. 


Event Committee members are Chair Susan McLean, Stacey Byers, Ann C. Cooluris, Paula Farrington, Tobi Feldman, Deb Joseph, Emiko Kirshman, Pei Shu,and Isabel Wendt.Event sponsors included Laurie McKinley, Berta Binns, Laura and Geof Wyatt, J. Scott Francis and Susan Gordon, Rachel Kaganoff, Montecito Bank & Trust, Karen Sweeney,and John Alexander.


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