Detail of “Venus Over Baghdad” by Vian Sora

Moremen Gallery’s next show features the prolific artist and Iraqi native Vian Sora, whose fascinating past and life story is so engaging you’d be tempted to think it came from an Oscar-nominated drama.

But with “Vian Sora: Unbounded Domains,” opening Friday, April 5, Sora isn’t interested in focusing on that story. It’s not that she’s opposed to telling it, she just feels it has already been told, in her work and in the press on the international stage and here in Louisville.

Sora spoke with Insider about the new direction in her work, its origins, its practice and even its meaning.  

“It’s really shifting into the meaning of being here, of being someone in a city that is growing, but there’s also, kind of, there’s a lot of stereotypes about Louisville and the South,” says Sora. “In my work, I always tried to attack stereotypes and stereotypical stories about Iraq and the Middle East, and I find myself doing the same here.”

Vian Sora | Courtesy

Sora has been searching for a new direction in her art for some time, attempting to move away from a focus on the iconography and figures from the Middle East, especially women.

“Previously, I was struggling with shifting in my work into more … I wouldn’t say figures, more like symbols and shapes,” she explains. “Like hybrids and landscapes that normally doesn’t exist in real life, and I’m trying to create this kind of visceral atmospheric work that takes the viewer into a certain state.”

The breakthrough in that shift came when Sora underwent a medical procedure.

“I actually had a surgery I woke up from and completely started going into abstract,” she says.

This switch included vibrant and even neon colors, usually starting with five or six bold colors.  

“Most of my work starts now from this kind of explosive beginning, messing with colors that (don’t) relate to each other,” she says. “And then the next process will be trying to define these, you know, relationships and these forms.”

This process takes time. The work in “Unbounded Domains” was painted over the last two years, and Sora often spends up to 16 hours a day in her in-home studio.

“I feel like toward the end of the night, that’s when it’s very deep,” she says. “If I’m liking what I’m doing, I don’t want to stop … It becomes a very obsessive kind of procedure. A very obsessive process.”

“Biosphere” by Vian Sora

In discussing that process, Sora touched briefly on the gendered expectations and ideas that artists often have forced on them.

“The process of what I’m doing right now, it is visceral but it’s also very intuitive. I hate using that word. I don’t know why, but female artists are not supposed to talk about intuition, but it’s good for male artists?”

While hinting at problems in that dichotomy, Sora found another way to describe her process.

“It’s not intuitive, but I’m trying not to force anything into the paintings. It’s like I’m possessed,” she says.

It’s abstract in nature and obsessive in execution, still, the new work holds meaning and themes that Sora explores.

“I normally don’t really give any hints about what it is,” she adds. “I like people to make their own story to connect with the work in their own way.”

But she gave some hints, including the idea that this exploration is an abstract interaction with the concept of the human body and how it represents our individual paths in life.

“It’s kind of like the new work is imagining an internal landscape that you are normally unaware of — a metaphor for (how) the body is held together. I mean mainly with bone and skin, but what’s in between if that’s not there?” asks Sora. “What’s between the bone and skin, organs and blood vessels? It can be a metaphor for what happens to me or people I know.”  

“Unbounded Domains” opens Friday, April 5, with a reception featuring Sora and Miranda Lash, curator of contemporary art for the Speed Art Museum, which recently acquired Sora’s painting “Echo and Narcissus.” The exhibit continues through May 25 at Moremen Gallery, 710 W. Main St., Suite 201.