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Shabah e Baad (Ghost Winds)


Speakers, aluminum

Audio mixing and on-site technical support: Jon Carr

Production Manager: Michael Mersereau

Shabah e Baad (Ghost Winds) is a six-channel sound installation inspired by a traditional practice observed in smaller Iranian villages, where qanats — ancient waterways predating Roman aqueducts, created by tunneling beneath a system of wells — have enabled sustenance in arid environments. Qanats are assigned a gender based on their flow and materiality; when a qanat is in danger of drying up, it is given a ceremonial wedding to a widow from the village. Rituals commonly associated with marriage accompany this legally binding union: a dowry of crops is paid and the bride bathes in the waterway as a concluding act of erotic consummation.


Moved by the capacity of this practice to traverse and braid together material and representational phenomena, Asgary embarked on an exploration of the liminal connections between subject and landscape by making audio recordings of six waterways and rendering them into musical notation, identifying key motifs and phrases which she distilled into six distinct compositions. These were transcribed by composer Atabak Elyasi using the Persian modal system of dastgāhs, in which different musical scales are uniquely associated with various geographic regions. Asgary then worked closely with master vocalist Mahsa Vahdat, whose generational cultural knowledge informed improvisations based on her original compositions. As the audio component of Shabah e Baad (Ghost Winds), these improvisations constitute a series of interpretive cartographies delivered via the singular vibrations of the artist’s voice.


Shabah e Baad (Ghost Winds) creates a sonic landscape that casts reflections of silence, dissonance, and convergences. Directional speakers along the walls of YBCA’s Third Street Courtyard generate discrete zones of sound corresponding to a map of San Francisco’s ghost creeks overlaid on the installation site. Asgary’s vocal performances traverse the courtyard along invisible trajectories, interacting with elements of the landscape and eluding the physical boundaries of the space as their echoes mischievously travel to nearby streets and buildings. Paired with the sound installation is Ayne (‘mirror’ in Farsi), a parabolic, organoid sculpture opening upward toward the sky, reflecting waves of sound and light while suggesting a yearning for communication with a faraway place or unknown entities. Evoking the fragmented, shifting qualities of the mythologies and truths by which we make meaning from our environment, Asgary’s work is a poetic consideration of the profound connectivity and temporal-spatial parallels of apparently disparate phenomena across multiple scales, histories, and ecosystems.

Exhibition: Bay Area Now 9, October 6, 2023  - May 5, 2024

Location: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Associated Events:

The Fugue of the Cicada Songs, February 2, 2024, Cone Shape Top + Kadist, San Francisco, CA

re:sound, February 24, 2024, Mare Island, Vallejo, CA

Luggage Store Gallery, April 17, 2024, San Francisco, CA

Performance: Sholeh Asgary + David Rothenberg, November 3, 2023, Gallery Bergen

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