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East Meets West: Leon Gallery Crowdfunds to Bring a Persian-American Perspective to the Biennial Conversation

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A conversation with Persian-American Safa Samiezadé-Yazd — a local artist who’s worked on a national level for Aslan Media and Boomgen Studios — first opened Eric Dallimore’s eyes to the unique position of her culture-straddling compatriots in America: Iranian-American artists struggle not only with their mixed cultural identity, but also with the question of whether that’s a theme they should pursue in their work. Dallimore definitely encouraged the latter, and he and Eric Nord, his co-director at Leon Gallery, have teamed up with Samiezadé-Yazd to curate Continental Divide: East of L.A. / West of Tehran, a show they hope to stage at the gallery beginning July 18 — a date that happens to coincide with the 2015 Biennial of the Americas.

It's an ambitious project that will feature a roster of artists working nationally and internationally, including Brooklyn-based Kymia Nawabi, three-time Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Justin Mashouf and Tehran-born photographer/videographer Arya Ghavamian, as well as Denver's own Laleh Mehran, professor and adviser of Digital Emergent Practices at the University of Denver. So Leon applied to the Biennial for funding, but was rejected. Notes BotA director Erin Trapp, “Our review panel recommended funding for proposals with a direct nexus to Central, North and South America, which are the focus of all of our programming.”

But Leon didn't give up on the idea. “My biggest surprise is that everyone wants to do this showcase,” Dallimore says. “We’re getting messages from all over the world. For us right now, the most important thing is elevating the arts in Denver by having this caliber of artists, even though we are just a small, budding gallery. One artist we’ve invited had a show in Dubai; another exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum. We’re just trying to get funding to bring them all here for the show.

“The point is, we are putting on an amazing show in conjunction with the Biennial of the Americas to give voice to a highly polarized topic and immensely misunderstood group of people,” he continues. “This show is so important and for whatever reason, the Biennial folks do not see the Persian-American community as being relevant enough to the conversation of what it means to be an American to offer us a grant, so we are now reaching our network of friends, supports, allies, and partners to help make this show possible. We are now reaching our  network of friends, supports, allies and partners to help make this show possible.”

To that end, Leon has launched a Fundly crowdfunding campaign to raise $12,000 for travel, accommodations, performing fees and shipping costs connected to Continental Divide. To learn more, visit Leon’s Fundly page or Leon Gallery online.

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