At Berman Museum, “Immigrant Flora” Collaboration Blooms
The latest mural donning the wall in the lower-level Pfeiffer Wing at the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art is a true exercise in multidisciplinary collaboration. The site-specific drawing is part of an ongoing body of work by Bahar Behbahani called Immigrant Flora. Born in Iran and now based in New York City, Behbahani served as an artist-in-residence on the Ursinus campus for the project.
“I’m experimenting all the time,” Behbahani said of her process. “It’s not predictable or pre-planned. For this, I wanted to make it as non-linear as I could while feeding into a sense of belonging for everyone.”
The Immigrant Flora series explores intersections of science, commerce, and the politics of botany to theorize contemporary cultures of immigration and displacement. The wall drawing at the Berman is titled Immigrant Flora: Rising Under. She began the research phase for the project in November 2021 with four Ursinus students who were chosen to bring diverse academic perspectives that could inform the piece, while also collaborating with Ursinus faculty from different academic disciplines.
The students who assisted with the project were Kristen Cooney ’22, Sarah Marchione ’22, Nina Rosario ’23, and Mekha Varghese ’23.
“One of the main themes of this piece is really our connection with nature,” said Marchione, who is majoring in physics and studio art. “And in studying that and doing our research, we just found so many connections between the plants, all the different art techniques, and all of the political issues we were looking into. It’s really interesting to see where it all connected.”
According to her website, Behbahani’s research-based practice approaches landscape as a metaphor for politics and poetics. She “looks into cultural landscapes both historically and in a contemporary context, posing urgent questions that consider the ways in which people negotiate space and place.”
Behbahani and the Ursinus students investigated indigenous and invasive local plants to inform the work, which was created in ink and lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone prized for its vivid hue.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned from this is how you can take creative liberties,” said Cooney, an art and environmental studies double major. “Bahar encouraged us to take it in any direction we wanted in terms of research—and even materials we gathered—to help inspire the projects.”
She said the process included collecting pictures, stories, and more in a digital “archival playground” to help inspire Bahar and the team.
“We are able to draw upon our own interests to see where it took us,” said Rosario, who is majoring in East Asian studies.
Varghese, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, added, “What was more personal for me was immigration side of that title, Immigrant Flora. That’s where we started in terms of our conversations. We didn’t really have a set plan, but it grew from that theme and from our experiences and that was really at the heart of it.”
Immigrant Flora: Rising Under is now open to the public at the Berman now through December.