Once We Were Strangers

The collaborative practice of Ron Tomlinson and Amir Akhavan brings to light a unique story of an unpredictable, artistic duo whose focus is the exploration of the qualities of humanity – through a variety of aesthetic interpretations and expressions.

Tomlinson’s career as a painter is vast and he is perhaps best known for the studio he has established in Fort Worth, Texas, a home-away-from-home for anyone who finds the front door and can demonstrate a true commitment to the practice of art. Twenty years ago, a chance meeting in Paris introduced Akhavan to Tomlinson and, despite geographical distances (Akhavan splits his time between New York and Tehran), the mentorship has endured.

Over the years, the subject of South American immigration has featured predominantly in the paintings of Tomlinson and the proximity of Fort Worth to the Mexican border is precisely the reason why.  Bearing witness to the results of thousands of border crossings, Tomlinson’s paintings examine issues of respect, trust, safety and dignity for all of those who seek peaceful refuge in the United States of America.

Sun of Namaz, Screen print on paper, 2017, 46×64 cm

Soldiers & Rubble, Oil on Canvas, 2015, 400×600 cm

A large work designed to bring the viewer into the painting, portraying the destruction that leads to refugee crisis.

“I wanted to create a painting that can transform a space, and overwhelm viewers with the destruction US soldiers find themselves in the middle of.”

Akhavan has consistently examined the subject of duality, through his portrayal of figures who are frequently stereotyped. A citizen of the United States and Iran, Akhavan has had the opportunity to understand very different and frequently opposing perspectives relating to, among other things, the subject of armed conflict, religion and immigration. Akhavan’s own perspective is shaped by the fact that he was raised in America as an Iranian and later returned to Iran as an American. Akhavan does not like to be described as an artist who is attempting to “bridge the gap” between nationalities and yet his paintings do illustrate the complex relationship between two nations who must achieve peaceful coexistence.

Tomlinson and Akhavan recently reunited at Gary Lichtenstein Editions to create a new body of work using silkscreen as the primary medium. Once We Were Strangers will showcase a number of new silkscreen print editions produced by the Artists that illustrate the beauty inherent within different cultures. The exhibition will also include the photography installation entitled, (un)documented, made possible by PROOF: Media for Social Justice, a non-profit organization that uses visual storytelling and education to inspire global attitude and policy changes.

Once We Were Strangers is the conceptualization of the definition of the word, “humanity,” the through-line and the thread that brought everybody together under one roof at Mana Contemporary.

  • Exhibition: Gary Lichtenstein Editions at Mana Contemporary, New Jersey, (2017)
  • Concept & Artistic Direction: Gary Lichtenstein PROOF media for social justice, Melissa Marr
  • Production: Amir. H Akhavan & Ron Tomlinson
  • Research: Amir. H Akhavan, Ron Tomlinson, Melissa Marr