“Congrats” by Rex (Alexandra) Delafkaran (2018)

Only one of the flags on view in Rex (Alexandra) Delafkaran’s solo show is what you might call a flag. With its blue and yellow panels, “Flags for when you don’t know where you are: shades of blue and yellow” (2018) looks a little like the flag of Sweden, albeit one remixed like a squares-within-squares painting a la Josef Albers. Printed on the nylon appear to be abstract squiggles in pink and teal. But the elements of a traditional flag are all there: bracket, pole, fabric square, even some fringe around the edges.

“Flags for when you don’t know where you are: red, yellow, and vase” (2018), the other ostensible flag on view, is something else. It’s a woven Iranian design, featuring a black vase pattern, draped over a towel rack installed along the wall. Delafkaran’s having it both ways, hanging a flag and hanging a “flag.”

Tender Bits, the artist’s first solo sculpture show, is rooted in ceramics. Delafkaran’s work goes to show just how expansive that category is these days, incorporating found objects, abstraction, and even performance. That’s especially true in the D.C. area, where Mount Rainier’s Red Dirt Studio has shattered every preexisting conception of what clay and craft can be. Delafkaran, a Red Dirt artist, is just as likely to perform modern dance as work the pottery wheel for her practice.

Rhythm, repetition, and symmetry are the foundations of her work. Two ceramic works mirror one another: “looking for something better” (2018) and “when one isn’t enough” (2018), both distorted ceramic vessels standing on cinder blocks that have been chained to the wall. Another trio of sculptures resonate, each one a stack of cinder blocks bound by a brightly colored ratchet strap that also hugs a ceramic form. These three forms, and several others on view, are phallic in shape but only loosely so—shapes that fall between fungal stalks and dildos.

Delafkaran’s work is nonbinary, incorporating elements that are both found and representational as well as handmade and abstract. “Snow White, Good Vibes and friend having tea and bomieh” (2018) might describe the scene set by the sculpture: three dildonic ceramics arranged on a Persian carpet. Her work is private, and conducted in a private formal language, a bit like Louise Bourgeois’ “avenza:” bulge-like, pre-sexual forms.

Into her similarly universal figures, Delafkaran has encoded some specific experiences. “Hey baby, Hey baby” (2018)—a ceramic plate that bears those words inscribed over and over in a maddening spiral—speaks to rage-inducing catcalls. In “tender not soft” (2018), a shriveled, hardened gourd of a ceramic strapped down to a cinder block bears the word “CONGRATS.” Cryptic for certain, not fully finished, undeniably poetic. 

9 Hillyer Court NW. Free; $8 suggested donation. (202) 338-0325. athillyer.org.