“Reyhaneh” by Sheida Soleimani (2015)
“Reyhaneh” by Sheida Soleimani (2015)

Nevermind, Azizam never settles into a single groove. At first glance, this show at Transformer could be a meditation on tradition in art, both decorative and modernist. Look a little closer and some narrative markers begin to emerge between the works. Anahita (Ani) Bradberry, Alexandra Delafkaran, and Sheida Soleimani, the three artists on view, all share Iranian-American heritage, although this fact is only fleetingly apparent. Between the neon installations, ceramic sculptures, and photo collages, no one vision holds sway.

Delafkaran and Bradberry’s fruitful collaboration drives the show. Bradberry’s “Wives and Daughters” (2017), a free-floating orange neon scribble, faces Delafkaran’s “YEAH BUT” (2017), a ceramic shaped like a gut organ. The sculptures are paired on twin sculptural pedestals: opposites that attract. The team-up is even stronger in Delafkaran’s “Reminiscient of –” (2017) and Bradberry’s “Veins” (2017). These two form a plural artwork, un composé: Electric cords dangle from Bradberry’s red neon and green argon horseshoe forms, right into the twin ceramic gourds that Delafkaran has propped up against the wall. It’s hard to dissolve out separate sculptures in this recombinant artwork. Together, the pieces evoke Eva Hesse.

Two photographs of collages by Sheida Soleimani balance the show. Soleimani’s contributions serve as a point of departure, a juxtaposition, that completes this compositionally excellent presentation. Between Bradberry’s future-cool neons, Delafkaran’s crafty ceramics, and Soleimani’s photo collages, Nevermind, Azizam gestures meta-textually toward tradition—how artists embrace or defy expectations with the mediums they choose.

With three Iranian-American female artists who are working at a time when conservatives in America or Iran or both are disputing the tentpoles of their identities, the show promises a narrative punch. Bradberry’s “azizam” (2017), which at a glance could be a word in Farsi rendered in neon, tenders something traditional and literal as modern and abstract. Delafkaran’s “Desirable things” (2017) is a ceramic phallus that could also double as a swoop in Farsi, affixed to a garden hanger; two of her sculptures, “Ports of and into (1 & 2)” (2016) are phalluses speared by wall hooks (more than a little reminiscent of Cathy de Monchaux’s gothic hardcore grotesques). In Soleimani’s “Reyhaneh” (2015), press-on manicured nails burst out of bananas.

That punch in Nevermind, Azizam lands indirectly. The show alludes to sex and formalism but stops short of eliciting a convincing feeling about either. Houseplants and a goldfish flick at the comforts of home even as the show strains to achieve white-cube purity. Perhaps that is the point. The artists may not find themselves in a position to deliver verdicts about the issues that weigh on hyphenated-American identity. In that sense it’s a breath of fresh air. A show willing to linger in ambiguity, insistent on the right to a moment’s reprieve from the klaxon alarm sounding off over all our politics: faith, sex, migration, death.

At Transformer to Oct. 14. 1404 P St. NW. Free. (202) 483-1102. transformerdc.org.