Yassi Mazandi, The Thirty Birds, 2023, in collaboration with LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives, © Yassi Mazandi, image courtesy of Snap Inc.

Yassi Mazandi's The Thirty Birds Speaks to Migration, Climate, and the Search for Oneself

April 4, 2024
Sajji Lazarus, Snap Research Fellow, Director’s Office

LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives is a multi-year initiative that brings together celebrated artists and leading technologists to create augmented reality monuments exploring histories of Los Angeles communities. In consultation with community leaders and historians, the initiative’s third and final collection of artists, Victoria Fu, Yassi Mazandi, Rashaad Newsome, Rubén Ortiz Torres, and Alison Saar, have used the lens of collective ancestral memory to examine the individual and communal legacies we leave today and have created works designed to be experienced at locations across Los Angeles with Snapchat’s camera.

Learn more about Yassi Mazandi's monument The Thirty Birds below, and join Mazandi at Birding LACMA: A Morning Community Bird Walk on Saturday, April 13. 

Farid al-Din ‘Attar’s 12th-century Persian epic poem The Language of the Birds is a parable about a mystical quest for God, a spiritual home, and our own highest good. Inspired by her grandmother’s retelling of ‘Attar’s poem, artist Yassi Mazandi created an augmented reality monument to visually represent it, and in doing so, brought a centuries-old story into modern focus.

In ‘Attar’s poem, a mission is undertaken by 100 birds seeking a worldly ruler—the mythical Simurgh. Over the course of their long journey, many birds perish, until only 30 of the original 100 remain. The survivors come to realize that they themselves are the Simurgh (which translates to “30 birds” in Persian), and through their own trials and tribulations, find that they are the home they’ve been pursuing. 

Yassi Mazandi, Language of the Birds, 2022, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Yassi Mazandi, photo courtesy of the artist

As a multimedia artist, Mazandi enjoys exploring the permeability of different mediums and was already familiar with augmented reality before joining Monumental Perspectives. Leveraging Snap’s powerful technology with the help of Lens Creator BLNK, Mazandi’s vision for a multi-faceted, highly intricate, and interactive lens was born, and the artist was able to bring her vision to life without the constraints of a physical medium. 

The stark, abstract birds in Mazandi’s lens are fashioned in the same manner as those in her kinetic bronze sculptural installation Language of the Birds, which hangs suspended from the north side of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion. Stripped of feathers, Mazandi’s dramatic birds evoke ‘Attar’s powerful mystical poem that universalizes the quest for meaning. They also call to mind today’s key issue—climate change—and the ways in which it imperils many avian species and contributes to human migration, often accompanied by dangerous journeys and inhospitable reception.

Salton Sea, photo by Giovanni Arechavaleta gareco51, Wikimedia Commons, License CC0: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salton_Sea,_United_States_%28Uns...

Six years ago, Mazandi started researching the Salton Sea, also known as California’s Sunny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, which was once a large lake in the desert inlet of San Diego and served as a key stopping point for many different bird species migrating along one of the four major North American avian migration routes, the Pacific Flyway. This body of water is now rapidly shrinking due to political, agricultural, and climate pressures, resulting in less water entering the lake annually while the desert that surrounds it evaporates the water faster than it can be replenished. The salinity of the water is also increasing, negatively impacting both the birds who rely on it and the humans who live on its shores. 

Mazandi was struck by the impact on wildlife so close to home. The story of these migrating birds closely mirrored her own journey away from her birthplace in Tehran, Iran, and emphasized the resonance of the Simurgh’s story. The artist continued to visit the Salton Sea to research and document the bird patterns she saw there: “There are three billion birds missing in America. Six years ago, I was researching the Salton Sea, the water rights. The more research I did, the more I found out that these birds were traveling to find home. I hadn’t connected the dots until I read the poem The Language of the Birds."

Mazandi's painted birds, pre-AR transformation, courtesy of Yassi Mazandi

It was only natural that Mazandi would invite community members to participate in her forthcoming programmatic component accompanying her project: bird-watching walks. Mazandi hopes this will drive surrounding communities to pay more attention to our immediate environment, and consider how we can contribute to fighting climate change.

Mazandi's birds in a beta stage, courtesy of Yassi Mazandi

The Thirty Birds speaks to experiences of migration, the climate crises, and searching for and finding oneself in a continuously changing landscape. Her stunning birds and their aural sensations soar unfettered by the bounds of time and place. As we explore our own changing reality on a daily basis, Mazandi’s work reminds us not only to be aware of the shifts, but to continue to look for threads we can follow back to our own homes and points of origin.

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