Man Is Food for Worms in Ashkan Honarvar’s Beautifully Grotesque Collages

“Man is a worm and food for worms,” wrote Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death. “This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body…a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways.”

That seminal text, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974, is one of two works that inspired Iranian-born artist Ashkan Honarvar to create two series of hand-cut paper collages, both featured in his new exhibition, “Sometimes I forget myself,” at CES Gallery in Los Angeles. While The Denial of Death is well-known, Honarvar’s other inspiration is less so: The Other Side of the Underneath, a 1972 cult film by the radical feminist filmmaker Jane Arden.

Regardless, both works relate to worms. Becker’s book is about the burden of consciousness, the elaborate civilization that humans have created to distract ourselves from being aware of the certainty of our own deaths. After all, the cultural anthropologist says, we are “food for worms.” That anguish of being alive—the struggle between worldly pleasure and surrender to mortality—comes across vividly in collages from Honarvar’s “Denial of Death” series. Made from images the artist sources from fashion magazines, art history books, and science journals, these works are ripe and luscious, rich with colorful birds and butterflies, angelic cherubs, sumptuous flowers, and pretty female faces. Yet there’s a sinister undertone to these rosy-hued works. For instance, a woman in The denial of death 1 - 1 (2015) isn’t popping into her mouth a berry or a chocolate bonbon, but a snake.

There’s something arguably more disturbing about Honarvar’s “King of Worms” series. The collages, which reference Arden’s cinematic exploration of corruption, gender inequality, and abuse of power, are filled with violent images, phallic symbols, and representations of the human body that are at once beautiful and grotesque.

In both series, and in his larger practice, Honarvar plays the role of curator and philosopher. He borrows from writers and filmmakers and from the pictorial layouts created by photographers, illustrators, graphic artists and editors—all to create his own visual world, lush and nightmarish. In the end, his work celebrates the perishable beauty of human life while exposing its absurdity.


Bridget Gleeson


Sometimes I forget myself” is on view at CES Gallery, Los Angeles, Feb. 27–Mar. 26, 2016.

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