The story of Orlando Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, “A Boundless Drop to a Boundless Ocean,” takes place all over the world. The exhibit, which runs through May 2, features work by U.S. artists of Arab and Iranian heritage — and is on view simultaneously here in Orlando and at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.

It was at a February 2019 dinner party in Cairo, marking the university’s 100th anniversary, where the seeds of the exhibit were sown. Nancy Wolf, a trustee of the Orlando museum, was there with her husband, Jonathan, a university trustee. She spoke with Shiva Balaghi, the university’s curator, about a collaboration and left her card.


This detail image is from Pouran Jinchi's "Dandelion Clouds" installation, created in 2020. It features 14 individual paintings made from gesso and ink on wood paneling.

“That’s how this whole thing started,” says Balaghi, on a morning Zoom call from her home in Los Angeles.

The two met again in New York City later in the spring and firmed up their plans to highlight American immigrant artists with families originally from the Middle East. By summer, Balaghi “started doing some research,” she says — swinging her Zoom camera to show dozens of books piled on her desk.


By fall, Orlando Museum of Art had agreed to her proposal.

Framing the art through the immigrant experience was personally important to Balaghi, who was born in Nashville to Iranian parents. The title of the exhibition comes from a chance encounter in Venice, Italy, with author Rupi Kaur. She had recently written the foreword to a new printing of “The Prophet,” the famed book by Khalil Gibran — himself a Middle Eastern immigrant to the U.S.

It was Gibran, in his 1923 book, who described an immigrant’s transformation in a new country as going from “a boundless drop to a boundless ocean.” Both in the Cairo gallery and Orlando, the exhibit opens with a work of art by Gibran.

Scanned images of artist Arghavan Khosravi combine with acrylic to create "Simurg," a 2017 work.

In all, 21 artists are represented in the show, with works dating from 1903 to 2020. Locally, the works are drawn from three Florida collections, including the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College in Winter Park.

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From an aesthetic point of view, the artists experiment with material and color. Even in traditional genres such as calligraphy or sculpture, “they play with that form,” Balaghi says. “In the way they make art, they are creating new spaces.”

"Second Family - Triangle," by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, uses mirror, reverse-glass painting and plaster on wood. The 2011 work is part of the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art.

The exhibit is framed around different aspects of the immigrant-artist experience. One section looks at the journey itself — and not just the physical travel.

“It’s also the spiritual and internal journey you make when you have this experience,” Balaghi says.

Another section, with artistic odes to gardens and other landscapes, examines immigrants’ search for belonging, “for a feeling of home again.” Portraiture is featured in a look at the question of identity.


And a final section considers the role of artists as witnesses to social upheaval, taking into view the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings and the 1953 coup in Iran, orchestrated by the United States and the United Kingdom.

The American University in Cairo already has connections to Orlando, through academic exchanges with the University of Central Florida. Balaghi thinks “A Boundless Drop to a Boundless Ocean” could strengthen both that bond and an interest in work by artists connected to the Middle East: “It’s my hope that this exhibition will be a beginning.”

Hayv Kahraman's "Not Quite Human 7" is a 2019 oil on linen. Courtesy of the Jack Shainman Gallery of New York.
  • What: Art by Arab and Iranian Americans
  • Where: Orlando Museum of Art, 2416 N. Mills Ave. in Orlando
  • When: Jan. 29-May 2
  • Cost: $15 (seniors $8, children and college students $5, military free)
  • COVID precautions: Masks required, and capacity is limited. Book a timed entry ticket in advance at

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