Cities Project Communities

Ala Ebtekar’s Cosmic Love for San Francisco

by Erin Joyce

December 23, 2014

A city has many possibilities—it’s a wide open landscape inspired by the heritage, folklore, and traditions of its inhabitants.

Though our backgrounds may define us, a city can just as easily define us, becoming a part of who we’ve been, who we are, and who we will become. For San Francisco-based artist Ala Ebtekar, the notion of culture’s impact on community is a major focal point not only in his practice as an artist but also in his personal life. As part of The GOOD Cities Project, we collaborated with Ebtekar to create a visual love letter to the city of San Francisco, and recently spoke with him about his artistic practice, his relationship with the Bay Area, and what he had planned for his love letter.

A first-generation American, Ebtekar is the son of Iranian immigrants who left their homeland during the revolution of 1979. Ebtekar grew up in both Tehran and California, feeling rooted in both communities. “Sometimes I felt more Iranian and sometimes I felt more American,” Ebtekar notes.

As an artist, Ebtekar explores his dual identity in his work. He’s drawn to visuals shared in the folklore and architecture of both his homelands, particularly the arch—which serves as a doorway through which our view spans time, history, and space. “Sufi believed existence is of two natures, the earthly and the divine,” Ebtekar says. “The transition between these two states was represented by the arch.”

For the GOOD Cities Project, Ebtekar wanted to visually articulate the openness of the San Francisco Bay Area’s culture and history. “I welcome the rare opportunity to deepen my engagement with the Bay Area community visually through this project,” noted Ebtekar. He believes San Francisco is a microcosm of the world, with people from all over the globe living and working within its borders. By using the hashtag #sflove, a symbol borrowed from the Bay Area social community, this billboard unifies the many cultures of San Francisco.

“In my practice as an artist I have explored optimism, possibilities, and connections to the self,” Ebtekar says. “By isolating arches, windows, and views of the cosmos, I hope to suggest a common meditative vision with application to both ancient tradition (and spirituality) and to imaginings of the future.”

Ala’s billboard was on display as part of the GOOD Cities Project throughout November.

The GOOD Cities Project is a five-month collaboration with Ford, exploring how we make our cities and how our cities make us. As part of the project, GOOD and Ford have commissioned cultural creatives across the country to help illuminate and celebrate the rich and vastly diverse points of view that make up each city's individual character. Each week, we will be exploring attributes that we believe are fundamental to living meaningful urban lives.

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Ala Ebtekar’s Cosmic Love for San Francisco