Triptych by Pantea Karimi.

Saffron, Saint of Spices: UCSF Library Artist in Residence Pantea Karimi

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The UCSF Library Artist in Residence program promotes health humanities by exposing and re-purposing historical materials preserved in the Archives & Special Collections.

Through collaboration with the Makers Lab, the artist creates work that explores connections between art and healing, examines the process of scientific discovery, and addresses contemporary issues related to health care and social justice.

The artist’s work is inspired by the Archives & Special Collections holdings of rare books, personal papers, photographs, artifacts, university publications, and East Asian and other art collections.

Saffron, Saint of Spices is the culmination of Pantea Karimi’s year-long 2021 artist residency and is comprised of multiple related works now on display on the main floor of the Kalmanovitz Library at Parnassus Heights.

It explores the plant Crocus sativus (commonly known as the “saffron crocus”) from historic, religious, medicinal, visual, and cultural angles. Read more about the techniques, materials, and processes applied throughout Pantea’s year-long residency on the UCSF Library website.

Artist Pantea Karimi with her art.

Photo by Dylan Romero

Pantea Karimi shared the following thoughts at the start of her residency:

“For this opportunity, I am interested in medicinal botanical archives at the UCSF Library. Through my project, living in post-COVID-19 and with variants of the virus rising, I aim to bring awareness to the role of nature in helping us live a healthier lifestyle.”

Among all plant species that Pantea explored in the UCSF Library databases and books, the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus” stood out because it has deep roots in Iranian culture, cuisine, and medicine.

Saffron crocus is one of the hardest flowers to harvest and produces the most expensive spice.

Pantea extracted images of different saffron crocus plants from the books studied at the UCSF Library, New York Public Library, and Chester Beatty in Dublin, Ireland.

Pantea chose a triptych for the visual presentation as it was an object of reverence in medieval times and the format allows for storytelling.

Pantea used the various abstracted silhouettes alongside the digitized hand-printed patterns developed using the marbling technique; a plant-based printing method from late medieval Iran.

Marbling also references those decorative papers with mottled and marbled designs that were used for manuscript binding throughout the history of book-making, particularly in medieval periods.

Artist Pantea Karimi with library books.

Photo by Pantea Karimi

The idea to transform these beautiful botanical images into the 3D form was present throughout Pantea’s residency. The UCSF Library has a well-equipped Makers Lab where Pantea ideated a second artwork that involved 3D modeling and 3D printing.

The 3D saffron crocus plant was manufactured in collaboration with the UCSF Library Makers Lab team. Makers Lab

Designer, Scott Drapeau, worked with Pantea to envision the flower in 3D form. The process took around three months and the plant went through a few rounds of trial and error but eventually exceeded expectations.

Scott was skillfully able to make the flower from Pantea’s 2D digital illustration using the Blender software.

Pantea placed the 3D saffron crocus plant inside a hand-made black cube that has four slits, one on each side. The plant is illuminated from the ceiling of the cube.

A viewer has to look through one of the slits to see the flowering plant.

3D print cube.

Photo by Pantea Karimi

Pantea also led workshops and authored news stories throughout her year-long residency. Read a summary of Pantea’s residency on the UCSF Library website.

We would like to thank the 2021 UCSF Library Artist in Residence review committee for their commitment of time and effort to support this program.

  • Brenda Gee, Administrative Director, Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost, UCSF Art Program manager
  • Farah Hamade, UCSF Library 2020 Artist in Residence
  • Polina Ilieva, Associate University Librarian and UCSF Archivist
  • Kirk Hudson, UCSF Library Tech Commons and Facilities Manager

The UCSF Library looks forward to working with the 2022 Artist in Residence Jacoub Reyes. Jacoub will explore the connection between humanity and pleasure-evoking vices, specifically sugar, and is inspired by the UCSF Library Japanese Woodblock Print Collection.