Saturday, 19 August 2017

Inspired by lingerie, Iranian artist in East Haddam explores perceptions of women worldwide

Which Pair Are Yours? (Coalition) Colored pencils, 2014, 12.5 x 15.5 inches, by Azita Moradkhani. This drawing is about women's vulnerability and, at the same time, their power. While lingerie has a powerful role in sexual enticement, it is also extremely delicate barrier against sexual violence. Women are much the same way: we are powerful because of our willingness to struggle in spite of our constant vulnerability of being violated. Also, the string of pearls in the design of this specific lingerie refers to the story of vagina dentata (vagina with teeth) that talks about the power of the vagina to give birth to you -- or possibly kill you. That's the meaning of the world for me; the paradox between these different notions. Courtesy the artist.
by Cassandra DayThe Middletown Press

Deep in the woods in the Millington section of town sits 450 acres of preserved forest and marshland — a retreat that, since 2001, has been a temporary home to a multidisciplined and constantly changing enclave of artists.

I-­Park is an artists-in-residence program offering free four-week residencies in visual arts, architecture, moving image, music composition/sound art, creative writing and landscape/ecological design.

The campus is bordered by Devil’s Hopyard State Park, the Nature Conservancy and East Haddam Fish and Game Club — all whose missions of land stewarding and preservation align with that of I-Park’s, said executive director and co-founder Joanne Paradis.

Iranian visual artist Azita Moradkhani, 31, packed up everything in her Boston home of five years and came to I-Park a week ago, the start of year-long back-to-back residencies she has lined up.

Inspired by her first visit to a Victoria’s Secret store in the United States, Moradkhani uses delicately drawn images of women’s undergarments to showcase the public-private concept of women’s bodies and violence against women.

“Lace is a big part of my work. I was thinking about the pressure on women and censorship in some countries, but also noticed the impression it has on a female’s body in different cultures,” said Moradkhani, who incorporates lingerie in her drawings “to talk about a more hidden story.”

"When it Dawned"

Iran opposition leader’s daughter held painting exhibition

Narges Mousavi an Iranian artist and daughter of Mir Hossein Mousavi stands during her exhibition in “House of Free Designers” art gallery in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. The daughter of Iran’s opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since early 2011, is holding a painting exhibition in Tehran. Courtesy Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press, via Washington Post. 
by Amir Vahdat, Associated Press

The daughter of Iran's opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since early 2011, hides her pain behind abstract watercolor paintings of birds and blossoms — but bullets and bars are never far away.

That's according to Narges Mousavi's latest art exhibition, which opened on Friday [August 11] in Tehran.

The display, entitled "When it Dawned," is the second public showing of her art since her father was placed under house arrest along with another opposition leader, Mahdi Karroubi.

The two led Iran’s Green Movement and street protests challenging then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2009 re-election. No charges have been raised against Mousavi and Karroubi. Both are 75 years old.

At the exhibition’s opening at the “House of Free Designers” gallery in Tehran, Narges said her paintings are “about the contrast between coarseness of war and elegance of peace.”

In the cream-colored world of her art, birds sing, flowers blossom and “invisible angles in the sky and on the ground turn cruelty of the material world into kindness.”

“I attempt to conceal the agony brought about by weapons and missiles with a poetic touch,” she said.

But thin and sharp lines slice through some of the work. One depicts a mother holding her slain son as she cries.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


Iranian-American Painter’s exhibition at SECCA provides visual revelations while highlighting hidden messages and nefarious political agendas

“Shooting the Edge,” 2017, Acrylic on Canvas, 213 x 274 cm, by Taha Heydari. Heydari’s work, in an exhibition titled “Subliminal,” can be seen at SECCA. Image courtesy the artist and Winston-Salem.
by Tom Patterson, Winston-Salem Journal

In his visually engaging, thematically charged exhibition at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary art, Iranian-American artist Taha Heydari ingeniously turns the traditional medium of painting into a critical lens on timely issues with international implications.

Instead of taking his visual cues from unmediated “real life,” Heydari bases his paintings on digital imagery, usually in varied states of pixilation and degradation, as witnessed in video broadcasts subjected to interference or a weak signal. In some cases he throws in traditional Islamic design motifs, computer-generated patterns, linear screen grids and painterly brushstrokes.

The results of this varied mix are distinctive paintings whose visual distortions, scrambled images and other enigmatic qualities metaphorically underscore cautionary, underlying messages about political repression, covert operations and other authoritarian modes of socio-political control.

The show’s title, “Subliminal,” alludes to visual and/or auditory stimuli that recipients perceive without being consciously aware of them — “Hidden Persuaders,” as journalist Vance Packard called them 60 years ago in his popular book of that title. Corporations and governments use subliminal tactics fairly often in mass-media efforts to manipulate the expectations and desires of consumers, voters and political subjects.

Heydari simultaneously employs and implicitly criticizes these tactics in this show’s 20 paintings, half of which were specially commissioned for this show by SECCA’s former curator Cora Fisher, who organized it. Heydari’s clear aim, aside from making visually compelling art, is to heighten viewers’ abilities to recognize and resist such corporate and political manipulation.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Comics and Calligraphy: British-Iranian artist Jason Noushin – in conversation

Diaspora artist bursts onto international art scene with found paper and Persian script mash-ups. 

Multidisciplinary artist Jason Noushin employs antiquarian paper, discontinued bank notes and vintage comic book leaves alongside calligraphy to emerge with works examining socio-political narratives. 
Jason Noushin, ‘Ils Sont Fous Ces Romainsi’, 2017, oil, shellac, ink, pencil, turmeric and comic book leaves on linen, 48 X 48 in. Image courtesy the artist and Art Radar.
by Lisa Pollman, Art Radar

British-Iranian artist Jason Noushin is a self-taught artist whose work has been exhibited throughout the world, including CONTEXT Art Miami, Yale University and the Courtyard (United Arab Emirates). Currently, the artist’s work is on exhibition at Susan Eley Fine Art through 30 August 2017 and will be a part of Magic of Persia’s “Magic in Monaco Fundraising Event”.

Noushin was recently part of acclaimed group show “The Ocean Can Be Yours”  at the Gerald Moore Gallery in London, curated by Janet Rady. As Ms Rady told Art Radar, his collages were chosen due to their “unique” combination of sources:
I was particularly attracted to the fact that whilst he uses Persian script, the words he writes in his paintings are actually English taken from English poets and texts.  Similarly, in his portraits of Persian poets on manuscript pages from the Bible, he is blending the combination of Iranian and Western traditions.  In this way, he is speaking equally to both audiences in a unique and original manner.
Art Radar caught up with Noushin to learn more about his early years growing up in one of Tehran’s most well known contemporary art galleries and how this experience living between cultures continues to influence his work.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Why Shirin Neshat complicates 'Aida' at the Salzburg Festival

With Anna Netrebko in the title role, Verdi's "Aida" gets a fresh staging at this year's Salzburg Festival. Iranian stage director and film artist Shirin Neshat told DW why she made "Aida" more complex than usual.
Anna Netrebko will be Aida. Courtesy DW.
by Andrea Kasiske, DW

New York-based Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat is known for her photography, video installations and films. Her work has largely dealt with women's issues in Iran, exploring taboos and touching on gender and cultural conflicts.

At this year's Salzburg Festival, she is the stage director for a new production of Verdi's opera "Aida" starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. The 19th-century work tells the story of a Nubian princess captured and enslaved by the ancient Egyptians. Radamès, a military commander, finds himself forced to choose between his love for Aida and his loyalty to the powerful Pharaoh.

DW spoke with Neshat ahead of the premiere of "Aida," conducted by Riccardo Muti, on August 8.

DW: Ms. Neshat, how would you describe your interpretation of "Aida?" How do you see the opera?

I have the feeling that there is a lot to interpret with "Aida," both from a Western and non-Western perspective. I know that many Middle Eastern critics have complained about how "Aida" exoticizes Egypt and portrays it as a barbaric society.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

This Creepy AI Artwork is Programmed to Learn and Adapt Itself

Who is the artist? The AI creators or the AI itself?

The Machine Was a Ball and I Was a Cold Star Installation view, Adam de Neige in collaboration with Ivan Pesic, 2017.  Images courtesy of the artist and Creators - Vice.
by Andrew NunesCreators - Vice

Whenever we view an artwork, we only see its final stage, some form of polished end product. All of the labor, emotional turmoil, and complexity of its transformation from thought to reality remain hidden, its history lost. The artwork at its completion enters stasis, never to leave this state unless ultimately destroyed. Iranian artist Adam de Neige in collaboration with software engineer Ivan Pesic completely disrupt this model with their project The Machine Was a Ball and I Was a Cold Star, an algorithmic artwork designed to "educate and evolve" itself as time goes on.

Recently on view at the start of the Venice Biennale at Spazio Tana White, de Neige's project consists of an AI arrangement of projected videos, images and sounds, that are ultimately out of the duo's control once installed. The "storytelling AI" as de Neige calls it, continuously morphs itself, and even the action and presence of visitors can "influence some parameters" in the artist's words.

Although this project marks the first time de Neige has made autonomous AI-as-art, he believes the work is in line with his ongoing conceptual trajectory as an artist. "You can see some reflections of this idea in my previous work and projects," he tells Creators. "There is more or less the same principle behind my 'partly destroyed' concrete works. It's even more evident in my project Beneath the Flow where I drowned artwork in a Venice lagoon two years ago. By masking, destroying, drawing, and letting things go on their own, you basically question notions of order, chaos, and control."

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Refuge: A Novel

I started having nightmares around the time we arrived in the first refugee hostel—missing limbs and phantom stranglers and dying parents were simply the price of sleep.

Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku. Courtesy Guernica.  
by Dina Nayeri, Guernica

ur first visit was in 1993. I believed Baba was coming to Oklahoma to stay. We drove to the airport around noon on a blistering Oklahoma Sunday. Maman allowed us to miss church for it and we took pleasure in putting on casual clothes, packing bottles of ice water. Kian brought an old Game Boy. The sun blazed through the windows and within five minutes we were sweat-stained and nauseated. Kian and I wore thrift store shorts and t-shirts with faded brand names; Maman wore jeans and a nice blouse from Iran. She was trying to strike a balance. Iranian women fret constantly over their looks, but she didn’t want Baba to think she missed him.

She fired questions at us, oblivious to the answers. “Are you excited to see your Baba?” “Kian, do you have your poem?” “Niloo, I told you, no shorts. Do you want your Baba to think you’ve become some kind of American dokhtare kharab?”

Maman’s biggest fear for me since the day I turned thirteen (a year earlier) was that I would become a dokhtare kharab, a “broken girl,” which is the Iranian way of describing a sexually free person who happens to be female—she thought I was more prone to it than average, because of my shared DNA with Baba. The male version of the word, as in most cultures, is something along the lines of playful.

Kian nudged me in the ribs and started singing an annoying song he had made up that made Maman giggle. Sometimes she would tease him by humming his toddler revolution song. “The caged bird is heartsick of walls,” she would croon in a baby lisp. Kian would sing the rest and they carried on their mother-son infatuation. I hated it. I didn’t know to miss Baba in those moments.

Maybe because I was a daughter, or because I was Baba’s daughter, Maman reserved all her austerity for me. She forbade me from wearing a drop of makeup and only gave in to my demand to shave my legs when she saw that my hairiness defied modesty and she could neither let me out looking like that nor force me to wear long pants in the stifling Oklahoma heat. Always crammed in tiny rooms with Maman and Kian, I craved the smallest privacy.

Sometime during our years as asylum seekers, I stopped playing children’s games. I forgot books I had loved and lyrics to Farsi songs, and started to dream about having my own apartment in a big city. In Oklahoma, I made secret plans, borrowing college admissions guides from the public library, readying myself for my second escape—this sleepy flatland was no home to me, and it would be worth any hard work and indignity now if I could just find my own. The other children had never met someone from the Middle East, never considered dreams or demons other than their own, and they didn’t invite me into their narrow universe. They didn’t explain their song lyrics, the rules for dodgeball, or how to pronounce the many words I mangled. Left to entertain myself, I lived inside my imagination. Soon I decided that to find safety here and to re-create the sense of home, I needed two things: money and the air of being a real American (an elusive formula that brought me daily shame). In order to prepare for my excellent future in a big city, I lived off pita bread and egg whites, swam a thousand meters daily, and never stopped moisturizing my legs. I studied twelfth-grade calculus seven hours a day.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Beyond the veil: Bold art by Persian-Arab women

Superheroes, mythical female figures in the desert: the Suspended Territories exhibition at Germany′s Marta Herford gallery showcases contemporary women's art from the Arab world, Iran and North Africa. 
Courtesy Qantara.
by Julia

Public debate about women in the Middle East easily gets bogged down in prejudice: oppression, violence and backward ways of thinking are predominant perceptions of a region that has become the epitome of chaos, war and decay.

An exhibition at the Marta Herford gallery, located in north-western Germany, tries to avoid these pitfalls by exposing the visitor to issues presented by female artists in countries as diverse as Iran, Libya, Jordan and Tunisia. Their art raises awareness about the unseen and "in between" dimensions of Middle Eastern culture, equally found in desert landscapes or in Palestinian refugee camps.

Living in uncertainty

The notion of "in-betweenness" is arguably most ingrained among stateless Palestinian people. To this end, Jordanian artist and architect Saba Innab helped rebuild the Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon while creating a series of installations and drawings that reflect on almost 70 years of diaspora. She notes that Palestinians have internalised the temporary and elusive. "That interested me, " Innab admits.

Sama Alshaibi knows exactly what Saba Innab means. You have no place to return to, no place to go, said the Iraqi-Palestinian photographer who was a refugee for a large part of her life. "Nor are you welcome where you are, either."

Sama Alshaibi lived illegally for years in the U.S. before being granted asylum. To be a refugee or a displaced person " is an identity all of its own," she says.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

New York art museum seeks to counter Islamophobia

Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani says she wants museum visitors to walk walk with a different impression of Arabs and Muslims. Courtesy Al Jazeera
Reported by Gabriel ElizondoAl Jazeera News

Home to some of the world's most famous art spaces, New York is known for its cultural diversity. Yet, the US city had not had a museum dedicated solely to Arab and Islamic art.

A new museum, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, is seeking to change that by providing a platform for artists and scholars to exchange ideas and promote cultural dialogue between voices in the United States and Arab and Islamic countries.  

The museum’s founder, Mohammed Rashid al-Thani, a Qatari art enthusiast, told Al Jazeera that he wants to help foster better understanding between the East and the West at a time of rising Islamophobia.

"Unfortunately until now we didn’t have one art institute or cultural centre that represents the Arab and Islamic regions and provides these artists the platform," he said.

"There's a stereotype of Muslims and Arabs and we can blame media all we want. But it is our responsibility to do something about it and to be active participants in the society we live."

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Abraham in Flames, Truth, Justice & Memory: On Trials by Fire in the Art of Iran and America

Niloufar Talebi is a writer, award-winning translator, and multidisciplinary artist. She won a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship for her translations of Ahmad Shamlou’s poetry. Courtesy Jules Cisek and HuffPost.
by Omid MemarianHuffPost

Ahmad Shamlou, the highly celebrated Iranian poet, is the inspiration behind a new opera, Abraham in Flames, conceived by creator/librettist Niloufar Talebi with composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and director Roy Rallo. I spoke with Niloufar Talebi as she prepares for a sneak preview event at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on May 31, a multimedia presentation including sung musical excerpts from the opera, a selected reading of the opera’s libretto, and a visual collage of other material shaping the concept of the opera:

Omid Memarian: Who is Ahmad Shamlou and why is he the inspiration behind your opera?

Niloufar Talebi: Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000) was one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th Century in Iran. He was a poet, translator, essayist, editor, encyclopedist, and much more, with over seventy book to his name, a living encyclopedia of Persian folklore, several recordings of poetry recitations, and numerous translations of major literary works from several languages into Persian. Drawing from both Western and Eastern techniques and movements, he pushed the boundaries of Iranian poetics and helped usher it into its Modern forms. His life’s work was also devoted to the struggle for social justice. In other words, he was a cultural giant.

I had the privilege of knowing Shamlou from his participation in my parents’ literary salons in the tumultuous years after the 1979 revolution when Iran was besieged in war with Iraq, martial law, and uncertainties as the new Islamic Republic was forming after the deposition of the Shah of Iran. Shamlou is a world class artist who deserves a larger, global audience, one of my reasons for introducing him to new audiences through projects inspired by him. But also because I cannot help it: the extraordinary company I found myself in during my coming of age years had a lasting impact on me and still informs me as an artist.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Meet Dj Nesa, A Woman Aiding Iran’s Electronic Music Boom

An interview with the female DJ behind Deep House Tehran about the growth of the Iranian techno scene.
Courtesy Electronic Beats.
Interview by Tristan Bath, Electronic Beats

I was born and raised in Tehran, and I got into music at a very young age—when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. I started playing very traditional Iranian instruments, like the tombak and dayereh drums, a string instrumental called a tar, the zither-like santoor and one non-traditional instrument: the guitar. I’ve been making music myself since 2004, but before that I was working as a DJ with lots of my own techniques. I decided to make my own music and started working in Ableton, plus a bit of Reason and Logic. But what I make is very different from what I play, and I’m still mainly known for being a DJ.

My earliest DJ gigs were actually at private events in Dubai in 2009. It was an amazing experience for me because I was used to playing only for very small groups in Iran. I was even offered a residency ­­at a club in Dubai, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay due to visa issues. My first official DJ set—one that wasn’t a private or unofficial party—was actually only a few months ago in Yerevan, Armenia. It was amazing to play in a proper club, to have that atmosphere and to play for people from so many different places. I love playing for people I’ve never met. It’s quite a contrast to playing in Iran, where there aren’t any clubs or public nightlife. All the underground music has to happen at parties at private homes. The crowds at house parties in Tehran can vary a lot, from 30 up to even 200 people. Most of the people there are Iranian, unless by chance someone has a foreign guest visiting. But other than that, Iranians make up 90 percent of the parties. As far as the atmosphere goes, I’d have to say that we all have similar problems everywhere in the world: when you mix drugs and alcohol, the chance of altercations increases. However, I do think there’s less chance of problems at parties in Iran because everyone’s usually friends.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Art of Iranian Immigrants Reveals the Creative Potential of Inclusivity

Gallery looks “Beyond the Ban” to highlight the role art can play in uncertain times.
Nahid Hagigat, “Kurdish Women in Red,” 2015, hand-painted etching from 1970s plate. Courtesy Susan Eley Fine Art and HuffPost.
by Priscilla FrankHuffPost

In January, President Donald Trump issued an executive order denying citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations entry into the United States. In the months since, multiple courts have deemed the ban unconstitutional, arguing that it discriminates against Muslims.

Yet Trump is still pushing strongly for the directive, filing an emergency request with the Supreme Court earlier this month and penning increasingly incensed tweets expressing his frustration with the Justice Department.

Not long after Trump first announced his plans for the ban, art institutions around the U.S. responded to denounce the executive order as fundamentally opposed to values of inclusion, diversity and liberty. New York’s Museum of Modern Art made its convictions known by hanging work made by artists hailing from affected nations on its walls. The Davis Museum at Wellesley College used a different approach to convey a similar message. The museum temporarily removed all artwork made by or donated by immigrants from the museum walls.

The message behind both art world protests came through loud and clear: immigrants are indispensable parts of the fabric of this country, and their contributions to American civilization and culture are invaluable.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Tehran Noir: Samuel Khachikian and the rise and fall of Iranian genre films

For four decades, this innovative director made Hollywood-style movies that played to sellout crowds in Iran. After the revolution, his western inspirations fell out of favour, but a new retrospective of his little-seen work should reinvigorate his reputation.
Midnight Terror (1961). Courtesy BFI
by Ehsan Khoshbakht, BFI

The films of Samuel Khachikian have, as the director’s name suggests, a strange ambiguity. One of the father figures of Iranian cinema, Khachikian was for 40 years synonymous with popular genre films inspired by Hollywood and enjoyed by big audiences. But his formal innovations and fluid handling of genres not only expanded the possibilities of cinema, but reflect the specific social and political tensions of a country building to a revolution.

Hollywood style in modern Tehran

Khachikian was dubbed the ‘Iranian Hitchcock’, a title he disliked, and in the 1950s and 60s the premieres of films would cause traffic jams. New cinemas were opened with the latest Khachikian picture.

Khachikian’s films provide us with images of a bygone era in Iran. Cadillacs roaring through the streets; women in skirts parading to the next house party; bars open until the small hours of the morning; dancers grooving to the swing of a modernised, post-coup Tehran, which was soon to collapse into revolution. The films are part-documentary, and partly a product of Khachikian’s fantasy of an Iran which has successfully absorbed Hollywood style.

The films were unique in the way in which they could almost be passed off as foreign productions. His classic Midnight Terror (1961) was reportedly bought and dubbed by the Italians, with added name changes, to make it seem as if the story had been set in Milan. Fully aware of the deep contradictions of this encounter between cultures, however, the films manifest a sense of unease. Khachikian’s attention to the fetishistic celebration of automobiles, fashion and glamorous mansions were so many symbols through which he could reflect injustice, class conflict and identity confusion in Iran.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Iranian-American Artist Revives Islam’s Apocalyptic Goddesses

How Morehshin Allahyari is using new technologies to reclaim an ancient feminist narrative.

Images courtesy of Morehshin Allahyari and Creators - Vice.
by Catherine ChapmanCreators - Vice

Mystical goddesses and warnings of the end times are reimagined with digital technologies in the new work by Iranian-American artist Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown. Taking images of supernatural female figures found in Islamic mythology—Ya'jooj and Ma'jooj—Allahyari has created a digital video artwork using 3D techniques to bring their cautionary stories to life, and reinterpreting them in what the artist calls, "a feminism activism practice."

"I find these figures and then reappropriate," Allahyari tells Creators. "I find them from different images, choose a selection, and then 3D model, print and scan them. I write narratives about them in relation to the power that they have, putting them in context to current forms of colonialism and oppression. So these female powers come to fight these current systems, going against them in a way."

Presented on the Media Wall at The Photographer's Gallery in London, Allahyari's first solo UK show expands on themes found in her previous work. Her continued series Material Speculation, for example, sees the reconstruction of ancient artifacts destroyed by ISIS in 2015, questioning the issues of ownership and access to data that arise with the new technologies that she uses.

Friday, 26 May 2017

A Guide to Iran’s Electronic Underground

9T Antiope. Courtesy Bandcamp.
by Tristan Bath, Bandcamp

“By the time I was a teenager living in Tehran, underground music was all rock, metal, and hip-hop,” says Siavash Amini from his home in the Iranian capital. “In the past [all] musicians wanted to be mainstream, but were forced to stay small and underground.” Speaking to Amini —freshly returned from his first European tour—the changes in both the climate and the mindset in present-day Iran become clear. “Right now,” Amini says, “being underground is not as much a limitation as it is a decision to disconnect from the mainstream.”

The existence of any kind of underground or electronic music scene in Iran is a relatively recent development, arguably part of a quiet and generally slow shift in the country’s post-revolution identity. Those changes came to a head with the election of reformist and relative centrist Hassan Rouhani as President in 2013, which opened up a doorway for Iranian relations with foreign countries, all but shut off after decades of international sanctions.

The Islamic Republic that emerged from the 1979 revolution quickly quashed the country’s burgeoning pop and rock music scene, in favor of state-approved folk and classical styles. Iranian pop and rock musicians stayed all but silent throughout the 1980s, but years later, after the arrival of globalized digital media and swappable MP3s, government repression isn’t enough to stop a new generation of musicians creating digital noise, heavy techno, and textured ambience.

With rock and pop music increasingly entering Iran’s opening mainstream, it’s hardly surprising that instrumental electronic music has become the touchstone for Iran’s underground musicians. For one thing, wordless music is often too subtle or oblique to be perceived as an ideological threat and censored. For another, as in the West, the means of production have been entirely handed back to the artists, who are able to record and distribute at home, even able to send files to foreign labels and journalists while they’re at it. Local experimental musicians can now perform live regularly in Tehran (in fact probably far more regularly than like-minded local musicians can muster in far costlier cities like London or New York),  and they now also host their very own festival, called SET.

The election of an isolationist far right American President, along with the waning of liberal thinking in general, signifies no small threat to the development and progress of the young scene. Notably, Donald Trump’s infamous proposed—and briefly enacted— travel ban includes citizens from Iran, regardless of the fact not a single deadly attack has taken place on American soil at the hands of an Iranian citizen since 9/11.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Charming, Disgusting Paintings of Tala Madani

A still from Tala Madani's “Sex Ed by God” (2017), currently showing at the Whitney Biennial. Courtesy the Artist / Pilar Corrias Gallery / David Kordansky Gallery and The New Yorker.
by Negar Azimi, The New Yorker

Recently, the Iranian-American artist Tala Madani was sitting in her studio in Los Angeles, tweaking a video in progress. It featured a young girl wearing a bow in her hair and a yellow-gold cardigan, her legs akimbo in a pose that conjured Courbet’s “The Origin of the World.” The animated film imagines a sex-education class taught by God. Madani had recently been watching nineteen-seventies sex-education films from Scandinavia and Britain on YouTube, and was struck by the way they were typically narrated “from both perspectives, male and female.” In her own film, a pair of men—one thin and boyish, the other tall and pear-shaped—gaze at a projection of the young woman, while the narrator, represented by a pair of disembodied pink lips, wheezily delivers the wisdom of the ages: “Be present. Find the clit and never let it go.” As the scene unfolds, the girl reaches out of the projector screen, takes hold of the male figures, draws them in, and makes them disappear between her legs. “I guess I was really interested in exploring female pleasure,” Madani told me. “I wanted to play with the idea of passivity. She’s not passive anymore.”

Like her paintings, Madani is alternately droll and punishingly serious. The first time I saw her work, seven years ago, in London, I was struck by a painting of a gaggle of men kneeling on all fours. It was impossible to say whether they were engaged in prayer or in sexual submission. Large parachutes hung limply around their bodies. The men’s noses were spewing blood. And yet, somehow, this grotesque group portrait had a sweetness to it as well.

In February, following President Trump’s executive order denying the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries entry into the United States, the Museum of Modern Art exhibited eight works by artists from those countries in its fifth-floor galleries. Among the works on display was a Madani video, from 2007, entitled “Chit Chat.” In the video, which can be seen on YouTube, two men engage in banter that is by turns friendly, argumentative, and literally bilious. It is, like the best of her work, at once charming, thoughtful, and kind of disgusting.

Critics are wont to consider Madani’s work through the prism of her Iranian background. Madani is not fond of this maneuver. Her work has more in common with the giddy grotesqueries of the Los Angeles artist Paul McCarthy or with Philip Guston’s lumpy, comical forms than it does with Islamic calligraphy or Persian miniature painting. And yet, she admitted, “I probably wouldn’t have become a painter if I hadn’t been the product of emigration.” Her canvases can be viewed as theatres of cultural encounter, where references from the history of art meld with figures drawn from the Japanese anime that she loves to watch or from the Ladybird children’s books that served as her introduction to the English language.

Wherever the spirit guides

Henry Corbin, theologian and professor in Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne, is widely regarded as the West′s authority on Persian philosophy. Despite having died in 1978, he is not only revered in modern-day Iran, he has also been appropriated. 
French philosopher Henry Corbin (source: Association des Amis de Henry et Stella Corbin). Courtesy Qantara.
by Marian

An unremarkable street in the southern part of Tehran′s city centre, not far from the Armenian Embassy, bears the name of a French academic - ″Henry Corbin Street″. If you walk a few blocks further down Enghelab Street and visit one of the numerous bookshops opposite the University of Tehran, the same name will leap out at you from the philosophy shelves, printed on the spines of books placed prominently beside the works of Iranian academics.

No other European Iran specialist and scholar of Shia is as respected in modern-day Iran as the French philosopher and mystic Henry Corbin (1904-1978). There is no study of ancient Iran in which his name does not appear; no research on Iranian philosophy that does not build on his work. Corbin had a traditional Catholic education, before studying philosophy at the Sorbonne. At the age of 22, his intellectual journey eastwards began with the study of Arabic and Sanskrit.

Making the acquaintance of the “Imam of the Platonists”

In 1929, when Corbin was 25, the young Orientalist met the Islamic studies scholar Louis Massignon in Paris – an encounter which was to change his life. Massignon, a Catholic priest particularly famed for his research on the Islamic mystic Mansur al-Hallaj, introduced Corbin to the Iranian Sufi philosopher Shahab al-Din al-Suhrawardi. Massignon had just returned from Iran and handed over to Corbin a manuscript of Suhrawardi′s major work, the Hikmat-ul Ishraq, that he had brought back with him.

It was an act of providence that Corbin would later describe as ″inspiration from heaven″. He devoted most of the rest of his life to studying the works of Suhrawardi, whom he called the ″Imam of the Persian Platonists″. Suhrawardi, born in 12th-century Persia, is also known as Shaykh al-Ishraq, or Master of Illumination. Suhrawardi developed a complex philosophical system, in which the whole of creation is an emanation of the highest divine light.

Corbin saw his work on Suhrawardi as more than just an academic undertaking. ″Through my meeting with Suhrawardi my spiritual destiny for the passage through this world was sealed,″ the French scholar later revealed. Alongside the study of Platonism, Zoroastrianism and Islamic mysticism, Corbin delved into the German theological tradition, in particular the legacy of Martin Luther. In the 1930s, Henry Corbin published several translations of Suhrawardi′s works. At the same time, he was completing the first translation of Joseph Heidegger′s major work ″Being and Time″ into French. The two philosophers had met in Freiburg in 1931.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

How the CIA Secretly Funded Arab Art to Fight Communism

A man walks past "Baghdadiat" by Jewad Selim at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha December 14, 2010. Selim was one of a number of Arab artists promoted in the U.S. by the AFME. Courtesy Reuters/Mohammed Dabbous and Newsweek.

by Sultan Sooud Al QassemiNewsweek

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, details began to emerge about the CIA’s covert role in using art as a tool for political ends during the Cold War. The policy—known as "long leash"—was initiated to showcase the creativity of American artists such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko in the face of "rigid" Soviet artistic constraints.

The United States government wanted to use the soft power of modern American art to combat Communism. Among the most effective of these initiatives was the Congress for Cultural Freedom which funded a number of cultural projects including a major exhibition titled "The New American Painting" that toured Europe in the late 1950s.

Suspicions about the almost sudden spread and funding of American art movements such as Abstract Expressionism led critic Max Kozloff to describe it in a 1973 essay as "a form of benevolent propaganda." But while much is known about CIA funding for American art during the Cold War, their support for Arab art during the same period has rarely been discussed.

In his 2013 book America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, Hugh Wilford documents the extent of the relationship between the spy agency and a "pro-Arabist" organization known as the American Friends of the Middle East (AFME).

One of the 24 Americans that founded the AFME in 1951 was Kermit Roosevelt Jr., a career intelligence officer who played a leading role in the CIA-backed coup to remove the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953.

Friday, 3 March 2017

‘Roud’ (“River”)

The ‘Gardoun Art Group’ is pleased to announce the launch of a new and exciting project, called ‘Roud’ (“River”). The group will be travelling to work in Dezful and Shuhtar in Khuzestan province, from 5th to 15th March 2017, in order to highlight the importance of water and the impact of three main rivers, namely DezKarun and Karkheh, in the region. The word ‘Roud’ is the Persian word for river, and in some Persian dialects, it also means ‘offspring’ and ‘beloved’. Khuzestan, located in the southwest of Iran, is the most ancient Iranian province, in which the agricultural developments first appeared around 3000 BC in the northern region. Throughout history, the abundance of water and its management has transformed this region into a well-endowed land, although recent droughts have significantly affected this region and its unique eco-system.
The ‘Roud’ project aims to inspire and educate underprivileged children as well as high school and university students, through various artistic events, such as 1) running creative workshops, 2) wall painting in a high school (with a particular focus on themes of the Shahnameh, “the Book of Kings”), 3) painting next to rivers and waterfalls, 4) organising seminars, 5) concert, and 6) art exhibition.
Gardoun hopes to support the local youths and inspire the next generation through art and education.
Organiser: Taraneh Sadeghian
Participants: Aida Foroutan, Ashkan Jalali, Samira Darya, Samira Eskandarfar, Hamed Sahihi, Keyvan Mousavi-Aghdam, Naghmeh Hokamzadeh, Nezhla Motamedi, Mahtab Nematollahi, Maryam Bordbari, Mahya Ghobadi, Sadolah Nasiri, Solmaz Shamshiri, Parmida Jalilvand, Amir Shalmani, Taraneh Sadeghian.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

″Self-censorship is the worst″

Interview with the Iranian writer Abbas Maroufi
The novel describes events during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 while tracing the narrative of one family: against their father′s will, all four sons of the Amani family end up supporting opposing sides. Abbas Maroufi provides an intricate portrait of this highly dramatic period in Iranian history, mirroring the revolution. Courtesy Qantara.

Abbas Maroufi, born in Tehran in 1957, was one of Iran's most respected writers when he was sentenced to prison and a flogging for 'offending the fundamental principles of Islam'. It was only thanks to the intervention of the German PEN Center and the intercession of Gunter Grass that he was able to leave Iran in 1996. He has lived in Germany ever since. 

Volker Kaminski: In your novel Fereydun had three sons, your hero Majid is almost compulsive in his habit of looking at old family photos that bring back memories of his past in Iran. Are you ever like this? You have been living in Germany for 20 years now. Do you often dwell on what you left behind?

Abbas Maroufi: Memories very often come back to me and sometimes I write them down. That can happen very spontaneously. For example, someone passing my window can suddenly trigger a memory of someone I used to know. And this one memory can remind me of details that then set me thinking about a whole host of other details. Sometimes I am like the first person narrator in Proust's Recherche.

For him, a madeleine dipped in tea opened the door to his past. For me, it is colours, sounds, or a specific smell. Memories are never linear. The same is true of modern writing, which – unlike the works of Balzac and Flaubert with their single narrative threads – works with fragments. This is like my rather associative narrative style in my novel Fereydun had three sons.

Kaminski: To what extent does your novel reflect the situation you yourself were in when you left Iran? Your hero's life is in ruins. He is an asylum seeker and lives in a psychiatric hospital. To put it bluntly, he is a nervous wreck. At the same time, he is gripped by a yearning to return home. Is this what it was like for you? Did you want to go back home?

Maroufi: A writer's homeland is very important to him. It is a constant source of inspiration for his writing, his daily work. But I couldn't go back; I had been given a prison sentence. It was only thanks to support from outside the country, with the help of the PEN Center, of which I am a member and the personal intercession of Gunter Grass that I was able to leave Iran.

Regarding Majid's state of mind in my novel, it is indeed rather typical: he has not only lost his homeland, he has also lost his job, his social environment. And so he is tortured by 'bad thoughts'. He falls into a depression, feels humiliated and useless. On occasion, he acts aggressively towards the others in the hospital. It is only when he is busy with his daily work that he feels alright.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Creative License: Paterson’s Golshifteh Farahani Talks Jarmusch and Breaking Through Iranian Self-Censorship

Courtesy of Amazon Studios, Bleecker Street and MovieMaker.
by Ryan VaziriMovieMaker

We all long for lives filled with extraordinary moments, signs that our individual experiences are different from everyone else’s. Yet reality is characterized by repetition and boredom and frustration, routine and shapeless.

Jim Jarmusch’s cinema has always reflected on what can be called, loosely and grandly, the meaning of life. His latest film, Paterson, tells the story of a bus driver (Adam Driver) who writes poetry on the side and dearly loves his wife (Golshifteh Farahani). They live in Paterson, New Jersey, made famous as the subject and hometown (respectively) for American poetry greats William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg; otherwise it’s a relatively humdrum slice of small-town America. The characters’ lives are packed with routine: The bus-driving poet (also named Paterson) goes to work, gets in a couple of verses, drops by the local bar, while his artistic wife Laura stays in home and occupies herself with baking and learning guitar. On the whole, though, they’re happy.

Jarmusch’s whimsical, solemn film would’ve been impossible to pull off without the help of great performances by Driver and Farahani. Farahani, an Iranian actress now based in France, brings to life an effervescent, energetic woman, whose self-absorption and flightiness is balanced with a great deal of charm. Farahani’s successful career in Iran, including frequent work with auteur Asghar Farhadi (she starred in his acclaimed About Elly in 2009), was put on hold when officials banned her from the country following a nude photoshoot in French magazine Madame Figaro. She has since worked with a range of international moviemakers, from Mia Hansen-Løve to Ridley Scott to Jon Stewart. With her courage, versatility and immense talent, her future certainly seems to be very bright.

A Tale Of Two Shows

A review of two shows in London reveals the intimacy of works on paper as well as the artist’s self-portrait
Bahman Mohasses. Untitled (Three Figures). 1957. Lithograph. Funded by Maryam and Edward Eisler. Image courtesy of British Museum, the Estate of Bahman Mohassess and Harper's BAZAAR Arabia.
by Roxane Zand, Harper's BAZAAR Arabia

There are those who say that all works of art are in some way a portrait of the artist. While as a topic this would invite much debate, it is fair to say that all artists address the self and its preoccupations in the process of creativity and expression. Two recent shows – in very different and seemingly unconnected ways – draw our attention to the self-scrutiny of portraits and the artistic process. They are two shows that inspire and excite in equal measure, in disparate ways but for quite similar reasons.

The first of these is a gem of a small show at the British Museum – Iranian Voices: Recent Acquisitions of Works on Paper, curated by Dr Venetia Porter. Thanks to the museum's Contemporary and Modern Middle East Art Patron group, and other generous donors such as Maryam and Edward Eisler, the Museum now has a growing collection of over 200 established and emerging artists from across the region. This particular group of works on view just behind the Addis Gallery brings together thoughtfully juxtaposed pieces by such well-known names as Bahman Mohassess, Parviz Tanavoli, Parastou Fourouhar, Ali Akbar Sadeghi, Shahpour Pouyan, Tarlan Rafiee and Yashar Samimi Mofakham, Fereydoun Ave, Bahman Jalali, and Ali Banisadr. With the thoughtfulness and historicity characteristic of British Museum exhibitions, this show unfolds a series of unexpected connections and a contextualisation that makes it an eye-opening experience. For one thing, it is fascinating to see works on paper by artists some of whom are better known as painters. The viewer gets to witness the artist's process, smaller experimentations, sketches of more complex compositions, as well as stylistic departures.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

An Iranian Artist Living in L.A. Reflects on the Effects of War in Unlikely Ways

Courtesy Gelare Khoshgozaran, Human Resources and LA Weekly.
by Eva Recinos, LA Weekly

Even as a toddler, Gelare Khoshgozaran could tell something was wrong. She fumed as she hid under the stairs with her parents, wondering why they laughed and told jokes while jets flew overhead.

“I would look at my brother’s face and he was terrified,” says Khoshgozaran. “And I knew that although this was kind of fun — hiding under the staircase with your parents in the dark — this was really serious. … I remember the feeling of rage toward my parents that they were not capable of understanding the amount of danger and the scale and severity of how vulnerable we were.”

They did understand, of course. And Khoshgozaran would later come to realize that this was the only way they knew to comfort her during some of the most traumatizing moments of their lives. Little did Khoshgozaran know that the Iran-Iraq war would affect multiple parts of her life, even after she moved to the United States in 2009.

“Rocket Rain,” the artist’s solo show at Human Resources in Chinatown, explores both her personal story and the collective history and symbols of communities affected by the war. Envisioning the show was only half the battle: Khoshgozaran asked for the help of friends and family to gather materials and share their own stories of how their lives were affected by the war. Khoshgozaran’s mother was pregnant with her during the war, something that always stuck with the artist.

Conversations about the past, present and future

The series ‘Visual Dialogues’ continues with a showcase of works by two artists who explore their mutual interest in material, abstraction and the found object
Gallery view of the works of Fereydoun Ave and Shaqayeq Arabi. Courtesy Gulf News.

by Jyoti Kalsi, Gulf News

Total Art at the Courtyard continues its series “Visual Dialogues” with an exhibition of recent works by well-known Iranian artists Fereydoun Ave and Shaqayeq Arabi. The show sets up a conversation between Arabi’s three-dimensional works and Ave’s two-dimensional pieces, exploring their mutual interest in material, abstraction and the found object. Both artists work with objects available to them in their surroundings, turning them into a poetic stream of consciousness, telling stories about the past, the present and the future.

Arabi is a compulsive collector of found materials, which she uses to create her work. In her latest series, she has used pieces from a broken classic chair, fly nets, palm fronds, bells, a cycle pump, a pair of crutches and spatulas from a pizzeria — all found on the streets of Dubai — to create aesthetic and thought-provoking assemblages that express her feelings, emotions and memories, and speak about the fine balance between our built environment and nature. “I work spontaneously, but the one conscious decision I make is to always include some organic materials in my compositions,” she says.

Ave has been an influential personality in the Iranian theatre, film and arts scene. Besides being an internationally recognised artist and curator, he is also a collector of art and antiques, and a mentor to the next generation of Iranian artists. He has lived and worked in Europe, America and Iran, and was a close friend of legendary American artist Cy Twombly. His new cycle of works “Shah Abbas and his Page Boy” comprises a series of textile-based mixed-media pieces that combine his roles as artist, collector and mentor, and reflect his deep understanding of both Western and Eastern art.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Tehran’s Ab-Anbar Gallery Links the Diaspora and Global Art

Drawings by the Scottish artist David Batchelor, who will have a solo exhibition at the Ab-Anbar gallery in January. Courtesy David Batchelor and NY Times.
by Ginanne Brownell, New York Times

Reza Aramesh had received offers before. Over the years the London-based artist, who was born in Iran, was approached by various Tehran galleries asking if he would like to have his works exhibited. But for a variety of reasons it never felt suitable.

“I always wanted to show in Iran, but it was never really the right situation or gallery at the time,” said Mr. Aramesh, 42, whose works scrutinize oppression and violence in a global context through mediums including photography, installations and sculpture. “I did not show in Iran just for the sake of it because even in London I never did that. With any gallery, it has to make sense.”

But a few years ago when the newly founded Ab-Anbar gallery in Tehran approached the artist, who has been featured in shows in countries including South Africa, Israel, China and Argentina, he was intrigued. “For one, it was a gut feeling,” said Mr. Aramesh, who has a solo show at the Dubai outpost of the Leila Heller Gallery (until Jan. 4) and is featured in a group show “Uncertain States: Artistic Strategies in States of Emergency” (until Jan. 15) at Berlin’s Akademie Der Künste.

“Another was that I met Salman Matinfar a number of years ago and was impressed with him and his knowledge of my work. But also what interests me is that as a gallerist I like his ambition.”

Mr. Matinfar, the founder and director of Ab-Anbar (“water reserve” in Farsi), plans for his gallery to be international in scope, not only in its focus to bring Iranian diaspora artists’ work back to Tehran (Mr. Aramesh’s second show with the gallery, “At 11:57 am Wednesday 23 October 2013,” closed in early October) but also to have international contemporary artists exhibited in the gallery, in the downtown district of the capital.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Iran art exhibition uses culture to bridge Middle East divides

Courtesy The Iran Project.
Najmeh BozorgmehrFinancial Times | Via The Iran Project

The Land of the Solidities, an abstract oil painting of a fully veiled Arab woman by Mounirah Mosly, a Saudi artist, hangs near an untiled piece by the late Sohrab Sepehri, one of Iran’s best known poets and painters.

The fact that the works are displayed at the same exhibition in Tehran provides a rare show of bonhomie in a region blighted by conflict and bitter rivalries. For Iran the event is unique — it is the first time that the predominantly Persian state has hosted such a public display of Arab art.

The organisers touted it as an opportunity to use culture to bridge some of the regional divides, and it is notable that two works from Saudi Arabia — Iran’s regional foe — are on the display.

Karim Sultan, curator at the Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation that put on The Sea Suspended exhibition, says the exhibition is about “continuing the conversation with the Arab world.”

Ehsan Rasoulof, the director of Mohsen Gallery, one of Iran’s avant-garde art galleries, concurs, saying art should transcend the Middle East’s problems.

“In this crisis-hit region where we live, an art dialogue is the responsibility of artists, despite all the tensions between us and our neighbours,” Mr Rasoulof says.

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic in January after its embassy in Tehran was ransacked by Iranian hardliners protesting against the Saudi government’s execution of a dissident Shia cleric. Iran and Saudi Arabia — the region’s dominant Shia and Sunni powers respectively — back rival sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen as they fight proxy wars, and are blamed for stoking sectarian tensions across the Arab world.

Friday, 11 November 2016

From Iran to Guatemala: How Women Are Driving Music’s Political Revolution

Courtesy Noisey.
by Emma GarlandNoisey

Whether its navigating a warzone, or becoming a public figure in a violent patriarchal society, these artists are using their music to become important voices of the times we live in.
A young girl is pictured counting rosary beads in a church. A male voiceover crackles: "Some of you may become somewhat uncomfortable as parts of this film unfold". A Presbyter, visible only from the neck down, uses a perfectly manicured hand to give the girl a small pink pill as a communion offering. In comes the music: a thumping electronic beat reminiscent of both Scissor Sisters and Le Tigre, before a woman's voice cuts in shouting, "Does your vagina have a brand? Let your vagina start a band!"

This is how a recent music video from now notorious activists Pussy Riot begins. Titled "Straight Outta Vagina​", it is intended as both a celebration of all that is female-presenting, and a confrontational riposte to Donald Trump's "grab them by the pussy" remarks. The name "Pussy Riot" is now internationally recognised, their brightly-coloured balaclavas a symbol of opposition, feminism, and LGBTQ+ rights. It can be easy to forget that Tolokonnikova and fellow founding member Maria Alyokhina spent 16 months in Mordovia penal colonies on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

Where nothing is allowed, yet anything is possible

Ramita Navai: ″City of lies. Love, sex, death and the search for truth in Tehran″

Survival in Tehran is a matter of lying and bending the rules. In the Iranian theocracy, real life is conducted in secret. Nadja Schluter reports on what else we can learn from the wonderful book on Iran, "City of Lies
Young Iranian women in front of a shopping mall in Tehran′s northwest (photo: Getty Images/AFP/ B. Mehri. Courtesy Qantara.
by Nadja

This book is populated by an army of standardised noses. They are slender and dainty and well-formed – because almost all of them were operated on by a cosmetic surgeon. But now and again, a natural and characterful nose appears and stands out from the crowd. The one belonging to Ana, for example, a single woman in her late 20s: "She was one of the few Iranian women with an imperfect nose, the one she was born with, a noble, sharply angular nose, which had become the proud hallmark of her strength and individuality." And this, although relatives, friends and even strangers on the street have urged Ana "to have her nose altered to a more acceptable, marriage-friendly size."

The noses are just one of the wonderfully observed details in the literary reportage volume ″City of lies. Love, sex, death and the search for truth in Tehran″. In eight portraits, the British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai observes the lives of the citizens of Tehran, forced to subjugate themselves to the strictest of regulatory regimes – as imposed by their country and their religion – and exposed to so much social pressure to conform, that a perfectly normal nose can have so much symbolic clout. That young people dancing on the street equates to a mass rebellion. That a picnic on the side of a four-lane highway signifies freedom.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Iranian-American Tackles Big Brother with Performance Art

Amy Khoshbin, Gold Lady: Terror Level Five, Eyes Open, Photo by Corbin Ordel. Courtesy the artist and The Creators Project.
by Kara Weisenstein, The Creators Project

Advocacy, coupled with an interrogation of her cultural heritage, is at the soul of Iranian-American artist Amy Khoshbin's video and performance art. She’s currently in residence at Mana Contemporary, as part of Mana BSMT, the museum’s collaborative hub supporting emerging artists, where her performative installation The Myth of Layla is on view through November 12.

The artist grew up hearing stories of Iran from her dad that today sound like fairytales. In his youth, the country was a bohemian idyll. “When my dad was living there, it was like Paris. There were artists going there all the time. Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, and all these people... It was a really cool time to be in Iran,” Khoshbin tells The Creators Project.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Finding freedom in the catacombs

Roxanne Varzi's novel "Last Scene Underground"

"Last Scene Underground: an ethnographic novel of Iran" by Roxanne Varzi, an American associate professor of anthropology, tells the story of a group of students in Tehran who want to stage an illegal play underground. Marian Brehmer read the book

Theatre performance in Tehran (photo: Mehr). Courtesy Qantara.

by Marian

Cultural anthropology is one of several academic disciplines where researchers maintain close links to real people in society, while at the same time – guided by their curiosity – building a bridge between the academic world and the realities of human life.

It is quite possible that this is exactly what Roxanne Varzi sets out to achieve. Varzi, an associate professor of Anthropology and Film and Media Studies at the University of California, was born in Iran and moved to the United States with her family soon after the Islamic Revolution. Unlike many American-Iranians, Varzi did not cut ties with the country of her birth and even moved back to Tehran in 1994 for four years to conduct research. Since then, she has regularly travelled to Iran to research youth culture in the Islamic Republic.

"I love the inquisitive and experimental spirit that I have encountered in Iran and wanted to channel this power of expression into my own work," she says. Varzi's documentary films and sound installations have been displayed in museums the world over. Now, she has presented the results of her research in a way that is rather unusual in academic circles, namely as fiction in the novel “Last Scene Underground: an ethnographic novel of Iran”, which tells the story of a group of students in Tehran who want to stage an illegal play underground.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Tehran's towers: how the Iranian capital embraced bold architecture

Despite its rich history of boundary-pushing designs, Tehran’s architecture scene had lain largely dormant since the 1979 revolution – until now
The Orsi Khaneh project, by Keivani Architects, in Tehran’s affluent Gisha district. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali DehghanThe Guardian

From its iconic Azadi (freedom) tower, which has ridden out a revolution, an eight-year war and innumerable protest rallies, to the elegant museum of contemporary art or the city theatre, Tehran has long been home to a brand of wacky, yet distinctively Iranian, contemporary buildings.

In the few decades leading up to the 1979 Islamic revolution, architects such as Houshang Seyhoun, Kamran Diba and Hossein Amanat pushed the boundaries of traditional Persian architecture by using traditional elements in modern designs; Amanat’s freedom tower epitomises those efforts.

After the revolution, however, the Iranian capital’s architectural scene suffered a serious blow as the country was consumed first by war then by postwar reconstruction. But more recently, with young architects educating themselves in worldwide trends, and the relative stability of the country compared to its post-revolutionary upheaval, a new generation are following in the footsteps of the veterans. The city has embraced a bold, experimental architecture.

Tehran in 2016 “is in a constant mood of reconstructing and rebuilding itself,” according to Mehran Gharleghi, director at London’s Studio Integrate, who has previously worked in Tehran for the prominent architecture firm Mirmiran. “The municipalities accommodate new designs, at least compared to Europe, and there’s a big appetite for new buildings.”

“Tehran has a unique structure,” he adds. “It is more dynamic than any European capital, and at the same time it’s not a typical Middle Eastern city. Its urban scene is quite chaotic at the first glance. But, similarly to cities like Tokyo, this means Tehran is constantly able to renew its visual identity.”

Tehran’s mayors are also influential. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one. And the incumbent, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who has run eye-catching projects such as installing Picasso and Matisse billboards on the city’s streets, has presidential ambitions himself – leading, says Ghaleghi, to “the motivation of Tehran’s mayor to commission ambitious projects and improve the urban set-up”.