Tuesday, 26 July 2011

An Afternoon with Iranian Animator Noureddin ZarrinKelk

Event Date: 09/25/2011 - 2:00pm - 5:00pm 
Event location: University Park Campus, Norris Theatre, Los Anagels, CA

The USC School of Cinematic Arts invites you to participate in a retrospective screening and conversation with Noureddin ZarrinKelk, widely regarded as the father of Iranian animation. The event will include the North American premiere of his most recent film, Bani Adam.
Noureddin ZarrinKelk was born into a family of traditional Persian painters and calligraphers. In fact his last name means “Golden Pen” in Persian. But Noureddin, affectionately called Noori, also had a daring eye for adapting modern subjects, and perhaps it was also his fate to reimagine this 13th-century art form in a new light, as Noor means “light.”

He started his career at 16, drawing caricatures for Iranian magazines. After earning a Ph.D. in pharmacology, he worked as an illustrator trying to change the long-held tradition of imageless textbooks in Iran. While working at Iran’s Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, Noori saw how animated film can engage young audiences. He went to Belgium to study animation with Raoul Servais and was soon making films for children. He has since advanced Iranian animation almost singlehandedly by founding the country’s first animation school in 1974 and Iran’s branch of the International Animated Film Society in 1987.

Noori possesses a special humor which exists in all of his work. In The Mad, Mad, Mad World (1975), he portrays each continent on the globe transforming into a variety of animals barking or squawking at neighboring countries. But Noori is hesitant to speak about Iranian politics. Instead he works to encode profound political and social messages in his films, while sharing the culture and history of his country with a worldwide audience. His films express the need for global peace and understanding. In his latest film, Bani Adam (2011), he brings together world leaders to recite a poem by 13th-century Persian poet Sa’adi about our common humanity.

Throughout his career, Noureddin ZarrinKelk has helped to find a distinct place for animation and graphic art in the broad field of painting. And Iranian artists are increasingly recognized and received with great respect worldwide, in large part because of Nouredddin’s persistence and hard work. His creativity in animation and graphics is interwoven with powerful peculiarities of Iranian art and soul, making him one of the most renowned representatives of his country. At the same time, his art, with universal values, designates him as an artist of the world.

Sponsored by the USC School of Cinematic Arts, John C. Hench Animation and Digital Arts, Interactive Media Division, and SoCiArts: Socially Conscious Arts.

For more information, contact Lisa Mann at emann@usc.edu or 213-740-2804 or Kurosh ValaNejad at kvalanejad@cinema.usc.edu or 310-488-6830. For further information on this event:

Friday, 15 July 2011

Many tunes, many messages

A reflection of the ways in which music comments on political and socio-cultural issues   

By Jyoti Kalsi

Snail Fever is an art exhibition about music. And curator Sara Mameni has an interesting reason for the intriguing title. "Legendary Egyptian singer Abdul Halim Hafez died of bilharzia, also known as snail fever. His death in 1977 has symbolically marked the end of the ‘Golden Age' of Arabian music. Going back to the 1940s, this era produced classical singers such as Umm Kulthum, Abdul Wahab and Fairouz. It was a time of political change across the Middle East and the music of these great icons became the sound of reconfigured identities, nation states and fights for freedom.

"The golden age of classical music was followed by the modern, urban sounds of Arabpop, which touched a chord with a new generation and spread like a virus throughout the region. The idea behind this exhibition was to study the relationship people in this region have with music today and to examine its link with national identity in contemporary times. The title pays tribute to Hafez and music's golden age. It also alludes to the contagious nature of popular music and to the fact that in some countries in this region music is viewed almost like a disease that must be avoided," Mameni says.

The United States-based Iranian art critic and curator is at present working on her PhD on contemporary Middle Eastern art, and the idea for this show was inspired by her research into the art, sounds and revolutions of the past. Mameni invited several artists from around the region to explore the emotions and notions connected with music. And their works present various personal, political and cultural interpretations of our relationship with music.

US-based Iranian artist Abbas Akhavan looks at music and musicians from the point of view of an exile. His artwork, titled Greener Pastures, shows a picture of what looks like a large Iranian family enjoying a picnic in a park. But a closer look reveals that the people in the picture are all well-known Iranian musicians who left the country after the revolution in 1979. The nostalgic piece speaks about the pain of exile, suggesting that musical icons become a substitute for the family that one cannot visit and their songs become an important element of national identity. The artwork also comments on how politics affect a nation's socio-cultural environment.

For Newsha Tavakolian, music represents cultural repression. Her video, titled Listen, shows various Iranian women singing on what looks like a glittering stage. But their voices have been completely muted, making a strong statement about the restrictions on music and on women in general in her country.

In contrast, Cypriot artist Christodoulos Panayiotou's video, Slow Dance Marathon, is a humorous look at music's ability to make people forget their inhibitions and connect with one other. The artist organised a slow dance marathon and photographed various couples, who did not know each other, dancing together at the event. His camera captures the passion that music and dance ignite between strangers and comments on the social, cultural and political borders that divide people and the power of music to unite.

Ala'a Ebtekar examines the role of music in cultural hybridisation. His installation, comprising a tablecloth, a boom-box and a pair of sneakers, combines traditional Iranian artistic motifs, 19th-century Iranian café culture and elements of American pop culture to represent modern Iranian youth, who are influenced by the West but are also looking to reconnect with their history and heritage.

The title, Electric Del Roba, is itself a hybrid of the boom-box and the dilroba, a traditional Iranian musical instrument.

Cypriot artist Haris Epaminonda also looks at the American influence on international pop culture in her video installation titled Gramophone. The video features a still photograph and several clippings from Egyptian soap operas with American background music. Interestingly, this music was the first song used in an Egyptian film. The artwork thus alludes to the contagious, viral nature of music and makes a larger socio-political statement about Western influence on regional media and culture.

Kuwaiti artists Fatima Al Qaderi and Khalid Al Gharaballi are interested in the notion of celebrity and cultural icons. The two New York-based artists have redesigned the covers of albums by popular and controversial Middle Eastern stars Haifa Wehbe and Nancy Ajram to examine how these female icons are presented to the public and how they are viewed by different people.

Rayyane Tabet's work, Sherihan, Sherihan, Let Down Your Hair, also explores the idea of stardom and the fairytale-like image of a diva. The Lebanese artist has done a lot of research on the life of Egyptian singer and actress Sherihan, who was famous for her beautiful hair. He is displaying pages from a book he has written that retells the story of Rapunzel, with Sherihan replacing the fairytale character.

Slavs and Tatars, a group that includes Iranian and European artists, has taken the theme quite literally to examine the political connotations of music. They have written and composed an album titled Hymns of No Resistance, which contains songs that are meant to be anthems for nations that do not exist. Their song for this show, Stuck in Ossetia With You, refers to the region in Georgia and takes a witty look at the role of music in forging a national identity.

Jyoti Kalsi is a Dubai-based art enthusiast.

Snail Fever will run at The Third Line gallery until July 28.

Via gulfnews

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Monir Farmanfarmaian: 'In Iran, life models wear pants'

John Cage called her 'that beautiful Persian girl' and Andy Warhol kept her work on his desk. Monir Farmanfarmaian tells Laura Barnett about New York, exile – and finally making it at 87
‘Maybe I deserve to win’ … Farmanfarmaian, who is nominated for the V&A’s Jameel prize.

In 1944, Monir Shahroudy decided to move from Tehran to Paris to become a painter. There was just one small obstacle for the 20-year-old to overcome: the second world war. The French consulate informed her that moving to occupied Paris was, sadly, impossible; as was her alternative plan of waiting out the war in Morocco, which was still under German attack. But Shahroudy was undeterred: she resolved to move to America, and from there to Paris once peace was declared.

She secured a place on an American battleship bound from Mumbai to California; from there, she travelled east to New York, arriving in 1945. She never made it to Paris, but she did make it as an artist. Now 87, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (the second surname is that of her late husband) has been making art for five decades, and is widely recognised as one of the most influential artists working in Iran today.

She is currently having something of a moment: Monir, a doorstop of a book co-edited by Serpentine Gallery director Hans Ulrich Obrist, will be published in the autumn; and she is among 10 artists and designers nominated for the Victoria and Albert Museum's Jameel prize. Set up in 2009, the £25,000 prize is awarded to contemporary artists inspired by traditional Islamic design techniques; the winner will be announced in September.

Farmanfarmaian's art has encompassed many forms, from simple paintings of flowers and birds to unsettling "memory box" installations reminiscent of the oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois. But her largest, and most compelling, body of work combines two techniques from traditional Islamic design: mirror mosaic, in which fragments of mirror and coloured glass are laid in plaster to create intricate geometric patterns; and reverse glass painting, where images are carefully painted on to sheets of glass that are then viewed from the other side. These works are often large in scale and exquisitely beautiful, each sliver of glass catching and refracting the light like the teeming images inside a giant kaleidoscope.

Mirror mosaics have decorated the interiors of Iranian shrines and palaces since the 16th century. On the phone from Tehran – where she returned to live permanently in 2004 – Farmanfarmaian explains how she became fascinated with the technique. "Around 1971, I went to a certain shrine [in Iran]," she says, "and I became very awed with the way the mirror pieces were reflecting back images of the people there – the beggars, the holy men. It was so beautiful, so magnificent. I was crying like a baby."

Her first stay in New York lasted 12 years; she studied at Cornell University and Parsons School of Design, and worked as a fashion illustrator. It was an eye-opening time: she drew fully naked life models for the first time ("In Iran, the men always wore short pants," she says, "but at Parsons, the model was competely naked; he would always look at me and wink"), and fell in with a social group that included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman and Frank Stella. They instilled her lifelong interest in modernism – the influence of which sits fascinatingly in her art. "It was amazing [to know all these people]," she says. "I loved it. Even though I was just painting flowers and designing fashion, I loved these modern things."

In looks, Farmanfarmaian falls somewhere between Frida Kahlo and Audrey Hepburn; she was often asked to sit for portraits, and the composer John Cage once described her as "that beautiful Persian girl". Also among her friends was a shy young fellow illustrator named Andy Warhol, from whom she bought several sketches of shoes. In exchange, she gave Warhol a small mirrorball, which he always kept on his desk.

She returned to Iran in 1957, but after the Islamic revolution of 1979, which saw the vast majority of her works confiscated, sold or destroyed, she spent another 10 years in New York. During her years in Iran, she had to persuade craftsmen to work with her who were distinctly uncomfortable about taking their orders from a woman (though you imagine, talking to Farmanfarmaian, that she could persuade anyone through the sheer force of her charm). But she thinks her nationality has been more of an obstacle, at least internationally, than her gender. "In America, after the revolution, after the [Gulf] war, nobody wanted to do anything with Iran," she says. "None of the galleries wanted to talk to me. And after September 11 – my God. No way. Rather than being a woman, it was difficult just being Iranian."

Farmanfarmaian still works in her studio every day from 9.30am to 1.30pm, and wishes she could manage longer: "I'm old," she says, "but my mind is much younger." But she still appears somewhat bemused by the fact that she has found such success as an artist. "I never took myself seriously," she says. "I had no hope that I would be one of [the nominees for the Jameel prize], out of so many artists. But," she adds with a mischievous cackle, "maybe I do deserve to win it, when I am 87 years old."

• The Jameel prize 2011 is at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7 (020-7942 2000) from 21 July to 25 September; the winner will be announced on 12 September. Monir is published in the autumn by Damiani Editore.

Via guardian.co.uk

From war to hyperreal art

Infinite Freedom Exercise (near Abadan, Iran), 2011
Lincoln Square, Manchester, UK
24 hours a day until 17 July

Sited outdoors in the city centre, John Gerrard’s new piece Infinite Freedom Exercise (near Abadan, Iran) is an infinitely evolving hyper realistic virtual world, played out 24 hours a day. On the screen is a single figure, dressed in generic army fatigues, moving continuously through a series of exercises against the backdrop of a Persian landscape. Using 3D motion scanning, the exercises are captured from movement created in collaboration with award-winning choreographer Wayne McGregor. The result is a compelling and unsettling reflection on modernity, portraiture and history.
Image: John Gerrad
Chelsea Ward, contributor

A new video installation by John Gerrard uses top-quality motion-capture graphics to present a soldier eternally training in the Iranian desert

WHEN artist John Gerrard set out to create real-time virtual worlds, he and his team evaluated the top video games - and found them lacking.

"Movement was crap, basically," Gerrard says. "Even the very high-end, huge-budget games had flaws in their motion." Gamers don't mind these small flaws, Gerrard says, because they are of little importance compared with the plot. In his artwork, however, there is no plot: "The narrative is the motion."

Gerrard's outdoor LED wall installation at the Manchester International Festival, Infinite Freedom Exercise (near Abadan, Iran), 2011, displays a soldier continuously performing about 160 dance-like motions in an Iranian desert landscape, beneath a sun that rises and sets on Iranian local time.

Despite the starting point of Gerrard's research, there is nothing very game-like or even movie-like about his work, which might be better compared to scientific simulations. Gerrard sets the parameters and then simply lets the scene evolve. At a 2009 exhibition of his work in New York, curator and art historian Linda Norden described it as a way "to visualise a past-into-future epic history painting: something that unfolds in real time and extends into a future that we can't yet know".

If viewers are to engage with the piece, it has to look real - or, more accurately, hyperreal, says Gerrard. They might just dismiss it if the graphics are bad. The video games he had looked at used the popular technique of "skeletal animation", which is based on the movement of a character's bones and joints, but is limited when it comes to the look of skin, muscles and other "deformations".

So he and his team decided on a different approach, one that would look as good as a Hollywood film - think Gollum in The Lord of the Rings - even though it risked being too data-heavy for real-time action. First, using a 3D motion-capture system, his team recorded dancer Davide de Pretore performing movements derived from the duck-and-cover positions that real soldiers take during mortar-firing exercises.

Then, in an adaptation of a technique called "morph target animation", they translated each move into a frame-by-frame series of dense "meshes" consisting of about 100,000 points. Each of these could then be manipulated to make the virtual soldier look just as Gerrard would like - a portrait of sorts. At his studio in Vienna, Austria, last month, Gerrard and his team were still fine-tuning the soldier's look and movements. They hadn't yet done his hands, which dangled woodenly - a strange sight.

The soldier moves within an equally meticulously modelled virtual landscape - complete with 365 days of accurate light conditions - that Gerrard photographed in 2008 on a trip to Iran, inspired by a 1980 photo from the Iran-Iraq war. The point of view comes from a virtual camera orbiting the soldier.

The work is too much of a mash-up of times, places and people to be interpreted as a commentary on any specific conflict, but it is obviously a critique of violence and power. In a way, it is also a product of the violence that it is critiquing, since many gaming technologies have military origins. Even the lab in Prague, Czech Republic, that performed the 3D motion capture deals mainly in military applications.

Although Gerrard holds a master's in computer science, he no longer does any programming. He directed the work, while his producer, Werner Pötzelberger, coordinated the team of programmers. It took a team of eight about five months to create. Among their tasks was creating a custom solution to handle the piece's whopping 300 gigabytes of animation data and streaming rate of 100 megabytes per second.

This team-oriented production model comes from the world of computer science, not art, Gerrard says. And that's not all that makes him an outsider in the art world. In fact, as a real-time virtual artist, Gerrard is basically alone, Norden says, "like the mad scientist".

John Gerrard talks about his new MIF project 'Infinite Freedom Exercise'

Via Manchester International Festival and New Scientist

Thursday, 7 July 2011

In Search of [Iran's] National Masculine Identity

Sadeq Tirafkan and his art

Note: In writing this article, Tirafkan’s interviews with Canvas (Art and Culture from the Middle East & Arab World, Vol.3, 2009), and Asian Art News (Vol.18, 2008), his own comments for his various exhibitions stated in the corresponding catalogues have been the sources of inspiration.
Sadeq Tirafkan
Sadegh Tirafkan was born in Karbala, Iraq to Iranian parents in 1965, and like all Iranian families in Iraq at that time, they were expelled by Saddam Hussein in 1971. So they fled to Iran just before the Islamic revolution. From 15 to 18, Tirafkan became a member of the youth militia, basij and participated in Iran-Iraq war in 1980s. The experience left such a deep impression on him that still reverberates in his work. In an interview with Canvas, while showing his snapshots of those years, he says: “Most of these people are dead now and I have lost touch with the others.” HisAshura ongoing series originates from these years of his direct religious experience, when he also made his mind to pursue an artistic career and subsequently entered Tehran University and was graduated in 1989 with a degree in photography. “I began photography by recording what surrounded me, now I take what is around me into the studio and make it into what I see through the prism of my life and culture. An idea starts as photograph, but it may grow into a collage or video.” His simultaneous deep interest in theater and film, frequently makes his work appear as a combination of a staged theatricality (even when he has not actually staged the photo) with a documentarian’s eye, revealing the influence of Cindy Sherman on him. Like her, Tirafkan uses self-portraiture to fulfill narrative ends, but where Sherman adopts various disguises in her photos, he is nearly always recognisable.
“I like the precision and aesthetic of a staged photo and strive for that without actually staging it.” Other influences include Philip Lorca di Corcia and Vik Muniz. Tirafkan is continually absorbing and learning from all around and, as he says, “I’m always a student.”

To some extent this explains Tirafakan’s spontaneous approach to his projects. He constantly works on simultaneous projects and never begins them as a work in isolation with determined start and end date.
Thematic variations consistently weave in and out of Sadegh Tirafkan’s work - Iranian culture, contemporary culture, ancient culture and his identity as a man and as an Iranian. In his photography and videos, Tirafkan draws from the vast several thousand-year-old history of Iran, from the Zoroastrian religion and the Safavid Dynasty to the present, including satellite television and celebrity culture. He subsequently adds layers of his own personal experience to create a rich tapestry of expertly crafted aesthetics and concepts.
Tirafkan is a genial man with salt-and-pepper hair, expressive hands and a quick smile. His boyish looks and energetic demeanour reveal the mature voice of a man who has witnessed a lot in his 44 years.”
He had his first solo exhibition of portraits at Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran, in 1990. In the November of the same year he was invited to participate in Mois de photographie held in Paris. This marked the beginning of his career outside Iran and became the impetus for his move to New York in 1997, where the interaction with Western artists strengthened his belief in his Iranian-ness, bringing him back to Iran to produce the first conceptual video installation produced in Iran, called Persepolis exhibited at Seyhoun Gallery in 1998.
In an interview with Janet Rady from Asian Art News, in reply to her question, why he used Persepolis as a backdrop for images of himself, he exclaims: “... The question of identity of self and of nationality has always fascinated me. The glory and grandeur of any civilization is reflected in the monuments left behind and by picturing myself, I wanted to better understand what it was that the monument exuded both on a personal level and on a national one.”

Perspolis, Black and white print,

While in Iran, he becomes more interested in Pre-Islamic and Islamic cultures, including art, philosophy and literature, giving rise to his series of Choghazanbil (an ancient ziggurat in southwest Iran 1995-1998) and Ashura (the mourning ceremony of martyrdom of the third Shiite Imam Hussein (1989-2004) and Persepolis 2 series in 2002 in which he introduced other people from different historical settings into the frame.
Multitude, 74 x110 cm, Digital photo collage, 2008

Beginning to shoot with a Hasselblad camera, which captures incredibly rich and detailed images, Tirafkan switched to a portable digital format in 2002. That’s why the Ashura series, consists of snapshots which are sometimes the final work of art and at other times, they serve as a preparatory image that the artist then manipulates on a computer. Within the theme of Ashura, Tirafkan has many subcategories, including fashion, generation and gender. The fashion component resulted in the Men in Black series. The first part of Ashura was exhibited at Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts in 2001. A part of Men in Black first appeared in a book published in 2005, and later exhibited at Waterhouse & Dodd Fine Art in 2008. Altogether according to his own estimate only five percent of the series has been seen by the public, something he hopes to change by publishing a book of all the images in the future.
In 2002 he turns to calligraphy which he considers as “the highest written form of communication for all mankind,” and his Secrets of Words is born, featured in Whispered Secrets, Murmuring Dreams, a group exhibition held in London in 2008. “We all have our sad stories, which we instantly recognize in the glimpse of another. So, the single letters in my work act as a metaphor for these glimpses and set out to show that through our feeling-experiences, we all share something in common.”
Secret of words, 63x90 cm, C print, 2002

In addition to Iranian history and self-identity, masculinity and manhood has been a major subject matter of Tirafkan’s works, dealt with first in Iranian Men (2000) which was later published in Belgium in 2006. A self-portrait photo triptych resembling a sequential comic strip, masking his identity under a red lo-ng, a traditional Iranian sash (originally made of gold and silk threads) used in sporting combats that is known as the warrior wearing symbol of masculinity and according to Tirafkan “of humanity of real man not just in Iran, but in universal society today. In fact, the subject of masculinity is continued in my current series The Loss of Identity.
“I tried to convey the humanistic message embedded in these ancient symbols of manhood in my culture - lest they are forgotten.
In Zoorkhaneh (2003-4)which is Islamized Mithraic temples where ever since then men made their body as well as their mind, and has been the cradle of many orders of knighthood and other masculine cults, Tirafkan tries to show that although ‘the same environment and looks are kept, but not the same spirit and attitude.
Zoorkhaneh (Traditional Iranian sport club), 60x90 cm, C.print, 2003-04

No wonder that his other simultaneous project, Sacrifice (2003) video is set in a zoorkhaneh, where the red lo-ng wearing wrestlers tumble about center stage.
But just underneath the surface, crimes of passion clash with hidden affairs and madness dances with rage. This is where Tirafkan challenges the taboos of traditional Iranian culture. Inspired by the stories of Abraham nearly killing his favorite son to prove his devotion to God, Rostam, the most well-known ancient Iranian knight unknowingly killing his sole son to prove his devotion to his king and country and Imam Hussein as the classical Shiite emblem of self-sacrifice for one’s faith and ideology, Tirafkan describes this series as “my artistic interpretation of the emotional impact these stories have had on me since childhood.” Later he develops the same theme further in Devotion.
For Tirafkan symbols “have their own values and meaning in every culture,’ while “basic human instincts have common meanings for people all over the world.” To him “pomegranate is the most symbolic fruit in middle east,” covering a wide scope of meanings from love to infinite world and in Temptation dedicated to his favorite filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, he “leaves the audience to interpret it in their own way.”
In Body Signs, Body Curves and Loss of Our Identity, Tirafkan approaches culture as a physical stamp that cannot be removed or altered, thus making a great part of one’s identity. The imagery in these series was inspired by ancient Iranian tattooing practiced among pre-Achaemenid kings, as well as by wooden block print stamps used to decorate cloth. But for Tirafkan, “the blocks have been used here to stamp the human form. Flesh is the canvas branded by culture.”

Body Curves, 60x46 cm, Mixed of stamps and hand written calligraphy on silver print,

From another perspective, this series can be viewed as the artist’s lamentation for former glories of Iranian culture now being replaced by contemporary Iranian youth with “the present commercial pervasive satellite broadcasts and the Internet.” As Tirafkan so aptly states, “The first thing war kills is culture. Governments cut budgets for culture but have the means for the satellites that beam garbage directly into peoples’ homes.” The role of cultural heritage in contemporary life is another ongoing subject, Tirafkan deal with in Multitude and Devotion exhibited at Assar Gallery in Tehran in 2008. Both series deal with the leitmotifs of identity and culture.
Multitude looks to a person’s public life and the crowded streets of Tehran one must negotiate when leaving one’s home, taking the initial documentary snapshots of multigenerational group of men sitting on a hillside and transforming them into a work of art by manipulating the hillside into a rich and complex surface of dirt and an earth-toned Safavid carpet. Devotion which is more reserved and contemplative, comprises a series of a sequence of photos of men and women applied to the four walls of the gallery; in the centre is a glowing yellow-and-green glass a ziggurat-like construction referring to Iran’s Zoroastrian past. This sober work is more understated than his previous projects and also incorporates elements of installation art, which is new for the artist, who hopes to develop this project and exhibit it elsewhere.
Whispers of the East (2006-7) deals with the question of democracy and how US has little sensitivity for culture, religion and life style in the region, but is only concerned about military actions. With his interpretation of a classic Persian carpet, Tirafkan seeks to preserve the traditions.

Whispers of the East 3,
His most recent project, Human Tapestry is a commemoration of the traditional art and unknown artists of his homeland to tie traditional beliefs and ancient patterns to modern people and contemporary aesthetics. “From 2006 I have been focusing on population and its unbalanced distribution around the world within my works.
I don’t only look at topic from a political aspect, but also and most importantly from an artistic eye - an eye which originates from a thousand year old culture, rich with history and civilization. I have been trying to combine current events with layered and hidden historical art, using new technology in order to ease communication between people living in today’s world and my work.”
Human Tapestry, 97x151 cm, Digital photo collage, 2009-2010

As his body of work elucidates, Tirafkan is very proud of his identity as an Iranian man. He conveys this pride through meticulous art in which every detail is weighed and measured in order to create work that is to the best of his ability. He sees this as the ultimate Iranian cultural trait. “Iranian art reflects a heightened sense of perfectionism. Look at Persepolis, Iranian miniatures and Safavid art!”
Tirafkan’s richly layered art is the work of an incredibly complex man who has been to hell and back and whose work is fearless and poignant.
Perhaps his art is a poetic way to exorcise demons of the past and present.

My goal is to demonstrate that all people regardless of gender, culture and religion are indeed looking for inner peace and sanctity.

Via Peyvand

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Art of Being a Gallerist in Iran

Iranian art has been the highlight of many international exhibitions in recent years, the interest both inside and outside the country has been intensifying and the market is thriving.

Although galleries and cultural institutions inside Iran are restricted only to function within a set of tightly enforced rules and regulations, Tehran is now home to many art galleries - about 46 new galleries have opened in past two years alone according to Iran’s director of Visual Arts Office for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance - and the number keeps rising.

In this interview, Leila Sajjadi talks to three of the most active and best-known Tehran based gallerists about the past, present and future of Iranian visual arts. Lili Golestan of Golestan Gallery is one of the pioneers of the profession in the country, Nazila Nobashari directs Aaran Gallery, a relatively young gallery that is active in promoting avant garde and courageous art in the scene and Omid Tehrani of Assar Art Gallery, who plays an active role in introducing and promoting modern and contemporary Iranian art to the International art scene.

 - How has the Iranian art landscape changed in the past ten years?

LG: The most significant event in my view has been that Iranian art entered the international market through auctions and this has been having both negative and positive effects. Auction houses of London and Dubai introduced new collectors to Iranian paintings; therefore Iranian art found a new market but this on the other hand had a very negative effect on the domestic art market inside the country.  Prices of art works saw illogical price rise in the auctions and this caused artists not to be able to sell in the domestic market. This has had a very negative effect on the business side of running galleries. I personally have tried to hold prices of arts I promote at reasonable level and have been able to carry on selling to public.

NN: A whole generation has come of age, having had to put up with limitations and scarcities and controls in their private lives and at universities. Their language is bold and brazen and they are determined to make their way in the wider world. The international success of some young artists has led the others to believe in themselves and to gain more self-confidence. Access to the Internet, and therefore the international art scene, has contributed a lot to progress of young artists and there are more venues to show art, both at governmental and private spaces.

OT: I think what has been especially significant is the rising number of places that art can now be shown as opposed to how few they were during the war right after the revolution.  Also in the past few years Iranian art have been internationally noticed and praised through auctions and international exhibitions and that has created a whole new market for the arts of this country.
- What would you look for in the works of art you decide to promote?

LG: I look for innovation; I like my artists to keep renewing themselves. I don’t like repetition and I stress this point to the artists I promote if I see them repeat themselves and I try to come up with new and fresh ideas for the exhibitions I set up in my gallery.

NN: What interests me is originality of course and unique styles. I prefer multi-disciplined artists with subtle socio-political outlook.

OT: Well,you can’t show everything and anything in Iran and so you are obliged to have a relatively conservative approach in this profession.  I have gained a specific character to the mood of the stuff I have shown throughout the years. What I promote is mainly focused on artists in a specific age group who do figurative painting.  Social subjects attract me but I normally don’t believe or enjoy works which are focused on political and particular traditional aspects of life here that have become fashionable for a while.

- Why paintings are still the leading art form in the Iranian art market? Or has this changed recently?

LG: This is mainly because of old habits and attitudes towards the arts here. We have a long way to go until we can establish other forms of artistic expressions such as sculptures, installations, video art etc in our art market and consider them as important as paintings. Even with paintings there aren’t many buyers. Sales are among a relatively small group of enthusiasts. I like attracting general public to like a piece of art and buy it for their pleasure. I like to be able to cultivate the notion in people, that they can buy art and enjoy having it with the money they have spent on it.

NN: Paintings are preferred here, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is the ease of appreciation of values of paintings in comparison with photography or installation pieces. Most buyers are in the age bracket of 40 to 60 and not always acquainted with contemporary art. Production costs for installations and sculptural works are quite high and often the final product is not up to acceptable quality that would attract serious collectors, but the market is changing very fast. There is great interest from Iranians living abroad as well as international collectors, who are more inclined towards contemporary pieces these days than paintings.

OT: I think this is very much the case everywhere and not specific to Iran.  Video art or photography are true to be faster to complete and get into the market and a lot more available, but still, I would say 90% to 95% of the real art market’s attention has always been and still is focused on paintings and frankly I think that it will remain this way.
- How do you feel about the Auctions and Art Fairs? Are you a participant in selling or buying through them?

LG:  I have never participated in either of them.  The games one should play behind the scenes of auction houses are not to my taste. I am not a player on that level. I don’t like and I don’t have the attitude you must have to get involved.  Once I went to one of Dubai’s auctions just to see the mood and to weigh my judgment and I got the feeling that I was right; so I never participate.  On the other hand I find Art fairs interesting but they are very expensive to participate in and I know that it would be very beneficial to my gallery and to my artists if I do get involved but frankly I don’t have the budget for it.

NN: We have no dealings with auction houses. That is the business of collectors and not galleries or artists. It is a secondary market and not the play field of young artists. As for art fairs, we have participated and although there are quite a lot of hard work and high costs involved, indeed it’s good exposure for galleries and artists.

OT: Art fairs and auctions are two completely different areas! I participate in both for different reasons.  Auction lovers are so different to art fairs goers. People I consult with how and which works of art to invest in auctions are normally people who have the energy but not the patience. These people normally don’t enjoy going to art fairs but love to invest in works of art.  Art fairs are a whole different atmosphere; you would get involved because you love art and love discovering new art.  I like both of these two worlds, I make money in auctions through buying and selling and I spend that money on art fairs.  I very much like for my gallery to be in art fairs and love to carry on being in them.  In art fairs if you’re a relatively young gallery, it will take time for visitors and buyers to trust you in what you show them, I like this challenge. I like to take my time building these relationships. 

- What would you say to new collectors who want to invest in Iranian art? 

LG: I would encourage them to buy works by young artists.  My mission when I started a gallery was to promote young and new talent.  I have so much respect for the masters of Iranian art but I always take pleasure in being able to discover and promote new talent and see them find their way into the scene and this still is what keeps me going in this profession.

NN: My advice is to look for unique artists, timeless pieces, and always check the resume.

OT: Well, I would say, if you have never been here, do come to Iran and feel the artistic atmosphere and visit the galleries and look for what you like.  It all depends on the reasons why you like to invest in Iranian art.  If you like to put your money into something safe, I would say go for artists of the Iranian modern movement of the 70’s.  Alternatively, I would recommend contemporary art to collectors who enjoy seeking out new artists taking the opportunity to develop a collection that may increase in value over time.

- What aspects can improve the quality of the ways galleries function inside Iran?

LG:  The government gives permission to anyone who has got a space to open a gallery but out of all these galleries there are only about 10 -12 galleries that function well.  I believe being cultured and having a professional attitude in this field is a must.  You have to be able to participate in cultural debates; educate and be beneficial to the culture of this country.  I like to see more people who are actually trained for this field to get involved and to bring about a professional attitude to what an art gallery should really do.

NN: We need more good art critics, more good galleries and more buyers.

OT: There have been a lot of licenses issued for galleries but you really only hear from around 20 of them.  There is still a long way to go. I think in about 10 years we reach a point where we can run galleries in a truly professional way here.  I think one important step would be for galleries to clarify which artists they are representing on contract based system and to really build a genuinely professional attitude in their relationship with the artists and with the public.  I would say currently there are only about 5 galleries in Tehran that really work professionally. 

- Where is the best collection of Iranian Modern and Contemporary Iranian art kept?

LG: One would think it has got be the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art but the museum has not bought additional works for its collection in years! The problem again is that people who manage the museums are not professionals in the field of culture and arts so they waste the museum’s budget and they don’t really
benefit the museum.  I think you will find the best of Iranian art scattered around inside people’s homes.

NN: At Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, although it’s mostly modern art and the collection is mainly just of paintings. You can hardly call it a contemporary collection.

OT: For Contemporary art we don’t have a well kept and archived collection yet.  For modern Iranian art, I think Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is a notable location.  Also there are collectors who have very good collections of modern art but not specifically contemporary. I don’t know of anyone or anywhere that has a collection of the best of both combined.  There is a collector based in the Emirates that has a private collection of around 2000 pieces of both modern and contemporary art but it is not a well organized and archived collection and many of the artists in it are unknown.

- Looking ahead 80 years from now, how do you think Iranian art of 21st century be regarded as?

LG: It will be regarded very highly.  We have a lot of young and talented and innovative artists who have entered the art scene and have given it a very exciting twist.  This is amazing because what happens artistically now is very spontaneous. These artists have only the support of galleries and not the government (as it is supposed to be their duty to support art and culture of Iran).  In a way I am glad that they don’t provide support because they will only enforce their own taste and objectives in what they back if they did.

NN: It will be regarded as courageous and interesting.

OT: I think in the next ten years, Iranian art will enter a truly world class level and will be a serious player in the international art scene. But for this we must plan well and have real objectives.  Iranian art has got so much potential. It is eccentric and distinctive and very different to the art of the rest of the region qnd the world.  I also think that Iranian non-decorative art will flourish but I don’t know how this will all be regarded 80 years ahead!

Leila Sajjadi's blog
Via Art Review

Monday, 4 July 2011

Nasseredin Shah & His 84 Wives

In 1842 the 11 year-old heir to the Persian throne, Nasseredin Mirza, received a photographic camera from Queen Victoria of England. In the following decades he documented his life: his many wives, his jesters and clowns, his glorious palaces, and his jewels and treasures. As such he revealed to the public eye, what the public eye never was supposed to see.

Through animated sequences and photos taken by Nasseredin Shah and his court, the film depicts the rivalry and intrigues within the harem, the corruption, the secret murders, the political power struggle, the Shah's obsession with a beautiful calico cat, as well as Persia's troubled relation to Europe.

A film by Beach Petersen