Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Iranian Kerouac: Ali Eskandarian and the great punk Beat novel

Singer Ali Eskandarian was gunned down in New York last year with members of punk band the Yellow Dogs. He had just written Golden Years, an On-the-Road style novel that's now being hailed as a cult classic

The year before he was murdered, alongside two members of the rock band the Yellow Dogs, the Iranian-American singer-songwriter Ali Eskandarian wrote to the man he hoped would become his publisher. He was working on a novel about someone like himself, he explained – "immigrant, war child, rock'n'roller, artist trying to live in a modern world he finds infuriating/exhilarating". There was, he promised, "an insurgent political bent to the writing, also lots of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll". And there were "characters very similar to the Yellow Dogs" because he "lived with the Dogs for almost two years and we got to have some fun".

"I think it could be the great Iranian-American novel, or at least that's what I'll call it until someone proves me wrong," he finished.

The killings in New York last November of Eskandarian, 35, and brothers Arash and Soroush Farazmand echoed around the world. Ali Akbar Mahammadi Rafie, a fellow musician whose relationship with the band had "frayed", as the New York Times put it, climbed into their Brooklyn home and shot the men with an assault rifle, before killing himself.

The Yellow Dogs had fled from Tehran to New York in 2010, wanting to be able to play their music freely. In Iran, according to a US state department cable released by Wikileaks, they were part of Tehran's "small but crazy" underground club scene. In the US, they were "building a national following with [their] furiously intense post-punk", in the words of Rolling Stone.

Eskandarian, who lived in the flat above the brothers in East Williamsburg, grew up in Tehran before moving to Dallas with his family as an adolescent. He'd released an album, Nothing to Say, on Wildflower Records, and toured the US with the Yellow Dogs. He was also, it turns out, writing that semi-autobiographical novel, Golden Years.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Iranian art in Dubai

Shiva Balaghi in conversation with Stephanie Bailey
Art Dubai 2014: Global Art Forum 8

by Stephanie Bailey, Ibraaz

In March 2014, Ibraaz and the Kamel Lazaar Foundation launched an online media partnership with Art Dubai 2014 for the eighth iteration of the Global Art Forum.  

In this exclusive interview from Art Dubai, Ibraaz Managing Editor Stephanie Bailey talks to Shiva Balaghi, a scholar in Iranian cultural history, about Balaghi's work with the collection of Mohammed Afkhami and the practice of collecting Iranian art.

Stephanie Bailey: We are here with Shiva Balaghi, a scholar in Iranian cultural history who has just spoken at the Global Art Forum on her work with the collection of Mohammed Afkhami. Shiva, one thing I wanted to ask you about was the notion that you put forward: the collection as an archive. I wanted to ask you how this then relates to what you said about Mohammed Afkhami’s collection having the potential to show an alternative Iranian history.

Shiva Balaghi: Well, Mohammed has been collecting Iranian art in Dubai now for a decade, and he is particularly interested in Iranian politics and Iranian history, so in his collection he tends to gravitate towards those types of works of art. This book that Venetia Porter and I are writing about his collection – and the talk today was a little preview of that – really takes his collection as an archive of Iranian history, and says: what are the moments that Iranian artists from the 1960s to the contemporary period think are important? How do these artists reflect that history? And how does that history manifest itself in their artwork? So we really think of the art collection as an archive that presents an alternative history of Iran.  

SB: This leads on quite nicely to a date that you mentioned in your talk, 1962, which was the year that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) acquired – was it two works?

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Persian classical music mourns a master

The death of virtuoso Mohammad Reza Lotfi marks the end of an era.
Shajarian and Lotfi, Shiraz Art Festival, 1976

The recent death of Iranian master musician Mohammad Reza Lotfi (1947-2014) on May 2 at the age of 68 marks a crucial turning point in the history of classical Persian music and its spectacular rise and fall as a performing public art. 

Lotfi was a Tar and Setar virtuoso who had collaborated with prominent Iranian vocalists Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Shahram Nazeri, and others and along with a handful of other master musicians of his generation had transformed Persian music from its slumbering, sedate and secluded courtly and mystical milieu into a massive scale public and vastly popular art form. It is impossible to imagine the social history of Iran of the last half a century and through the thick and thin of a cataclysmic revolution and a bloody war without thinking of the definitive presence of classical Persian music as reconceived by Lotfi's generation of master musicians. 

Mohammad Reza Lotfi was part of a generation of classical musicians who exponentially expanded the public sphere upon which Persian classical music found and performed itself. This proud possession of a rich and diversified culture entered the public sphere in earnest in the course of the Constitutional revolution of 1906-1911, and with the establishment of Tehran Radio in 1940s and subsequently Iranian National television in 1960s and the Shiraz Art Festival in the 1970s reached its spectacular zenith.

Today lovers of Persian music remember the young Lotfi and Shajarian and their fellow musician Naser Farhangfar's confident and ambitious visages from their legendary performance of the tasking Rast Panjgah scale in Shiraz Art Festival in 1975. From that iconic moment at the mausoleum of Hafez in Shiraz Persian classical music began a long and loving rendezvous with contemporary Iranian social history.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Black Hand, Iran’s Underground Banksy

Black Hand condemns the hunting of the endangered Persian leopard with colours of the national flag.
Courtesy IranWire.
by Ayeda Nik Farjam, IranWire

Graffiti is not only an ancient and controversial way of conveying a message to the public but also a continual contest between  the sender of the message and those who do not wish the message to be heard.

The messages on the walls of the Islamic Republic are not exception. State-sponsored graffiti covers many buildings and walls in Tehran and other cities, but the government is unwilling to cede any urban space to anything it has not produced itself, let alone messages that directly challenge its authority. Spray paints and markers however have made the battle less unequal.

In April of this year a street artist who goes by the pseudonym “Black Hand” held an exhibition of his work in an old house in central Tehran. The property was under the protection of the Historical Preservation Society for its unique architecture but the authorities concluded that it was too small and decided to tear it down, presumably to make space for a new development.

Black Hand’s signature tag becoming familiar in Tehran, and his work often pops up in various corners of the city. He chooses his locations cleverly so that his graffiti can be seen immediately and people record the sight on their mobiles before the city workers arrive with their paint cans.

Black Hand’s exhibition uses the rooms in the condemned but beautiful house to explore the social themes that engage him.

For example in one of the rooms, called the Shirin (sweet) room, every object is printed endlessly with its own name, the sofa, the framed painting, the table, the cigarette box, the lighter and the dresser, and a harsh strobe light completes the nightmare. Black Hand seems to suggest that we live in a society where everything introduces itself by labels with no regard for content and meaning. As in the famous painting by Belgian painter René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, in which a pipe is labeled “This is not a pipe”, a dresser can easily be not a dresser and even the house can be a piece of land destined to become a high-rise. In contemporary Iran the label can be changed quickly and the form can remain without content.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Unedited History: Iran 1960-2014

Poster: © Aria Kasaei {StudioKargah}. Courtesy MAM.
From 16 May - 24 August 2014 the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris presents UNEDITED HISTORY, Iran 1960-2014 at ARC, the museum's research and exhibition area. Comprising over 200 works for the most part never shown in France before, the exhibition brings a fresh eye to art and visual culture in Iran from the 1960s up to the present. Its survey of the contemporary history of the country is arranged in sequences: The years 1960-1970, the revolutionary era of 1979, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), and the postwar period up until today.

Bringing together twenty artists from the years 1960-1970 and representatives of the new generation, the exhibition focuses on painting, photography and cinema, as well as key aspects of Iran's modern visual culture: posters and documentary material ranging from the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of the Arts to the revolutionary period and the Iran-Iraq war.

Whether already historic figures (Bahman Mohassess, Behdjat Sadr, Kaveh Golestan, Bahman Jalali) or members of the contemporary scene (Barbad Golshiri, Arash Hanaei and others), all the artists base their work on a critical approach to form and media. Down the generations, they have played their part in a reassessment of the way the political and social history of their country has been written. The exhibition and its accompanying book invite us to broaden our perception of Iran and its modernity.

Artists on show: 

Morteza Avini (1947-1993), Mazdak Ayari (né en 1976), Kazem Chalipa (né en 1957), Mitra Farahani (née en 1975), Chohreh Feyzdjou (1955-1996), Jassem Ghazbanpour (né en 1963), Kaveh Golestan (1950-2003), Barbad Golshiri (né en 1982), Arash Hanaei (né en 1978), Behzad Jaez (né en 1975), Bahman Jalali (1944-2010), Rana Javadi (née en 1953), Khosrow Khorshidi (né en 1932), Bahman Kiarostami (né en 1978), Parviz Kimiavi (né en 1939), Ardeshir Mohassess (1938-2008), Bahman Mohassess (1931-2010), Morteza Momayez (1935-2005), Tahmineh Monzavi (née en 1988), Mohsen Rastani (né 1958), Narmine Sadeg (née en 1955), Behdjat Sadr (1924-2009), Kamran Shirdel (né en 1939), Kourosh Shishegaran (né en 1944), Behzad Shishegaran (né en 1952), Esmail Shishegaran (né en 1946).

Archaeology of the Final Decade presents Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis and Kaveh Golestan - Shahr-e No

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Design Poet

From Tehran to New York and now Dubai, Iranian artist Shirin Ehya talks to Rima Alsammarae about how jasmine trees and crisp autumn nights inspired her first furniture collection, Isfahan.
Diyar (bench) by Iranian designer Shirin Ehya, 2013, 130 x 40 x 45 cm. Description: This very sleek and elegant bench has been manufactured from wood and Persian toreutics on copper (ghalam) with high gloss lacquer finish. The intricate metal works have been carried out by a master coppersmith in Isfahan under the supervision of Shirin Ehya. Courtesy J+A Gallery.
by , DesignMENA

Born in Tehran in 1984, it would be 18 years until Shirin Ehya left her country to study in the United States at the renowned Interior Designers Institute in America. Upon graduation, she was offered the opportunity to work with the Design Bureau of Tony Chi & Associates in New York, where she would spend the following several years working on projects around the world from New York, to China, to Australia.

In 2010, Ehya left New York and returned to Iran, where she began working on various retail projects. Upon her return after a long hiatus, she immersed herself in Iranian culture and found herself attracted to the sweet balance between contrasts commonly found in Iranian art.

It wasn’t long until she formed her first furniture collection, which happened organically rather than as a planned step forward.

Isfahan, named after the artistically driven town of its namesake, is a collection of contemporary furniture pieces that infuse subtle elements of Iranian culture. Available at J+A Gallery in Dubai, the Isfahan collection is powerful, dynamic and artistic.

With so many contemporary designers and artists attempting to fuse juxtaposing cultures into their designs, we wondered how Ehya managed to do so seamlessly.

Raised in Iran with a western education provides an interesting backdrop to approaching the designer’s work. And when it comes to Ehya, it seems we must go to the way, way back if we want to know her story, because as she thinks of her childhood, Ehya’s face grows into an undeniable smile. It’s a childhood filled with scents and colourful visions.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Mohammad-Reza Lotfi

A silence has fallen now Lotfi has gone, but only till the next time we listen to his music, which is where he has always lived. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Art's 'Meeting Point'

The Leila Heller Gallery Opens a New Space on 57th Street
One of the rooms in Leila Heller's new 16,000-square-foot, six-floor art gallery. Photo by Keith Bedford, courtesy The Wall Street Journal.

For almost 30 years, Leila Heller ran her gallery from the Upper East Side, making a name for herself as an art dealer and for her support of emerging and midcareer Middle Eastern artists, before setting up shop in 2010 on a gallery-lined stretch of West 25th Street.

Now, Ms. Heller is returning uptown with a 16,000-square-foot, six-floor space in Midtown Manhattan that she will operate in addition to the Chelsea location. The new gallery will open on Tuesday, with an inaugural exhibition on portraiture that will run through August.

"It's been my whole life," said Ms. Heller of being uptown. "I always knew I was going to go back."

The new location on West 57th Street will be headed up by Thomas Arnold, who spent 14 years as director of Mary Boone Gallery's locations in Chelsea and Midtown before leaving in 2012 to set up his own consulting firm.

The exhibition, titled "Look at Me … Portraits: Manet to the Present" is organized by Ms. Heller as well as Paul Morris, the founding director of the Armory Show, and Beth Rudin DeWoody, a curator and collector who has worked with the gallery in the past. It will include works by more than 170 artists, including Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Jean- Michel Basquiat and Shoja Azari, an Iranian-born filmmaker and artist whose work featured in Ms. Heller's Chelsea gallery last year.