Monday, 18 May 2015

Iran goes back to the future at Venice Biennale

Exhibitions explore The Great Game’s rivalry over Central Asia and thrust the contested geographies of the 19th century into the language of contemporary art

‘I’m Sorry’ (2008) by Iraqi-born artist Abdel Abidin Photograph: Courtesy Lawrie Shabibi gallery and Adel Abidin and The Guardian.

Natasha Morris for Tehran Bureau, The Guardian

“All The World’s Futures” might be the overarching leitmotif of the 56th Venice Biennale, but Iran’s national pavilion, its largest ever at the prestigious contemporary art event, has chosen to frame its future through its past.

The first exhibition, entitled The Great Game, takes its inspiration from a 19th century tug-o-war over the lands of Central Asia. The second, entitled Iranian Highlights, offers a select mix of four Iranian contemporary artists who have forged very varied careers on the international stage over the past 50 years.

The two are intended to work in harmony, creating a substantial whole united under Iran’s roof. They meld together to an extent that it is difficult to notice where one ends and the other begins.

This is all part of the plan, says Tandis Tanavoli, project manager for the Faiznia Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that is organizing the pavilion along with the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. “The beauty of this exhibit is that the works chosen create a story – one story,” she says.

The Iran pavilion stands sentinel in a former ship-building factory between two canals at the very northernmost tip of the city, along the Calle San Giovanni deep in Venice’s Cannaregio district. The atmosphere is industrial, with paintings mounted on makeshift walls erected from sheets of white canvas and sculptures perched on the bare concrete floor.

The pavilion’s open interior creates a seamless transition as visitors move between the two displays. Here, Iran has showcased 40 artists. Many are part of the larger of the shows, The Great Game, which brings together the work of artists from Iran and her neighboring Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Kurdistan.

Curators Marco Meneguzzo and Mazdak Faiznia developed the concept behind The Great Game. The pair explained that it thrusts the contested and still pertinent geographies of the 19th century into the language of contemporary art. The theme might be more familiar to international audiences through Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, or Peter Hopkirk’s eponymous study of the geo-political tussle between the British and the Soviets for the lands of Central Asia from 1813 to 1907. Iran was portrayed as the playfellow in satirical magazine prints of the time: the diminutive Persian cat to the burly British lion and Russian bear.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

It’s written all over their faces

Still from “Munis,” 2008. Single-channel color video installation. Courtesy Shirin Neshat, Gladstone Gallery and Washington Post.

by Philip KennicottWashington Post

The first Hirshhorn Museum exhibition organized under the watch of its recently appointed director, Melissa Chiu, is structured around three turning points in Iranian history. “Shirin Neshat: Facing History” contextualizes the artist’s work around the 1953 ouster of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and the abortive Green Movement of 2009, which raised and dashed hopes of more democratic, secular-leaning governance.

A history lesson is never unwelcome, especially now, with the United States attempting to forge a new relationship with the regional powerhouse. Americans with a simplistic or monolithic view of Iran as a dangerous theocracy are generally oblivious of the role played by the United States, and the CIA, in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mosaddeq and the decades of misguided support for the brutal, corrupt and ridiculous regime of the Shah. The Iranian government is horribly oppressive, of course, but Iranian society is vibrant and artistically rich, with women representing well more than half of the student population at the university level.

Unfortunately, the historical focus of the show doesn’t always serve Neshat’s work well. Historical photographs and even a newsreel give visitors a sense of these epochal events, but Neshat’s work isn’t particularly documentary in its focus. At its best, it is a kind of poetic descant to history, reimagining it in a lyrical and reflective mode. The exhibition’s approach also threatens to make Neshat into a conduit, or worse, a martyr, of the tragedies of Iranian history, inviting us to indulge the superficial and aggrandizing view of the artist as someone who suffers on behalf of her people. Finally, the historical organization also emphasizes an uncomfortable aspect of Neshat’s career: Her recent work is not nearly as powerful as the work she was doing two decades ago.

Framing the show as an ambulation through history, however, does accomplish a few curatorial ends. Most of this work is already familiar to art lovers who have been paying attention to the trends of the past 20 years. Almost everything in the Hirshhorn exhibition, including the seminal videos made in the late 1990s, was also seen less than three years ago in a Neshat exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts. So how to reframe it? How to make it new?

An Iranian-American Artist Uses Tools to Question Social Structures

“Man is a tool-making animal,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1778. Philosophers and scientists from Marx to Darwin have elaborated on the definition, and this weekend at NADA New York, the Iranian-American artist Sarah Rahbar explores the theme in a contemporary context.
Trespassers, by Sara Rahbar, 2013. From the series 206 Bones Collected vintage wooden tools, rifles, cross and cruxifix, and bullets 45 × 41 1/2 × 9 in 114.3 × 104.1 × 22.9 cm. Courtesy Carbon 12, Dubai, and Artsy.
by Bridget GleesonArtsy Editorial

Rahbar’s sculptures, composed of vintage tools and objects including pieces of wood, scraps of bronze, wheels, batons, shoe forms, and rifle stocks, are at once familiar and mildly disorienting. One piece in particular, Trespassers (2013), bears a striking resemblance to a standard wall-mounted rack taken from a garage or a tool shed—save for a crucifix planted in the middle. Other sculptures, like The Comfort of Feeling Safe (2015), employ similar materials, but the pieces are arranged in a way that’s illogical, even bewildering. And the title provokes further questions; after all, the concept of “feeling safe” is not typically associated with a range of objects, like axes, saws, and rifles, that could be used as weapons. Unless, of course, those same objects are used to protect you, or to tame and beautify the wild world around you.

Indeed, Rahbar’s works conjure up childhood memories—and intriguing questions about the relationship between child and parent, the vulnerable and the protected, the natural world and the ways we’ve invented to control it. Memory, and basic human needs, are themes that the artist has arrived at partly due to personal circumstance. Rahbar was born in Tehran; amid the turmoil following the Iranian revolution, her family fled the country. Years later, she pieced together Iranian and American flags for her evocative “Flag” textile series. “Years and years of memories, experiences and attachments and what is the work but a direct reflection of my life? What I’m focusing on, and what is boiling, twisting and turning inside of me,” she has said of these collages.

Rahbar’s current exhibition, featured at NADA New York by the Dubai gallery Carbon 12, is a satisfying thematic extension of both the “Flag” series and her later “War” series of sculptures and installations built with military paraphernalia. “In the end we are all just visiting and we all come to this world alone and we leave alone,” she writes in her artist’s statement. “But while we are here we try so desperately to belong to something, to someone and to somewhere.” Life is a battle, Rahbar suggests—but only some of the battlefields are easily recognizable.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Music Never Stopped

MTV viewers get a dose of Iranian politics

Documentary highlights plight of musicians, including one who fled Iran after being labelled a ‘devil worshipper’ and flogged
 Iranian heavy metal band Masters of Persia. Photograph: Andi Brooke Photography for Rebel Music/ MTV World. Courtesy  The Guardian.
by Peyvand Khorsandi for Tehran Bureau, The Guardian

Imagine if you were a rock or hip hop musician and had to seek a green light for your art from an institution called the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Welcome to Iran, where some music is technically illegal.

“Don’t bother,” the guidance is likely to be. “It’s not really worth your trouble. And as for performing in public, there is more chance of a Boyzone concert in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-un executing another subordinate with anti-aircraft fire as a warm-up act.”

No Coachella or Glastonbury equivalent any time soon.

Heavy metal and socio-political hip hop are among the banned music in Iran and musicians can only gig in underground pop-up venues that run the risk of being invaded by the so-called moral police. Organisers and performers face serious consequences if they are caught.

For that reason, many musicians quit the country. MTV catches up with a few in Rebel Music: Iran, The Music Never Stopped, its second six-part series on music in countries where terms such as gangsta, thug life, and criminals are, to varying degrees, more apt descriptions of the authorities rather than the artists.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Balancing humour and gravity

A small woman with a brilliant smile, photographer Gohar Dashti is among Iran’s established talents, conjuring art from a culture run ragged by years of war, internal tensions and conflict between traditional beliefs and the modern world.

Untitled work from Gohar Dashti’s series Today’s Life and War (2008), part of the exhibition Iran at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney. © Gohar Dashti. Courtesy the artist and ACP.
by Rosalie Higson, The Australian

During the past decade Dashti’s surrealist photo-fictions have been shown in solo exhibitions in Tehran, the US, France, Italy and Britain, and in many group shows from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro.

In Sydney at the Australian Centre for Photography selections from two of Dashti’s series, Today’s Life and War and Iran, ­Untitled, are on show under the title Iran, part of the centre’s examination of dialogue between East and West in the year of the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign during World War I.

Dashti was never interested in straight documentary photography. Instead, she makes a kind of absurdist theatre, set against a dreary yet threatening desert landscape, balancing humour and gravity. “My work is about social issues and also about historical social issues, and also about myself and my experience of the world,” Dashti says. “My work reflects my face, what I feel about life, what’s my experience. I think all artists trust themselves so they can express something. Not particularly as a woman — it doesn’t matter. Just as an artist.”

War was constantly in the background for the first eight years of Dashti’s life. She was born in 1980, the year after the Islamic Revolution, just when Iran and Iraq went to war. She grew up with three brothers in Ahvaz, a small city on the border between Iran and Iraq: “And that’s exactly where the war happened. My father was from there, and so we stayed there, and we grew up in the wartime.

“It was just part of life. We had good and bad memories — the birthday parties, shopping, going to school — everything like normal. And we grew up in this kind of life. One of the normal games for us, after the red alarm (all clear siren) we went to the roof and took the bullets and ‘Who has more?’ At the time I really enjoyed it, but now thinking about it — oh. But it was a game for children.”

Gimme Some Truth

Living the high life and telling it like it is: Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar
Once Upon a Time, There Was Saddam (from the A Reason to Fight series). Courtesy REORIENT.

What interest could a stylish, twenty-something artist-cum-businessman living it up in the French Riviera and Monaco have in a tiny village in central Iran? In a tribe supposed to be as old as time itself? In a war he never experienced, fought for, or at the time understood? Quite a bit, apparently.

Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, in the early 80s, Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar has a lot to be happy about. Despite having been dubbed the ‘new kid on the block’ (among other things) by some, he has, in a very short time, seen his work shown in solo exhibitions in London, major charity galas, international art fairs, and on prestigious online platforms; not bad at all, one could well say. Although he comes from a business background and is known for his entrepreneurial flair and drive, it isn’t money that’s driving Sassan’s artistic practice, but rather a simple love for his homeland, and a journey through the many facets of his identity. Combining traditional Persian motifs with black-and-white photography, fashion aesthetics, and archival material, Sassan strives to reveal through his work not only his own true self, but also that of Iran.

Who is Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar? What does he believe in? Who is this ‘man on a mission’ everyone’s been talking about recently?

I have often been called a self-styled purveyor of the truth by different major organisations and players in the contemporary art world during the past two years, which is due to the nature of my work – from my portraiture and art films, to installations and photographs such as those of the A Reason to Fight and The Real Me series – as well as my background. As an artist, one of my objectives is to show the world what the true nature of my country – Iran – and its culture, heritage, and people is. It has been too long that the majority of international media outlets have portrayed my fellow nationals, country, and heritage as something that is clearly false, and I think it is long overdue to start showing the truth and factual realities of Iran instead of all this negative propaganda circulating everywhere.

Today, I am using my practice to better educate the masses on a global level about Iran and everything that it involves, and my biggest satisfaction is when I see audiences of various ages and races understanding the message behind my work all in the same way. My work deals with a potent blend of nostalgia, history, and national cultural identity.

All about me nicknamed Crown Giver

Contemporary Iranian Photography 
The Silk Road Art Gallery based in Tehran, presents its new solo exhibition by Tahmineh Monzavi titled "All about me nicknamed Crown Giver" until May 18th, 2015.
All about me nicknamed Crown Giver, 2014 © Tahmineh Monzavi. Courtesy The Eye of Photography.
by La RédactionThe Eye of Photography

In a dusty decadence, forgotten and rusty crowned people portrait the lacklustre nightmare of a damp house for me. I search for a familiar sign in the strangeness of the faces. They want to get far away. Like these very same old brass crowns, they want to be a remote sign of what they have once been. The houses in Grape Garden Alley, the houses of dust. The aristocratic houses are dust covered memories, and suspicious looking.

Miss Beauties run to prove their merits and their unsuccessful effort is to win the lost rank of beauty and vanity. Life becomes a chair, it becomes a stare, it becomes staring at their whirling, and a sneer and a chortle that there is always one chair short for the best ones. There is always someone who fails in occupying the chair, and she falls apart.

In the real world, Miss Beauties appear on the stage to display their best in a predefined framework, in an imposed space, with a beaming smile, with a doll-like face devoid of inner feelings. Individuality of these girls is castrated and the portrayal of the appearance is the sole element of their attraction.

The way Miss Beauties are chosen seems somehow similar to our childhood game. Whoever sits on the chair faster deserves the loftiest status. Regarding the hidden capabilities of every woman in the society to be a chosen one, and disregarding looks, culture, and even social class, meritorious Iranian girls and women can be seen easily on the city’s pavements and squares.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Suddenly, Tehran’s Mayor Becomes a Patron of the Arts

Tehran Becomes Giant Open-Air Art Gallery

Billboard in Tehran shows The Son of Man by the Belgian surrealist René Magritte next to a painting by famous Iranian artist Sohrab Sepehri. Photograph: Hamed Khorshidi/ Courtesy The Guardian.
by Thomas ErdbrinkNew York Times

The mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, is well known in Iran as a former Revolutionary Guards commander, retired pilot and the loser of two presidential elections. This week he added one more title — patron of the arts — as he directed all of the city’s 1,500 billboards fitted out with copies of famous works of art, including many by prominent Western artists.

Almost overnight nearly all of Tehran’s billboards, which are owned by the city and are a prime source of income, stopped showcasing South Korean dishwashers and the latest bank interest rates (now 22 percent) and sported still lifes by Rembrandt and images by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Residents of Tehran, who spend hours a day on congested roads, often protecting their mouths from the continuous blanket of smog, rubbed their eyes at the sight of works by such artists as Rothko (Nos. 3, 10 and 13) and Munch (“The Scream,” of course), along with pieces by prominent Iranian artists.

“My usual morning route has become a big adventure for me,” said Hamid Hamraz, 58, as he navigated his yellow Peugeot taxi through traffic on the Hemmat highway. “Now, in my taxi we discuss paintings and artworks.”

Such discussions are exactly what the project aims for, said Mojtaba Mousavi, a counselor to the Organization of Beautification of Tehran, a municipal group in charge of decorating walls, parks and other public spaces, including billboards.

“Our people are too busy to go to museums and galleries,” he said. “So we decided to turn the entire city into a huge gallery.”

I won’t wait for grey hairs and worldly cares to soften my views

Rokni Haerizadeh, Ramin Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian at Callicoon Fine Arts | April 12 – May 31, 2015
Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian, I won't wait for grey hairs and worldly cares to soften my views (2015), Callicoon Fine Arts. Installation shot. Courtesy of Callicoon Fine Arts and The Brooklyn Rail.
by Sara RoffinoThe Brooklyn Rail

Iranian, Dubai-based artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian’s first show in New York, I won’t wait for grey hairs and worldly cares to soften my views is a vociferous installation spanning a multitude of genres, places, times, and languages. Several visits are not enough to digest all that is present in this exhibition, which includes works made by the three men individually, as well as collaborative pieces, and works by other artists—Etel Adnan, Martha Wilson, and A.K. Burns, for example. It’s not possible in this short review to cover even a fraction of what is happening here. In fact, that inability to process it all is itself a significant element of the work. Nonetheless, spending time in this exhibition is revelatory. It is an opportunity to enter the world of the Haerizadeh brothers and their childhood friend Rahmanian—a world that is sharply and critically observant of cultural, political, and personal states of being without succumbing to the darker realities of each.

Sculptures, videos, collages, paintings, and assemblages are installed atop a floor painted with a winding black-and-white triangular pattern, pink amaryllis flowers, and erratic splotches of yellow. On three screens immediately to the left of the entrance, the video “O, You People!” (2014) runs on a loop. Filmed in 2013 while the artists were at the Rauschenberg Foundation’s residency on Captiva Island, “O, You People!” presents footage of the Haerizadehs and Rahmanian exploring and interacting with an oceanfront house on stilts. Against low contrast grey-blue light, the artists dressed in costumes, draped themselves in sheets, and wore animal masks to film each other from 4 a.m. until sunrise for two weeks. Installed just above the floor, the videos require viewers to kneel down to view the screens properly. The audio is a Farsi to English and then back to Farsi translation of the poem “O, You People” by Nima Yushij, the father of modern Persian poetry. Despite its unassuming placement within the gallery, and the nearly inaudible audio, “O, You People” is integral—perhaps even the anchor of the show.

Through placing themselves within the installation as such, the Haerizadehs and Rahmanian insist on their presence within the work. Their individual biographies—the personal experiences of culture, modernity, art, oppression, and freedom within Iran (and beyond)—serve as material in much the same way as do dollar-store underwear, plastic carrots, family photos, Pussy Riot, Cindy Sherman, Renaissance putti, and the British Royal family (to name just a few of the dozens of references in the show).

My Freedom

 The blend of traditional calligraphy with contemporary painting
Calligraphy, Golnaz Fathi, 2008, Acrylic on Canvas 100 x 198cm. Courtesy Aesthetica Magazine.
Expanding the traditional form of calligraphy and blending it with contemporary painting, Golnaz Fathi’s renowned style has led to international acclaim. Fathi returned to the UK in 2008 with her exhibition, My Freedom at Xerxes Fine Arts.

by Shona Fairweather, Aesthetica Magazine

The profile of Iranian art has been rising throughout the UK. This year there have been an array of exhibitions by Iranian artists at galleries and art fairs including 30 Years of Solitude — a selection of photography and film by some of Iran’s foremost female artists at Asia House in London. Xerxes Fine Arts is another London-based gallery, which is dedicated to showcasing Iranian and Middle Eastern art. Established in 2008, it is the only gallery outside of the Persian Gulf to act as a primary dealer for artists from Iran and the Middle East. The gallery focuses on nurturing and promoting young artists from the region, including Golnaz Fathi, whose mounting acclaim has led her to become one of the most sought after artists from the region.

Golnaz Fathi was born in Tehran, Iran in 1972. Fathi completed a Bachelors of Art in Graphics at Azad Art University in Tehran in 1995 and then gained a Diploma of Iranian Calligraphy from the Iranian Society of Calligraphy in Tehran. Fathi’s practice has extended far beyond the traditional approach to calligraphy to develop an abstract style, which is based on the warm-up exercises practiced by professional calligraphers before they begin their work. Fathi is a self-taught painter. She says, “The only period in my life that I had a teacher for painting was when I was nine, and at that time I fell in love with the form, and I had a dream that one day I would become a painter. For calligraphy, I am thankful to my father. He introduced it to me, as he believed that everyone should have good penmanship. His aim was to familiarise me with beautiful handwriting; he never knew it would lead me to practicing seven hours a day and becoming a professional calligrapher.”

Fathi’s works focus on visual expression; her words are indistinct, so there is no literal meaning to the calligraphic text. Instead these abstractions serve as visual stimuli for the observer, which she masterfully combines with painting. “I combined the disciplines, and transferred them onto my canvas, with my own taste and interpretation, without obeying the laws of traditional calligraphy. So, although I have had the traditional training, I allow myself complete creative freedom.”

Meet the Art Museum That Will Follow You Around the Internet

The Moving Museum has pop-up locations around the world and will now fill your browser with art 
The Moving Museum. Courtesy Bloomberg

by Mark EllwoodBloomberg

In the 21st century, does an art institution need a permanent collection, an architecturally important building, and a wealthy board of trustees to truly qualify as a museum?

If you look at the major collections around the world today, you may think the answer is yes. But twentysomething art darlings Simon Sakhai and Aya Mousawi believe differently.

Together the two founded the Moving Museum, which is based on the belief that a modern art institution can exhibit anything, anywhere—including online. Having noticed that for an artist's career, traditional museums and gallery shows have declined in importance when compared with art fairs and biennials, they decided to create a series of pop-ups that follow the major fairs. The idea was to take the concept of a restaurant or retail pop-up and populate it with site-specific work. According to Mousawi, they wondered: "What if there [were] a moving museum that traveled to these art fairs and capitalized on them, popping up and engaging with the city?”

They began the project just three years ago, and in the short space since they have staged pop-up projects in Dubai, London, and Istanbul. Each show asked an invited group of artists to produce work in response to their local surroundings. For a show in Dubai, for example, they hosted a work called Moje Sabz (The Green Wave) by Iranian-born artist Soheila Sokhanvari, wherein a small English pony named Sarah was perched jauntily on a bright blue fiberglass ball, gently mocking the respected animal much as the Iranian revolution, or Green Wave, of 2009 taunted the government. “We shipped a horse to Dubai, flying it in a crate," laughed Mousawi. "And we have a photograph with that horse in the crate hanging from a crane with the Burj Khalifa as a backdrop.”

Creativity and High Quality of Iranian Art in Medieval Time

Humay on the day after their wedding has gold coins poured over him as he leaves Humayun’s room. The name of the artist, Junayd, is inscribed in the arch above Humayun's head (Add.18113, f. 45v) - See more at: Asian and African studies blog. Courtesy The British Library.
Professor Blair teaches about all aspects of Islamic art from the seventh century to modern times. She offers surveys on Islamic art, architecture, and urbanism, as well as research seminars on the Silk Road, the Islamic book, and the arts of the object.

Interview by Maryam Kamali, Iranian Medieval History

Dear Prof. Blair it is a great pleasure for me to have an interview with you regarding Islamic medieval architecture. One of the controversial issues in Iranian studies is which period can be specified as the medieval time. Based on art history which phase of history do you regard as the medieval history of Iran?

I would say that for me as an art historian medieval history runs from post-Sassanian up to the modern period. So we are talking about chronological centuries, sometime between the eighth and the tenth centuries depending on where you are in Iran up until the pre-Modern period, which would be around 1500, so up to the rise of the Safavids.

 Based on the characteristics of the Iranian art and architecture to what phases do you divide the medieval history of Iran?

Pre-Mongol and Post-Mongol phases because the Mongol conquests were important for art not just in terms of conquests but more so in terms of the exchange of goods and ideas.

 You have done many precious studies on Islamic Art and Architecture including the Iranian art. What are the main characteristics of the Iranian art and architecture that distinguish them from those of other Islamic countries?

I would say that first and fore-most is quality. Iranian art is excellent, it is first rate, it is extremely creative, it is made from very fine materials and it is often just better in terms of quality; not necessarily in terms of interest or historical authenticity but in terms of quality; it is often better than the arts produced nearby.

 Is this also true about the architecture?

Architecture as well; it is just extraordinarily inventive the methods that builders created to support the domes, the techniques they invented to decorate with the tiles; the constant creativity of architects and artists.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

At LA Museum, A Powerful And Provocative Look At 'Islamic Art Now'

If you called Andy Warhol a Christian artist would that make sense?
- Professor Ali Behdad

Amir Mousavi's 2011 work Untited, #8, from the series Lost in Wonderland. Courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art and NPR.
by Susan Stamberg, NPR

Art galleries are generally quiet, hushed spaces, but at the Los Angeles County Museum a show called Islamic Art Now is sparking some heated discussions as visitors ponder the photographs, paintings and neon sculptures on display.

Moroccan photographer Lalla Essaydi has covered every inch of a reclining odalisque with graceful Arabic calligraphy. The gorgeous woman is staring right at us, and viewers wonder: Is the writing protection? A shield? Imprisonment?

Translating the calligraphy, curator Linda Komaroff doesn't see it that way. "I see it more as: This is who I am. See me for who I am. Read me if you like, but this is me," she says.

Egyptian-German artist Susan Hefuna's Woman Behind Mashrabiya I is a black and white image of a shrouded woman looking out from behind a pierced screen. We can't really see her, but she can see us. Is she protected? Trapped?

"It's very mysterious — and deliberately so," Komaroff says. "It's this notion about: Do we really understand? ... To me, a lot of these images are a challenge to an American audience to maybe rethink what their perceptions are of women in the Middle East, women in the Islamic world. Maybe they're not that different from us after all."

Some provocative images may feel very different from Western experience. Viewers get an extreme close-up in Iranian artist Shirin Neshat's 1996 photograph Speechless. We see a portion of a woman's face, circled by a black headscarf. At her right ear, what looks at first like a clunky earring turns out to be the barrel of a gun. With a look of determination, she's pointing the gun directly at the viewer.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Rorschach Inkblots Conjure Up Themes of Violence and Loss in Iran

From Chaos, A Mind of Its Own series, by Roya Farassat. Courtesy Shirin Art Gallery, New York.
by Negar MortazaviHyperallergic

It’s not so easy for Iranian-American artists to portray their hyphenated identities. The two countries have spent the past three decades as staunch enemies, disconnected from each other. Now the US and Iran have recently started talking to each other, trying to resolve a nuclear dispute. That might seem like a purely political issue but it has had its effects on the art scene.

With Iran news dominating the headlines, the Americans have become curious about the people who live in Iran. And art, naturally, is one great way to learn about a people. Iranian art has generated new interest and many artists have been showcased across the US over the past two years, from legendary sculptor Parviz Tanavoli at Boston’s Davis Museum to Tehran-based artist Monir Shahroudy at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Iran-born, New York-based artist Roya Farassat is a new addition to this list. Her work was recently included in an exhibition that travelled from the Queens Museum to the Taubman Museum in Roanoke, Virginia, and her paintings of women in veils and welded steel wall installations have been shown in numerous solo and group shows across the US and abroad, including art fairs in New York, Miami, Dubai, and Kuwait. Her current solo exhibit Chaos, A Mind of Its Own at Shirin Gallery in New York features paintings inspired by Rorschach inkblots. Made with an instinctive love for detail and symmetry, Farassat’s works on paper reveal multiple layers of paint, building up to rich surfaces that transform into something haunting and turbulent. Initially, what seems to look like an accidental spill matures to a ghostlike explosion that rises like smoke and leaves debris of delicate stains, linear lines, and thickened shadows.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Kiarostami honoured as Iran film festival shows once-banned film

Juliette Binoche and William Shimell star in Certified Copy. Photo via Aceshowbiz.
Monavar Khalaj in Tehran, FT

With liberal films sidelined or banned, and scripts requiring government approval, five years ago Abbas Kiarostami, Iran’s most celebrated film director, vowed not to make any more films in his home country. The government of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad had sent the message they “don’t want cinema”, he said.

The director has long riled conservatives in the Islamic Republic, once sparking outrage at home for kissing French actress Catherine Deneuve, a woman who was not his wife, at the Cannes film festival. But, in a sign of the increasingly open mood in Iran, Mr Kiarostami’s once-banned film, Certified Copy, opened the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran last weekend.

“I did not expect the . . . festival to do such a favour not only to me, but also to purged films,” Mr Kiarostami told a packed audience at the festival before his movie was shown.

While foreign films are rarely shown in Iran, this year the festival has rejigged its schedule to give them a higher profile. In February it screened exclusively domestic films, allowing it to focus on international films for the April screenings. Most of the 150 films screened in April were foreign. The festival culminates on Saturday night with the award of the Simorgh prize for the best film.

Directed by Kiarostami in 2010, Certified Copy, set in Tuscany, is the story of a British writer and a French antiques dealer whose relationship undergoes an odd transformation over the course of a day. The film was originally banned in Iran because of Juliette Binoche’s low-cut dress. At last weekend’s screening, her chest was blurred to protect her modesty.

Even with this concession to Tehran’s conservative regime, the film’s screening highlights the growing vibrancy of Iran’s cultural scene.

Haji Baba of New York City

‘Parviz Khatibi loved his country enough to tell it the truth’
The 1952 edition of Haji Baba (republished in 1978), for which Parviz Khatibi was imprisoned. The left panel depicts Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh leading Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi – the ‘sacrificial camel’ – by the neck, while the right shows Haji Baba struggling with a ‘dictatorial camel’. Courtesy REORIENT.
By Leila Jarmanand and Caitlin CarlsonREORIENT

Satire has the power to spark great controversy, illuminate injustice, and help bring forth social change. Throughout the 20th century, Parviz Khatibi was a clear voice of dissent in Iran, and his work encouraged people to always question what they often assumed to be the truth. An intellectual, playwright, filmmaker, composer, and lyricist, Khatibi’s 55-year career was unparalleled in his country. Deeply passionate about politics, as well as pop culture, the sum of his life’s work was a hybrid of the two. He was radical in confronting domestic sociopolitical affairs through his journalism and cartoons, while still appealing to the mainstream as an entertainer, intellectual, and public figure. Khatibi was relentless in his work, and prolific out of necessity, stopping at nothing to expose the hypocrisies of his society.

Khatibi was born in Tehran to a large upper-class family in 1922. His maternal grandfather, Mirza Reza Kermani – who assassinated the Qajar monarch Nasereddin Shah in 1896 – was a follower of the revolutionary cleric Seyyed Jamaleddin Afghani. At the age of 12, Khatibi began his career in journalism by writing satirical poems, and rode his bike to the offices of Towfigh – the most prominent satirical newspaper of the time – to submit them. By the time he was 17, he was the youngest Editor-in-Chief the publication had ever seen. As religious and political freedoms waned in the 1940s, an 18-year old Khatibi pushed Towfigh to produce more provocative content. The publication’s founders were arrested and forced to temper their messages; yet, unwilling to censor his work, Khatibi began publishing his own weekly paper, Bahram, in 1946, and later, Ali Baba. These papers were characteristically bold in their critiques and satires of Iranian social, political, and cultural figures and events, and were banned from publication numerous times, until forced to shut down indefinitely. Khatibi soon learned that if he wanted to avoid censorship, he would have to be more subtle in his approach, especially towards political and religious figures.