Thursday, 31 December 2009

Our New Decade

A New Year is a great idea!
It comes to us each worn-out year
Just as December dies on us
And January threatens us
With news of blood and fears that all
Our hopes are dashed…
But, friends, this is the first day of Our Decade!
May all the things come true for which we’ve prayed.
Is it too much to hope in this New Year
That Peace will wipe away our every tear?

© Aida Foroutan

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Power of Words

Amnesty International supporters have used the power of words to demand freedom and justice for countless human rights defenders around the world. Our words are proof that you stand up for human rights, you never stand alone.


Sunday, 20 December 2009

Happy Yalda

Yule (Yalda):

The sun is setting low on the western horizon.
Sky serpent swallowing him once more
Yule night has arrived; sun’s longest slumbers.

We eat and drink all that is red
Wine, pomegranate, and watermelon,
The color of dawn, reminders of what we eagerly wait for.

Shamash, Marduk, Sekhmet,
Descending immortals, you’ll rise again
Apollo, Ra, salutations to you.

Good night Osiris, weak and tired lying in your coffin,
Enclosed by darkness, tricked by Seth again!
An infant sun is born, Horus soaring up into the sky.

Mithras, born of a rock and out from the cave,
Becoming Sol Invictus and turning the wheel
Darkness, now a fading memory.

The Oak king sings outside, as the Holly king lays slain
Dawn has arrived, Yule has ended.
Drink up your wine.

From ‘The Mysteries of Mithras: The Pagan Belief That Shaped the Christian World’ by Payam Nabarz.

A chance meeting some years ago with an Iranian scholar who, as fate has it, now lives in Helsinki, Finland, introduced me to an aspect of Iranian history; which to this date is nothing short of a love affair with my ancestors. Though long forgotten, they deserve to be remembered for what they truly were. For this enlightenment, I am forever indebted to this friend.

At this particular time of year, I would like to share something with you that I think speaks volumes of plagiarisms and outright thefts of many Iranian thoughts and customs. I feel sure that many of you are aware of this, but circumstances have made it difficult to assert the facts or to remind your colleagues and compatriots of them.

When my children were growing up and were still at home, as parents, Christmas was a difficult time for us. Like all other Iranian children, ours could not quite understand the lack of enthusiasm during this particular holiday.

I am inclined to think that this, among many others, may have been the main contributing factor for their feeling that their parents were "different". They wished we would make the same efforts at Christmas as other parents, but because our hearts were not in it, everything we did seemed either artificial or pretentious, which made us in their eyes even more "different".

However, the chance meeting changed all that with the result that a small amount of research produced many sweet historical facts. Had I known this when my children were small, I would have happily, gladly, and most proudly celebrated this particular holiday season as one of our very own. And I would not have had all those uncomfortable feelings at Christmas with or without a tree.

Yalda (winter solstice) is an ancient Iranian word and appears in many of Prophet Mani's writings. The word refers to a new Beginning from which the Arabic words milaad, tavalod etc. were derived. Mitra (or Mithra) the early Iranian Prophet, considering Light as the essence of existence and life, believed in its sanctity. The Sun as its most obvious manifestation was revered and some out of pure ignorance concluded that Mitra worshiped the Sun.

Whether she did or not she was believed to have been born by divine gesture on December 21st, the longest night of the year, specifically to begin the struggle and triumph of "Light" over "Dark" by having longer and longer days following the longest night of the year.

Mitra's birthday was celebrated for a total of 10 days up to and including the First of January. It is not an accident that half way through the celebrations, namely December 25th, was chosen as Jesus' birthday and January 1st as the first day of New Year.

Remember that Romans, prior to Christianity, practiced Mitraism and only out of political considerations, in the year 376, they converted to the new religion that had started within their own territory. They were not too happy about their main philosophy and religion having been imported from their main and only competitor, namely, the Persian Empire, they converted expeditiously.

According to one source, the Iranians celebrated this day as early as 2,000 BC. Zoroastrians after refining and discarding some of the mythical and "heretical" aspects of Mithraism, retained Yalda (The Birth), and additionally encouraged celebrations of Noruz and Mehregan among many others.

Ancient Iranians celebrated Yalda by decorating an evergreen tree, the Sarve. The Sarve, Rocket Juniper (what a name!), also known as the cypress tree, being straight, upright, resilient and resistant to the cold weather (all signs of strength and upright of character) was thought appropriate to represent Mitra, the omnipotent and ubiquitous deity.

The younger girls had their "wishes" symbolically wrapped in colorful silk cloth and hung them on the tree as offerings to Mitra with an expectation, no doubt, that their prayers would be rewarded (remnants of this traditions can still be seen in Iran at remote villages where some young girls tie colorful bundles to trees to answer to their "wishes") . Thus the tradition of decorations of the tree with lights and gifts on or beside the tree was born.

As you may know, Pope Leo, in the fourth century (A.D.376), after almost destroying the last temple of Mitra (Mitraeum) in his campaign against Mitraism and in the good old Christian tradition, "If you can't claim it, imitate it and call it your own," proclaimed the 25th of December as Christ's birthday and January 1st (not March 21st as was the norm) as the first day of New Year.

Again in the same Euro-Christian tradition of not identifying the source, Luther, the famous German reformer, in the 18th century (1756, I believe), having learned of the Yalda Tree tradition, introduced the Christmas tree to the Germans. However, as Sarves were not much known in Germany, nor indeed in much of Europe, the chosen tree became a genus of pine, abundant in Europe.

So now with or without the children at home, we decorate a small Sarve with a star (Mitra's) on top and many presents all around, not necessarily for Mitra, but in memory of my ancestors for my children and grandchildren.

Please, therefore, decorate a tree at this joyous time, call it by its true name -- Yalda Tree -- and celebrate it as your own and don't feel ambivalent when your children wonder if we celebrate the occasion. So Happy Yalda and the greetings of the season to all of you; no matter what your religion is.

Ash Farhang
December 23, 2003

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Magic Wishes

It is hard to contend against one's heart's desire; for whatever it wishes to have it buys at the cost of soul. -Heraclitus

Lester was given a magic wish

By the goblin who lives in the banyan tree,

And with his wish he wished for two more wishes--

So now instead of just one wish, he cleverly had three.

And with each one of these

He simply wished for three more wishes,

Which gave him three old wishes, plus nine new.

And with each of these twelve

He slyly wished for three more wishes,

Which added up to forty-six--or is it fifty-two?

Well anyway, he used each wish

To wish for wishes 'til he had

Five billion, seven million, eighteen thousand thirty-four.

And then he spread them on the ground

And clapped his hands and danced around

And skipped and sang, and then sat down

And wished for more.

And more...and more...they multiplied

While other people smiled and cried

And loved and reached and touched and felt.

Lester sat amid his wealth

Stacked mountain-high like stacks of gold,

Sat and counted--and grew old.

And then one Thursday night they found him

Dead--with his wishes piled around him.

And they counted the lot and found that not

A single one was missing.

All shiny and new--here, take a few

And think of Lester as you do.

In a world of apples and kisses and shoes

He wasted his wishes on wishing.

-Shel Silverstein

Saturday, 3 October 2009

First Case, Second Case: Practice of Indecisiveness

Knowledge often breaks into pieces when put into practice, with each piece taking one to the most unlikely places.

First Case, Second Case: A film by Abbas Kiarostami

Ghazieh shekle aval shekle dovvom from Green Mind on Vimeo.

At the time of Iran’s 1979 revolution, the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami made a documentary film called First Case, Second Case. The film was originally shot just before the revolution and completed only after the declaration of its victory. The film, itself divided into two opposite moral takes on its subject, later faced the same fate, that is, first winning an award for what was interpreted as a parable on the Shah’s secret police, and later banned for addressing issues politically too sensitive for the post-revolutionary government.

The film is about a boy not owning up to having misbehaved in the classroom. The teacher, who does not know who the guilty party is, sends a group of pupils out of the classroom. ‘First case’ involves the pupils refusing to name the guilty party, and as a result, remaining expelled from the class. In the ‘second case’ one pupil from the group identifies the culprit and returns to his seat. School inspectors, the education minister and other newly appointed political figures from the post-revolutionary government are filmed commenting on the two cases. Some believe the students should not name names as this undermines the model of moral character, while others agree with the second case as being principally correct. Throughout the whole film we see either the pupils standing in a row against the corridor wall outside the classroom, or the talking heads of the commentators. At the time the film was banned, the political climate was quite similar to what this film depicts. One reason for its later ban was because some of the commentaries were coming from members of political parties that had been declared illegal in the few years after the revolution.

First Case, Second Case operates within the gap between the two moral poles: enouncing (naming) the name of the guilty boy and complying with the principles of the school system, or remaining silent and renouncing one’s place in the classroom for the sake of the other. In both cases, however, the ‘name’, in its exposure and concealment, is just an instrument for a moral arrangement. What is truly sacrificed, either way, is the boy’s ‘real’ name.

The film avoids taking sides. Nor do the comments by the established figures offer a way out either. On the contrary, they only increase and widen the gap between the two points of view. In simply documenting both cases, the film seems to offer two differing options. But what it truly shows is that there is in fact no real third way, not as an alternative discourse, and this is exactly what makes this dilemma unbearable. In remaining inconclusive, i.e. neither depicting the group as ‘heroes’ nor the fellow pupil who named the boy’s name as a ‘traitor’ (or the other way around), the film leaves us simply in the midst of its dilemma. What the film unfolds is the symptom in each discourse. Both are undermined in the face of this impasse of choice/sacrifice. One either favours one ‘case’ over the other, or eludes both and is left with nothing—the non-discourse of the third option that the film is about. This is exactly why this film can only be misinterpreted if one remains within the fields of one of the two options; this is why it was first given a prize and later banned, on the basis of two opposing interpretations.

What Kiarostami seems be saying with this film is that we are relentlessly entangled in these discourses of social posture, outside of which is nothing but the very place the film itself occupies: the ambiguity of social and political being.

In a place like Iran, where most of life evolves between speculative relations to history and vague notions about the future, cultural production has to a great extent become a volatile and impulsive endeavour. If there is any political or cultural indecisiveness in Iran, it is the consequence of the discrepancy between social reality and its political representation: this essentially irreducible gap between the multiplicity of social logics and its totalising representation by the ruling force acting in the name of the society as a whole. Rulers and governments in Iran have been explicitly concerned to close this gap with symbolic and imaginary identifications to implement the illusion of a unified and sovereign society. With these identifications, the society is offered false knowledge of itself.

The period of the war with Iraq provided the best chance for the Iranian government to reinforce the symbolism on which it had based itself during the revolution. The war was represented as an ideologically collective event, articulated with historical references and rhetoric, mobilising a national force for what was called ‘the sacred defence’. To this day, these representations are revived and reformulated at every possible opportunity, in order to maintain the illusion of social uniformity and continuity. However, symbolic representations start to lose their context when every experience hints at their inconsistency with reality. In being compelled to repetition, discourses of power are permanently at risk; in other words, the social and cultural conceptions they repeatedly institute run the risk of becoming de-instituted at every interval. It is exactly in these intervals that the society engages in producing substitutive discourses and representations of and about itself. It is no surprise that only after the end of the war was it possible to disseminate other political views, slightly moderate in their approach, in the ruling elite. During the years after the war, the number of newspapers with different political views increased enormously. During and before the war, any idea of a reform within the existing political establishment was unthinkable. However, it is appropriate to say that the idea of reform has given way to disappointment, even among some of those who promoted it in the first place.

What is interesting is the way these socio-political inconsistencies condition the production of indecisive discourses, from one moment to the next, in variations, and sometimes in contradiction with one another. Rumours are good examples of this, always suspended between belief and disbelief, falsity and truth, pointing to the very ambiguity of knowledge. Recently, after a report on an explosion heard near a nuclear plant in the south of Iran, rumours started spreading about an American bombardment. Newspapers started reporting contradictory explanations. These varied from ‘explosives used for road expansions’ to ‘a military training plane having to discharge its explosives due to technical problems’. The total destruction of a building and the firing of anti-aircraft missiles near where the sound was heard were also reported. Although the truth has not yet been clarified, and most probably it never will be, the rumour did temporarily affect the price of oil that day when the New York oil market opened. (The reality rumours entail does not lie in the truth about an event but exactly in the rumours’ very indecisiveness, for they will always return to their true source in spite of being a lie. The source of the sound of the explosion may never be located, but it did reach the ‘true’ instigator of the rumour, that is the New York oil market.) By pointing out the representational gap in the totalising articulations of reality, rumours as indecisive discourse undermine discourses of power. Yet they remain hesitant and speculative. What would be the radical yet productive equivalent of such a subversion?

At this juncture cultural practice may take on a double-edged role, at once occupying the space of this gap and rearticulating it into a space for dialogue. Always involving this gap between social representation and pure difference, cultural practice attests to the irresoluteness of political identification, encircling the very ambiguity of discourse. Cultural activities are political in the way they relentlessly reinscribe a split in the heart of any discourse, opening it for negotiation. To give in to this ambiguity is to keep open the possibility for constant rearticulation and negotiation. This is exactly what Kiarostami’s film is implementing. It is as if it reconsiders the corridors between classrooms as the place where discourses meet to collide, to be diluted and split into two, a place where the ‘real’ lessons are picked up.

Pursuing the Indecisive Beyond Locality

Cultural vocabularies change rapidly, as do the contexts upon which they reflect. Today’s discourse on the social and political currents of a place may be dated tomorrow. There are always multiple flows of discourse in a society, crushing and cross folding unto one another. Therefore any totalising symbolisations are bound to fall short of this complexity. Cultural projects attempting to pursue a critical flow of discourse are successful only to the extent of escaping symbolisation of any sort. It is the internalising of the very intricacy of conditions that is challenging and constitutes complex articulations.

First Case, Second Case was one of a few films in Kiarostami’s oeuvre that did not receive enough recognition outside of Iran. The reason is obviously that most festival viewers and critics do not know of the distinct political—and now historical—context the film refers to. When these historical distinctions enter localities other than their own, they can affect them in the most direct manner —for one thing, they are no longer mere narratives of a far-off place. To welcome complexities of other conditions, i.e. to re-insert them into one’s own representational discourses about the ‘other’, may not only de-certify our subjective position, but also render certain estrangement into the ‘reality’ of our own condition.

Recent trends in the art world in depicting cultural and artistic practices from various localities have often resulted in simplified articulations and presentations. What should be accounted for is not merely the differences between cultures, or conformist categorisations of conditions, but rather the difference within each and every locality. The latter is of course a more timeand mind-consuming effort and would require certain sacrifices were it to be taken seriously. In coming close to ‘real’ difference, one is exposed to a kaleidoscopic inconsistency against which all prescribed knowledge is bound to break into pieces. The hardest venture is then to pick up the shattered bits and pieces of fragments and to renegotiate them into alternative configurations.

Here, reconfigurations of meanings are pursued always in regard to the ‘other’, to other meanings and configurations; in a sharing of knowledge based on its ambiguity, its suspension between (in)comprehensiveness and discord. In other words, to share knowledge is to produce and de-produce it together in a network of enunciations and of localities. This conditions an approach beyond consistencies of cultural representations and identifications, where knowledge is then a discourse of exchange and of constant transposition. As Georges Bataille wrote, ‘Every time we give up the will to know, we have the possibility of touching the world with a much greater intensity.’

by Babak Afrassiabi & Nasrin Tabatabai

Via MANIFESTA & Green Mind
Related Link: قضیه شکل اول شکل دوم

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Kseniya Simonova's Sand Animation

Kseniya Simonova, the winner of Ukraine's Got Talent, has become a YouTube phenomenon by telling stories through sand animation.

Here, she recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the second world war. She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman's face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes - with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene "you are always near".

It might just happen. Her war story has over 2,600,000 views on YouTube and is provoking an interesting debate in the comments section. Jgoo24 notes that "sand is her bitch" and few would argue with this. "Maybe the most magnificent master piece of art of all time" says DevinsDad90, not a man prone to hyperbole. And also "i just jizzed in my pants" (thank you, deaddevil6).

Leaving aside the never less than disturbing thoughts of the YouTube massive, it's clear that Simonova has achieved her goal as an artist. If we take it that art's purpose is to illuminate the world in a new way, provoke a reaction, somehow alter the consciousness of the viewer then her work is a huge success. And that high art can come from a format that produced Stavros Flatley and that it can be popularised and sent around the world is surely some kind of modern miracle.

Via The Guardian - TV & Radio Blog  & YouTube

Monday, 14 September 2009

An upside down world

The man in the suit is French conceptual artist Philippe Ramette and the gravity-defying view from his perch is not a trick. How on earth does he do it?

Irrational Contemplation, 2003 (detail). Photograph: Philippe Ramett

The French artist Philippe Ramette believes nothing should ever be faked. His improbable, gravity-defying poses might look like classic Photoshop, until you notice they are peppered with little incongruities. "You see a tension in my hands, my red face is far from serene as the blood rushes to it, my suit is ruffled."

A sculptor, Ramette rose to fame in the 90s as part of the French contemporary art scene, creating strange wooden and metal instruments and objects. Photography was the logical next step, and through it he has created an odd, neo-romantic universe, using a carefully planned, rational approach to create totally irrational situations. In France, his bizarre images have been compared to the work of Buster Keaton and the world of silent cinema. For him, they are a statement about gravity, weightlessness and man's relationship to the landscape.

Ramette, who still sees himself a sculptor rather than photographer, goes to extraordinary lengths to create his implausible set-ups, building hidden metal supports that he calls "sculpture-structures". Metal rings tether him by the ankles as he hangs motionless from the Grimaldi Forum building in Monaco, his trousers and tie strapped down and his hair gelled flat to give the impression of being upright. Above a winding road in southern France, a metal seat hidden by his suit juts out from a slab of rock, holding him up. Both photos are then turned on their heads. Every image is the exact reproduction of one of his drawings; sketches that he considers to be film storyboards, reconstructed by his faithful team while he directs the image. "I never question whether it's going to be complicated," he says.

In Balcony 2, he is standing on a balcony in the middle of Hong Kong harbour, contemplating the sky while seemingly managing to levitate above the water. He says the image first came to him in a dream in the mid-90s. For the shoot, a watertight tank served as an underwater float for the balcony, put in place by a barge and crane. Ramette then secured his feet on supports, leaned back and clung to the wood. During the initial attempts, he was soaked by waves and had to swim to safety.

He craves an effect of absolute, implausible serenity. For the series Rational Exploration Of The Undersea, he wore lead weights under his suit and around his ankles, having convinced a team of divers to work with him in a minutely rehearsed underwater escapade off Corsica. When Ramette needed air, a diver would swim over with an oxygen tank, but before shooting his team had to wait for the whipped up sand and bubbles to clear in order to achieve the effect of stillness. "There I was in a suit on the seabed, weighed down and able to walk underwater as if on land, unaffected by the currents. For me, that was a real pleasure," he smiles.

Balcony 2 (Hong Kong), 2001. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
 Reversal Of Gravity, 2003. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Rational Exploration Of The Undersea: The Contact, 2006. Photograph: Philippe Ramette

Rational Exploration Of The Undersea: The Wait, 2006. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Rational Explanation Of The Undersea: Irrational Walk. Photograph: Philippe Ramette

by Angelique Chrisafis

Saturday 12 September 2009
The Guardian

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Iran Inside Out review round up - 56 artist survey show in New York described as mesmerising, a privilege

56 contemporary Iranian artists are presented in the attention-grabbing and timely Iran Inside Out exhibition at Chelsea Art Museum in New York (June 26 – Sep 5 2009).

Surprisingly – or perhpas not – only 35 artists in the show reside inside Iran and the other 21 dispersed outside Iran. Together they contribute 210 works of painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation on themes such as gender, war, and politics. Complemented with forums and film screenings, theatre performances, music recitals, and panel discussions, Iran Inside Out is part of Chelsea Art Museum’s 2008-2009 “The East West Project”.

In this round up, art experts and critics from the New York Times to the Huffington Post give their perspectives on this exhibition and report that they are enthralled, mesmerised and surprised. In this rich and challenging show unexpected findings and themes abound. Be sure to scroll down and read Huffington Post’s Marina Bronchman who discovers a controversial new view of the veil and its effect on sexual and gender expression.

Pooneh Maghazehe, Hell’s Puerto Rico Performance Still, Digital C-print 2008 copyright artist and courtesy Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery

In Search of the Axis of Evil
Exhibition section: On War and Politics
Alireza Ghandchi, photographs
Behrang Samadzadegan, There is No One Here But Me, 2006, acrylic on canvas
Behdad Lahooti, A Cliché for Mass Media, 2008, ceramic
Nicky Nodjoumi, The Guard, 2007, oil on canvas
Sara Rahbar, Did You See What Love Did To Us Once Again Flag #32, 2008, mixed media
(from left to right)
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Alireza Ghandchi
From the series Pathos, 2006 (left), Photograph, 50 x 40 cm
From the series Hemd, 2007 (right), Photograph, 50 x 40 cm
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

Behdad Lahooti, A Cliché for Mass Media. 2008, Ceramic with print over
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

Jinoos Taghizadeh , Rock Scissors Paper. 2009, On Lenticular Print
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

Arash Hanaei, Abu Ghraib (Or How to Engage In Dialogue). 2007, Digital prints
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between
Triptych by Darius Yektai; mixed media sculpture by Shirin Fakhim; in the background, Reza Derakhsahni (60 pieces)
Exhibition section: On Gender and Sexuality
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Shirin Fakhim, Tehran Prostitutes. 2008, Mixed media sculpture
Exhibition section: From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between / On Gender and Sexuality
© Photo: Courtesy of Ministry of Nomads

Newsha Tavakolian, Maria. 2007, Print on photography paper
Exhibition section: From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between / On Gender and Sexuality

From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between
Installation with apples: Amir Mobed, Virginity, 1995 - 2009
Hanging piece by Pooneh Maghazehe
In the background (left to right)
Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Pahlavan II Ready to Order, 2008
Sadegh Tirafkhan, Sacrifice Series, 2003
Ramin Haerizadeh, Theater Group, 2005
Exhibition section: On Gender and Sexuality
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue
Pouran Jinchi, Alef Series, 2009
Elmer’s glue and Ink and varnish on canvas
In the background: Samira Abbasy, Eternal War, 2009, oil on gesso panel
Exhibition section: On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Farideh Lashai, I don’t want to be a tree. 2008, Video projection on canvas
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Siamak Filazadeh, ROSTAM 2 The Return. 2008, Photomontages
Shiva Ahmadi, Oil Barrel No. 3,4,5. 2009, Oil on Steel
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Siamak Filizadeh, Rostam Marries Tahmineh. 2008, Digital print on canvas
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms

Shiva Ahmadi, Oil Barrel No. 5. 2009, Oil on steel
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms

Works by Daryoush Gharahzad, Bita Fayyazi, Arash Sedaghatkish, Arman Stepanian
Exhibition section: Where in the World: City Quiz / On Street Culture within Tehran 
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Bita Fayyazi in cooperation with Rokni Haerizadeh
The Purple Scream. 2009, Fiberglass, acrylic and watercolor
Exhibition section: Where in the World: City Quiz / On Street Culture within Tehran
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Arash Sedaghatkish
Untitled. 2008, Watercolor on paper
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Shoja Azari, Windows Animation. 2006, Animation HD Video
Exhibition section: Where in the World: City Quiz / On Street Culture within Tehran

Pooneh Maghazehe, Embroidered dresses. 2008
Hell’s Puerto Rico. 2008, Performance still
Exhibition section: The Culture Shop: Special Sale on Stereotypes - All Must Go! / On Culture as Commodity
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Chelsea Art Museum: Curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath

The curators explain that Iran Inside Out defies the traditional perceptions of Iran and Iranian art:
An intimate look into the people, both inside and outside a country that is more complex than images of veiled women, worn out calligraphy and what a handful of other emblematic images would suggest…an examination of the means through which a young generation of artists is reconciling the daily implications of cultural and geographical distances with the search for individual artistic expression…offers an unexpected insight into the artistic energy of a culture that is constantly evolving as Iranians living both in and out of the country, come of age living and working in contentious societies.

(Art Radar editor note: the curators of Saatchi’s Middle Eastern show ‘Unveiled’ (in which Iranian art predominated) earlier in 2009 also claimed to go beyond the ‘worn out’ to present a more nuanced and alternative view of art from the Middle East - this was hotly contested by some reviewers who were surprised to find that, on the contrary, bloodshed, repression and gender inequality were ubiquitous and courageously expressed. See related posts section below for the review round up of Saatchi’s show).

Yet there are differences between insiders and outsiders say the curators:

Ironically, contrary to one’s expectations, the artists living abroad often draw more on their cultural heritage, while those on the inside focus more on issues of everyday life without much regard to what ‘the outside’ views as specifically Iranian references. Yet, within these disparities, one element stands strong: the recurrent references, sometimes ambiguous, at times emotional, often nostalgic and on occasion satirical and even tragic to Iran the country, Iran the past, the Iran which has been lost and that which could be found.

New York Times: Holland Cotter
Holland Cotter elaborates on how Iranian cultural references run through the show in this 30th-anniversary year of the Iranian revolution. For this critic, whether inside or out, artists are in touch with their cultural history.
Golnaz Fathi, who lives in Tehran, walks the line between calligraphy and abstraction in his paintings; so does Pouran Jinchi, who lives in New York. The heroic epic called “The Book of Kings” is given an action-hero update by Siamak Filizadeh of Tehran, but also in film stills by Sadegh Tirafkan, who spends part of his time in Toronto.
“Zaal arrives to help Rostam, ROSTAM 2 The Return” by Siamak Filizadeh(2008)

Female artists are given the spotlight, too:
Alireza Dayani’s fantastical historical drawings; Newsha Tavakolian’s photographic study of a transsexual; Saghar Daeeri’s paintings of Tehran’s boutique shoppers; Shirin Fakhim’s sculptural salute to the city’s prostitutes. Abbas Kowsari documents cadet training for chador-clad female police officers in Tehran. Less interestingly, Shahram Entekhabi draws chadors in black Magic Marker on images of dating-service models.

However, not all of them advocate social causes. Some artists employ a less aggressive tone:
Ahmad Morshedloo’s tender paintings of sleepers, Reza Paydari’s portrait of school friends and the mysterious little films of Shoja Azari are in this category.

Nevertheless, ambiguity does not equate with absence of politics in these artwork:

Repression both inside and outside Iran is under scrutiny in a piece by Mitra Tabrizian about the roles of both the West and Muslim clergy in Iran’s modern history. In photographs by Arash Hanaei, brutal scenes from the Iran-Iraq war and Abu Ghraib are played out by bound and gagged dolls.

Flavorpill New York: Leah Taylor

Sara Rahbar, ‘Flag #5′, 2007. Textile/mixed media, 65×35 inches

Taylor praises Iran Inside Out as one of the timeliest exhibitions in history:
With violence and political unrest roiling in that country, this exhibit takes a closer look at its inherent contradictions, tradition, culture, identity, and struggle — especially as faced by its younger generation of artists. As gruesome descriptions and footage of the election-protest clampdown continue to slip through Iranian censors daily, having Iran Inside Out’s creative insight into the country seems a privilege, indeed.

Huffington Post: Marissa Bronfman

Shocked and enthralled by the creative artwork at the exhibition, Bronfman comments:

A sense of duality was apparent in all the various pieces I saw at the exhibit, and there is an interesting geographical duality influencing the artists as well. The artists still living in Iran must struggle with avoiding government censors while not compromising with self-censorship, and those living outside strive to assume an “unlabeled artist-status” within a West-centric contemporary art world. The museum reminds us of their important commonality, however, such that all 56 artists desire to “establish an individual artistic identity free from the stigma of “stereotype” and “locality.”

She explains what draws her the most about the Tehran Shopping Malls by Saghar Daeeri:

Saghar Daeeri, Shopping Malls of Tehran – Acrylic (Aaron Gallery).

The paintings came to life with a stunning palette of vibrant colors and women depicted in a grotesque, almost fantastical rendering. Heavily made up faces, lacquered nails and peroxide hair instantly made me think these Iranian women were influenced by typical American ideals of beauty. However, Hanna Azemati, who works at CAM and presided over the show, offered a wonderful perspective that I hadn’t originally considered. She told me that, “Because of the compulsory veil, women express their femininity through venues that are allowed in exaggerated ways. They resort to excessive make-up, overdone highlighted hair, thin eyebrows, long colored nails and even suggestive behavior.” This dualism that Iranian women must grapple with, between veiling and self-expression, was communicated with profound contradiction and was really quite mesmerizing.

Related Links:

Friday, 11 September 2009

My Tehran For Sale

An Iranian woman seeking artistic and sexual freedom finds her ambitions stymied in Oz-funded, Iran-shot indie "My Tehran for Sale." Featuring superior bilingual perfs, the pic was lensed guerrilla-style in the titular city without knowledge of the Iranian government. It's an enterprising effort, but its erratic narrative reflects the drawbacks of filming in such uncertain circumstances. Toronto-bound "Tehran" is enjoying a tour of the fest circuit, but commercial prospects are few.

A dance party displays a funky, sexy Iran that will be novel to many. Oppressive fundamentalists shut the festivities down, but luckily, aspiring actress Marzieh (Marzieh Vafamehr) has just hooked up with returning Oz emigre, Saman (Amir Chegini), with whom she hides in nearby stables. Enchanted by Saman's Australian stories and fearing authorities seeking to quash her artistic freedom, Marzieh plans to leave Iran with him. Naturally, love neither runs smoothly nor is leaving Tehran so simple. Vafamehr is a natural on camera, but the meandering narrative takes its toll; when a cloying niece plays with a video camera for "experimental" visuals, the yarn loses its focus. Lensing is above average for a clandestine operation, as is sound quality.

A South Australian Film Corp., Adelaide Film Festival presentation of a Cyan Films production. (International sales: Media Luna, Cologne.) Produced by Julie Ryan, Kate Croser, Granaz Moussavi. Directed, written by Granaz Moussavi.

With: Marzieh Vafamehr, Amir Chegini, Asha Mehrabi, Mobina Karimi.

Camera (color, HD), Bonnie Elliot; editor, Bryan Mason; music, Mohsen Namjou. Reviewed at Intercolour Post House, Lindfield, Sept. 1, 2009. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery; Adelaide Film Festival.) Farsi, English dialogue. Running time: 97 MIN.

Watch 'My Tehran For Sale' Trailer


Related Links:
Tehran in the eyes of the young 
Screen Daily

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Women in Ancient Art

Author(s): Betty L. Schlossman and Hildreth J. York

The feminist movement has awakened our critical interest in woman's role and status in society. The culture-bound nature of our attitudes is cast in high relief not only by the investigation of contemporary mores, but also through the exploration of some of the cultures which are the cornerstones of Western civilization. Many of our attitudes in regard to women arise from the ancient Near Eastern origins of our Judeo- Christian traditions. It is interesting that so many of the roles of women today are close reflections of their Biblical prototypes. [1] The tenacity of these stereotypes is all the more surprising in view of the radical shifts elsewhere in society.

While it is difficult to resurrect the emotional and intellectual climate of the distant past, the art of the ancient Near East which has survived has an immediacy which surpasses the boundaries of time and space. It certainly can reveal to us some of the roles of women in antiquity, as well as the pervasive ideals of beauty in the various lands of origin.

The primal nature of the female element in the ancient Near East is demonstrated by the scope and variety of female images thought to be associated with cult practices at least as early as the Neolithic Period (c. 9000-3500 B.C.). In Egypt, for example, female deities continue to be represented and worshiped until the end of the Late Period (c. 700 B.C.-A.D. 100),[2] often incorporating important roles of women in human society (Fig. 1).[3] This is merely one example of a multitude of female divinities in Egypt who fulfill roles as diverse as personifying truth and justice (Maat), protecting women in childbirth (Thueris), guarding coffins and canopic jars (Neith), and representing the sky (Nut).

One of the best known female divinities of Mesopotamia is Inanna-lshtar, goddess of love and war. A manifestation of this goddess, represented as a nude woman lying on a couch, [4] obviously suggests ritualized aspects of sexuality and fertility (Fig. 2). The cult of this goddess in Phoenicia is thought to have involved ritual prostitution. A Phoenician ivory showing a frontal female head, usually seen within a window frame (Fig. 3), may represent the goddess or one of her votaresses. [5] The significance of the window motif and the woman looking out of it is nicely illustrated by the Biblical story of Jezebel (II Kings 9:30): "When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window."

There are numerous other examples of female cult images from Mesopotamia, some of which can be identified as specific members of the pantheon, while others, of commanding appearance (Fig. 4), cannot be associated with a specific divinity. Imagery of cult is expanded by a number of terracotta plaques which show abbreviated scenes from ritual practice or perhaps religious myths (Figs. 2, 5-8). Some are quite general and could refer to activities in other spheres of life, while the explicit erotic nature of Fig. 8 undoubtedly has ritual connotations. [6] The potency of the female principle in Iranian religion and imagery is well-attested throughout its early history (Figs. 9-12). The numinous powers of these forms are inherent in their fantastic or demonic features.

Not only can we glean information about the roles and status of women from these ancient artifacts, but as works of art, they more than likely incorporate the ideals of beauty or femininity of a given time and place. This approach to the works of art must be tempered, however, by a careful consideration of the qualities of artistic style, the conventions which define it, and the purpose for which the object was made. Artistic style can oscillate between naturalism and abstraction, and one must be careful not to confuse the artistic or aesthetic ideal with the physical ideal of the woman being represented. The more naturalistic the representation, the more tangible is the information given; the less naturalistic the forms, the less concrete can our statements be about ideals of beauty. One should not make the mistake of attempting a literal interpretation of an abstract or highly schematized image. Conversely, one must recognize that naturalistic imagery in antiquity inevitably incorporates a body of conventions and stylizations.

It is interesting in considering four regions of the ancient Near East, that the distinctions in modes of representation do not rest solely on the distinguishable ethnic differences, although these undoubtedly form some part of the beauty ideal cultivated in each region. However, the pervasiveness of canonic forms of representation in a given region demonstrates a cultural ideal which clearly supersedes mere ethnic traits and individualized representation.

The ideal which suffuses all female Egyptian sculpture is one of slender, smooth-flowing curves. In Egyptian images women appear to be small-boned, long-limbed, and graceful (Fig. 13). All the fleshy parts of the body, such as breasts, thighs, hips, are always firm and rounded and have a subtle sensuality. They are never enlarged or exaggerated. In fact, the Egyptian is so conscious of his ideal, that one of the rare times one sees fat women is in Egyptian representations of foreigners. [7] By contrast, Egyptian men could be represented with carefully stylized rolls of fat to indicate age, rank, or status. [8] The seated pose, the cubic nature of the volumes, and the immobility of the forms (Figs. 1, 13, 14), are symptomatic of Egyptian art in general rather than any specific ideal of female beauty.

Typical of Egyptian art, women's garments, seemingly transparent, cling to the body, revealing all its parts, while transforming them into subtly geometricized forms. Jewelry obviously played an important role in Egyptian society for men and women, and therefore it is carefully translated on most human images in Egyptian art. Not only did it beautify the individual and lend vibrancy to the image, but it clearly reflected wealth and status, and often served an amuletic purpose. Its representation in art is in many ways a metaphor for the function it served in real life, setting off the smooth planes of the face with colorful forms and patterns.
Interestingly enough, painted representations of Egyptian men and women typically show the women lighter-skinned than the men, a convention which suggests that women ideally spent more time indoors. Characteristic of Egyptian fashion-consciousness are the elaborate hairdos and wigs that enlarge and focus attention upon the head. These vary considerably from period to period. Here, however, the goddess Neith (Fig. 13) wears the pharaonic Red Crown of Lower Egypt, and her hair is not revealed. The quality of aesthetic contrast, as well as the demonstration of personal status and rank, are inherent in all accessories, such as hairdress and costume.

Mesopotamian images in general are squatter and stockier than their Egyptian counterparts. This does not necessarily reflect reality, but rather an ideal, since in both regions the tendencies persist in art from earliest times on. The Mesopotamian female image is almost always heavier and more full- bodied than its Egyptian counterpart. Face, limbs, and torso are often thick and well-rounded. Faces of Mesopotamian images are often broad and massive, articulated by thick eyebrows meeting over a prominent nose, wide, heavy- rimmed eyes, full lips, and rounded chin. This contrasts with the more refined Egyptian faces with small noses and almond-shaped eyes delicately extended by cosmetic lines. The Mesopotamian ideal can produce an attractive, if somewhat hefty, representation (Figs. 6-7).

In contrast to the diaphanous quality of Egyptian garments, the weighty, tiered garments of Mesopotamian goddesses are de rigeur for divinities, while everyday garments are simpler in their rendering. While hair on female images in Mesopotamia may be dressed elaborately, i.e., in buns or plaits, it does not show the extravagance of Egyptian wigs. Headgear may vary depending on the role and status of the wearer (e.g., the horned headdresses of goddesses). Necklaces and pendants are often seen on women of high status and on goddesses (Figs. 2, 4, 5, 7), and seem to serve similar functions as in Egypt.

A glass head from Syria (Fig. 15) reflects the non-naturalistic style more typical of that region. The remnants of a knobbed headgear and large hoop earrings can be compared with renderings of Syrian deities. [9] The head retains strong stylistic coherence, treating the facial features in much the same way as the decorative details of the headgear. On the other hand, the art of the Phoenicians, inhabitants of the Levantine coast, is traditionally more naturalistic than that of the inland towns, and often absorbs features of neighboring cultures. Most striking is the Egyptianizing tendency which dominates in the first millennium B.C., and is here exemplified by an ivory head said to be from Arslan Tash (Fig. 3), which probably decorated a piece of furniture. The ideal of feminine beauty here is a composite of more traditional Egyptian elements such as wig and ear placement, combined with the fleshier facial type of the Levant. This is an example of how foreign fashions and ideals can be assimilated to create a native style with its own functioning criteria.

Within the art of Iran, the pervasive mode is imaginative abstraction. Naturalistic styles do appear, but they tend to aggregate in specific geographic regions (e.g., Elam). The pieces illustrated here (Figs. 9-12) exemplify a tendency, typical of northwestern Iran, toward striking distortion of anatomy with an imaginative reorganization of the parts. Although not demonstrated by our pieces, often elements of different beings are combined to create fantastic and composite figures to represent superhuman forces. These fanciful and sophisticated forms have a special appeal to contemporary taste, and numerous examples of this art have found their way into private and public collections.

While the gender of the figure on the bronze standards is not always clear, our example (Fig. 12) specifically depicts small knobby breasts supported by atrophied hands and arms, a gesture of female fertility that goes back to the Old Stone Age. A related gesture can be seen on the three ceramic figurines (Figs. 9-11), two of which may also be cult vessels (Figs. 9-10). The demonic qualities of these creatures, emphasized by their mask-like faces, suggests that they may also have served apotropaic functions. The concept of the female as a vessel, which has Neolithic prototypes, is the perfect assimilation of the biological function of the female to the ritual purpose of the ceramic form.

These figures illustrate only a small selection of the varied roles exemplified by female imagery in ancient Near Eastern art. Portraits exist of important women who were queens, royal mothers, and spouses. In one case at least, a woman usurped the royal prerogatives of a male ruler, showing herself with the attributes of kingship usually reserved for males. This was Hatshepsut, a ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. [10] This assumption of the throne by a female was quite unique in ancient history, although many women clearly exercised enormous power in ancient politics.
Aside from royal marriages which are documented historically, many images of couples exist which illustrate the conjugal state, from modest displays of affection (Fig. 5) to representations of sexual intercourse, probably ritual in nature (Fig. 8). [11] Renderings of motherhood exist which may also have cultic significance, in addition to the more secular depictions of serving maids, craftswomen, and entertainers. A vast repertoire of objects associated with the world of women, many of which can find contemporary parallels, reflects woman's continuing interest in self-adornment. These include toilet articles, perfume bottles, cosmetic palettes, mirrors, and jewelry. The changing styles and regional variations show that fashions in the past were at least as elaborate and meaningful as any of our own time, and that then, as now, fashion was a reflection of the social structure.

Biblical literature supplies us with numerous examples of women as matriarchs, helpmeets, heroines, lovers, seductresses, prostitutes, virgins, and concubines, all of which still function as the basic stereotypes of today, and most of which are grounded in sexual role-playing. The concepts, then as now, illustrate the basically subservient position of women, who have thus unwittingly sustained through the millennia a world dominated by men.

This article is a preliminary investigation of material which the authors are studying in depth for future publication.
[1] See Ilse Seibert, Women in the Ancient Near East, New York, 1974, p. 11 and passim, and bibliography, p. 63 ff.
[2] Bernard V. Bothmer, Egyptian Sculpture of the Late Period, 700 B.C.-A.D. 100, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, 1960, pp. xxx-xxxi.

[3] The objects which were used to illustrate this paper have been made available through the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ternbach, Forest Hills, New York. Our thanks also to Ms. Nancy Williams for information derived from her work cataloging the Ternbach collection.

[4] For comparative examples see also E. Douglas Van Buren, Clay Figurines of Babylonia and Assyria, Yale Oriental Series. Researches, Vol. XVI; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930, pp. 222-23, nos. 1083-1088; pi. LVII, figs. 275-76 (nude woman on couch); pp. 223-24, nos. 1089-1095 (embracing couple on couch); Donald E. McCown and Richard C. Haines, assisted by Donald P. Hansen, Nippur I: Temple of Enlil, Scribal Quarter and Soundings Oriental Institute Publications, Vol. LXXVIII; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967, p. 94; pi. 144, nos. 2-4 (model beds, one with female pudenda), pi. 144, nos. 5-6 (nude woman on couch).

[5] R. D. Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories, London, The British Museum, 1957, pp. 145-51. On this example the earlobes are enlarged as though for earrings. According to Barnett, pp. 147-48, both the earrings and the frontlet worn over the forehead can be associated with Ishtar.

[6] See comments concerning "scenes of copulation" in ancient art by Otto J. Brendel, "The Scope and Temperament of Erotic Art in the Greco-Roman World," in Studies in Erotic Art, ed. Theodore Bowie and Cornelia V. Christenson, New York, 1970, pp. 7-8 and n. 5. See also Edith Porada, "Iconography and Style of a Cylinder Seal from Kantara in Cyprus," Vorderasiatische Archaologie: Festschrift A. Moortgat, Berlin, 1964, pp. 234-39, especially n. 3 and pi. 33:4. Also Henri Seyrig, "Antiquites syriennes, 60. 'Quelques cylindres orientaux. 4: Scene de hierogamie' ", Syria, 32 (1955), 38-41; Henri Frankfort, Cylinder Seals, London, 1939, pp. 75-76, 77. A related example may be seen in McCown, Haines and Hansen, pl. 137:4.

[7] For an easily available illustration see W. Stevenson Smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt, Harmondsworth, 1958, pl. 92 B; also Edward L. B. Terrace and Henry G. Fischer, Treasures of Egyptian Art from the Cairo Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1970, pp. 101-102.

[8] Smith, pl. 31 B; for other easily available examples see Kazimir Michalowski, Art of Ancient Egypt, New York, 1968, p. 364, no. 211; Terrace and Fischer, pp. 113-14 (no. 24).

[9] A bronze female figurine from Beirut in the Louvre in Paris has one of its gold earrings preserved and wears a high polos headdress decorated with knobs. An easily accessible illustration of this can be seen in Henri Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, 1st paperback ed., Harmonds- worth, 1970, p. 259, figs. 299-300. The headdress on the glass head may have been somewhat different in configuration since its upper edge appears to be finished and not broken off and the embossed band above the knobs is vertically hatched.

[10] Smith, pls. 94 A, 95 A, and p. 135.

[11] See n. 4 above.

Betty L. Schlossman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at Montclair State College, Upper Montclair, New Jersey.
Hildreth J. York is an Associate Professor in the Art Department of Rutgers University, Newark College of Arts and Sciences, New Jersey.

Source: Art Journal
Published by: College Art Association
Via  Women in Ancient Art