Tuesday, 30 November 2010

'New Faces / Iran'

Janet Rady Fine Art @ La Ruche, London
November 19, 2010 - December 12, 2010

Featuring the work of nine young hugely talented Iranian painters, the exhibition focuses on the human face of Iran. But this is not just another clichéd exhibition about Iran.

Janet Rady Fine Art in association with Arte Sara present the works of nine hugely talented, young Iranian artists. All previously nominated for the UN Habitat Prize in 2009, these artists are reunited in a tightly curated show which serves to illustrate the depth of artistic skill in Iran today.

In contrast with many exhibitions in the West, which aim to attract attention by focusing on the political tensions of present day Iran, this exhibition focuses on the very human face of Iran. But this is not just another clichéd exhibition about Iran.

Through a variety of figural representations, the artists use their paints to boldly express universal sensibilities of being. Executed in richly mixed hues, these compelling images play on the subconscious with a dreamlike elusiveness and ambiguity. Throughout the exhibition, the viewer is confronted by selflessly gaunt figures staring out of the canvas, whilst others, haunted by the undefined anxiety of memory, scream silently, unaware of our gaze.

Elham Parsian ,Untitled, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm

   Farnaz Shoar, Untitled, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Javid Ramezani, Maternal Family after World War II, 2008, Silverprint (liquid) on canvas with embroidery, 82 x 100 cm

   Marjan Jabinpisheh, Human - Occupancy - Livelihood, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 100 cm

   Neda Moin Afshari, Worriment, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm

   Mohammad Hassan Morshedzadeh, Blow of Memories, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 250 cm

        Mohammad Alizadeh Bakhshayesh, Family, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

        Farokh Mahdavi, Untitled, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm

 Nastaran Afshar, Untitled, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 220 x 100 cm

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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Removing the Veil

Nudity in contemporary art is tolerated increasingly in countries where it wasn’t in the past 

Although the nude is widely considered a foundation of Western art history, this is clearly not the case in many other cultures around the world, where religious and social traditions often prohibit ­depictions of the body. Nevertheless, contemporary artists from many countries in the Middle East and Asia are now exploring nudity, sometimes to connect with erotic themes in pre-Islamic periods and sometimes as an act of open rebellion against social and political conditions. There has recently been a growing acceptance of work ­involving nudity, as many of these countries have developed their own contemporary-art markets. But in some places, especially Iran, the penalties can be formidable and frightening.

Challenging the censors is Ramin Haerizadeh, who, in his digital photo series “Men of Allah,” casts himself as a performer in a harem, cavorting naked in configurations reminiscent of Persian tapestries. Until 2009, he was able to make these works while living in his native Tehran. But when they were featured in “Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East” at the Saatchi Gallery in London that year, Iran’s Ministry of ­Intelligence and National Security began harassing local galleries to determine the artist’s whereabouts. They even raided a collector’s home, seizing several of Haerizadeh’s works and threatening the collector with four months in prison. Friends warned the artist, who was in Paris with his brother Rokni, a painter, for the opening of their show at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac. They never returned to Iran, fleeing to Dubai, where they now live and show with Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde.

To most viewers, Ramin Haerizadeh’s images would seem more whimsical and lyrical than provocative. In today’s Iran, however, where a strict reading of Islamic law forbids depictions of the body, an artist can face imprisonment or even execution for making such bold statements. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t artists in Iran, or other Islamic countries in the region, who incorporate nudes into their work. In fact, there are many, drawing upon influences ranging from Persian miniatures to Jeff Koons.

“There is a strong erotic tradition in Iranian art, such as art from the Safavid empire in the early 17th century that is full of erotic images, not all of them heterosexual,” says art historian Edward Lucie-Smith who, along with dealer Janet Rady, curated “Iranian Bodies” at the Werkstattgalerie in Berlin this year. “This was the point of doing the show—to demonstrate that there was a real continuity based on erotic feeling in Iranian culture,” he says. “Also to show that women artists in Iran are often bolder than the men.” The exhibition—which featured works by Haerizadeh, as well as psychedelic photo collages by Fereydoun Ave, paintings of people submerged in bathtubs by Mitra Farahani, mannequins pierced by and balancing on a bar by Narmine Sadeg, and surrealistic self-portraits by Nikoo Tarkhani—provoked outrage back home. Gholam-Ali Taheri, the head of Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, denounced the work as “decadent,” and a story decrying the artists spread throughout the media, but the artists themselves were not harassed by the authorities.

Tarkhani, in her bold paintings, portrays herself as bald with her body fragmented against a backdrop of blue tiles. “I am not talking about Islam or any other religion,” she says. “I am only talking about social conditions which I have experienced up close. I think of this nudity as a feminist cry of Iranian art; it is a way of expressing freedom from traditions and rules that kept us women indoors.” At the same time, she elaborates, “I put ancient Persian patterns on the tiles as a way to localize the figure in my paintings.”

Vahid Sharifian, often described as the Jeff Koons of Tehran, goes even further, creating digital photographs in which he inserts himself, nude, in exotic scenes. In his “Queen of the Jungle” series (2007–8), he can be seen posing spread-eagle in front of a waterfall or stretched out like an odalisque before an elaborate fountain. More startlingly, Shirin Fakhim makes assemblages out of found objects that become effigies of the prostitutes in the streets of Tehran.
“People were really stunned, not only by the work itself but by the fact that this work was being made by an Iranian female artist living in Tehran,” says Rebecca Wilson, curator at the Saatchi Gallery, who featured the work in the “Unveiled” show. “Fakhim’s extraordinarily bold take on prostitution in Tehran, something we hear little about in the West, was an eye-opener to us and everyone visiting the exhibition. There’s a wonderful sense of the absurd in these works pointing at the hypocrisy of the sex industry.”

Governments like Iran’s “have a very strict interpretation of Shiite Islam, but that doesn’t mean that the people themselves are upholders of that same interpretation; if anything, many of them are in opposition to that,” says Sam Bardaouil, curatorial director of Art Reoriented, a company that plans exhibitions about and in the Middle East, including this year’s “Told/Untold/Retold” at Mathaf, the new Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. “Continually referencing nudity and other secular manifestations in their art,” the curator notes, “is one way of asserting a lineage or continuity in an artistic tradition that has always existed in that part of the world. In a way, that highlights how odd this particular regime is, and how transient.”

The most notorious instance of religious backlash in response to a painting did not take place in Iran, but in India, when M. F. Hussain, the country’s most famous painter and a Muslim, portrayed nude Hindu female deities. After a decade of being under attack by Hindu fundamentalists, subject to lawsuits and death threats, he left the country in 2006 to live in Dubai and London. Last February he was granted citizenship by Qatar.

At the same time, Pakistani artist Rashid Rana has had his controversial “Veil” series exhibited, but only in discreet settings. In these pieces Rana digitally stitched together thumbnail pieces of pornographic images to create an overall picture of a woman in a chador. “I was looking at clichés and paradoxes,” he explains. “Whenever there is a mention of the Muslim world in the Western media, then the image of a veiled woman is shown, especially post-9/11. In contrast, because of easy access to pornography, men in my part of the world have a very distorted image of the Western woman. They imagine that if they would land in Europe or America, there would be people having sex in the parks.” Conflating these two stereotypes resulted in Rana’s highly provocative portrayals, which have been withdrawn from shows, exhibited only in back rooms, and even yanked from sales at international auction houses, in Hong Kong and then New York.

In many cases, Rana points out, these obstacles more often reflect self-censorship rather than outright governmental suppression. Sometimes it is the dealers who are wary. “I ­didn’t want to exhibit the work publicly in Pakistan for fear of the media making a story out of it,” says Rana. “The people in the art world would not be shocked or upset, but I don’t want trouble from extremists, no matter how few.”

But there are signs, even in the Middle East, of liberalization. In 2008, Lebanese poet Joumana Haddad founded Jasad, a magazine that, according to its website, “aims to ­reflect the body in all its representations, symbols and ­projections in our culture, time and societies, and hopes, by doing so, to contribute in breaking the obscurantist taboos.” Its most recent issue featured the oil paintings of Dina El Gharib and Halim Jurdak, explicit photo portraits by Tariq Dajani and works by Western photographers Herb List and Rudolph Lehnert.

Owing to their colonial history, Egypt and Lebanon have a historic relationship with European art movements, especially Surrealism. They traditionally featured nudes in their modernist periods; then contemporary artists followed in their footsteps.

Central Asia, which, by contrast, has its own unique practice of Islam, and is experiencing a renaissance as it emerges from Soviet influence, has also spawned artists who incorporate the body into their work. Among the most notable are Almagul Menlibayeva, whose video Apa (2003) shows nude women dancing through snowy mounds in a 21st-century vision of earth mothers, and Erbossyn Meldibekov, who sits naked in his video Pastan (2001), as he is continually slapped by a clothed aggressor in an allusion to his native Kazakhstan’s relationship with the former Soviet Union. “It is not like the nude is a central focus,” says independent curator Leeza Ahmady, “but like in China in the 1990s, artists have begun experimenting in Central Asia in ­recent years, and the body became a very natural place to start.”

In fact, China exemplifies a revolution in regard to nudity in art, in spite of government censorship and strict control of images deemed pornographic. “Things have relaxed,” says art historian and curator Britta Erickson, “but still, about ten years ago the government reaffirmed a ban on performances in the nude.” She adds, “It also is different for men and for women. Somehow Chinese art society accepts male artists baring themselves, but not female artists.” ­Erickson notes, “There is no similar taboo or censorship of representations of the nude, so long as sexual activity is not depicted.”

In the course of 5,000 years of Chinese classical art, the nude was rarely depicted. Then, in the 1990s, performance artists such as Zhang Huan and Ma Liuming rebelled against repression by engaging in boldly naked acts, including Zhang Huan, covered in fish oil and honey, sitting in a ­latrine as flies gathered on his skin, and Ma Liuming prancing nude along the Great Wall. Today, photographer and sculptor Xiang Jing makes 12-foot-tall sculptures of ordinary-looking young women, nude or in their underwear. Chi Peng, a young photographer, created a series of digital ­images in which he is seen streaking across the streets of Beijing and another ­series, titled “I Fuck Me,” in which he makes love to his ­doppelgänger in a phone booth. Even a news announcer, Ou Zhihang, has garnered world attention for photographing himself in the nude performing push-ups at the sites of political controversies, such as the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing.

“In the most recent decade, it all syncs up with further sexual liberation, coupled with the single-child generation due to the one-child policy, together with the consumer revolution and access to the Internet,” says Defne Ayas, China curator for Performa, the New York–based performance-art biennial. “We start seeing an intense line of artistic pro­duction that is more influenced by Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson, Gus Van Sant, and Wolfgang Tillmans than the Song dynasty,” she says.

Barbara Pollack is a contributing editor of ARTnews. Her book The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China was released in April.

 Via ARTnews

Monday, 22 November 2010

Voice Piece for Green Soprano

In honor of Nasrin Sotoudeh and all political prisoners in Iran

The Museum of Modern Art in New York is currently exhibiting Yoko Ono’s “living art.” One of the works is an instruction piece called Voice Piece for Soprano, made in 1961. This participatory artwork encourages visitors, in a subtle but attractive manner, to “Scream. 1. against the wind; 2. Against the wall; 3. Against the sky” in the museum’s atrium, so that their voice echoes throughout the many rooms. The result is often humorous: after initial hesitance, people scream and laugh together in a space where silence is usually essential. But even though we laughed and enjoyed ourselves, just like other visitors, and despite our love for this playful style of expression, it was impossible to interpret Ono’s interactive piece without remembering prisoners of conscience in contemporary Iran.

Some of us are international students who have been studying in the West for some years. Some of us were raised in Iran’s capital, Tehran, and joined the protests that followed the presidential elections of 2009. Some of us are the children of the exiled and immigrants of the past and are rooted in the Western world as well. Some of us aren’t Iranians, but share a universal belief that their freedom is bound to our freedom, so that we are compelled to show our solidarity.

Artists such as Ono helped create a more open concept of the limits of what can be considered art. Their generation and others showed that art knows no boundaries, that “anything goes,” and that its laws cannot be written in stone. But the phrase “anything goes” is specific to a context where actual freedom of expression is relatively normal, very much unlike Iran. “Anything goes,” with its loss of faith in ultimate narratives that desire to exclude the plurality of voices, is in Iran a much longed for celebration of freedom.

The Green Movement’s mass protests were characterized by moments of joy and sadness, hope and horror. It was as if a people had been released and yet could not free themselves. They ran and could not move. They screamed but could not speak. They wished for a better future, but despaired. Everyday distinctions such as private and public, inside and outside, believer and unbeliever, man and woman, faded away in a massive catharsis that was yearned for and anticipated for decades, sending reverberating voices for freedom into the world.

The brutal crackdown that followed still continues today. Besides punishing citizens for their actions in concert, the regime is attacking human rights lawyers such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is currently in an extremely dire need for help. Because of repeated hunger strikes, her current physical condition is very poor. Her (show) trial is scheduled to be held today, Nov. 15, 2010.

The people of Iran refuse to be what their government wants them to be. We stand before you with covered mouths because the people of Iran do not enjoy the right to scream. We scream because they screamed and chanted in the night. We are peacefully making victory signs because we do not accept violence. Instead, we sing our Voice Piece for Green Soprano. We fear the regime’s capability for violence, so we have either covered our face or have given up on the hope to see our friends and relatives in Iran in the near future. We wear green, not because we want to exclude dissenting voices or insist on a single ideology, but because we want to affirm that the Green Movement is myriad, one out of many.

Yoko Ono envisaged Voice Piece as a “protest song.” She hopes that individuals resist “situations in life that you have to scream against.” The MoMa also exhibited her Whisper Piece and Wish Piece. The voice of each one of us is but a whisper, but together our desire for freedom becomes a scream. When thousands of Iranians joined each other in Tehran for their marches in complete silence, their scream was transformed into a deafening whispering. What Ono calls the “vibration of wishing” is going to remain in Iran. Violence is nothing but the spastic reaction to its power. “It’s no longer something that just came into your head and went away.” Our wish, that our wish is victorious, that all Sotoudehs must be freed, is unremitting.

Via Where Is My Vote 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

1st London Iranian Film Festival

The 1st London Iranian Film Festival will run from 19 - 26 November in different venues around London. 

Werner Herzog once said: “The greatest films in the world today are being made in Iran.” On 19 November, these “greatest films” will come to town, as the 1st London Iranian Film Festival (UKIFF) brings to London, and for the first time in the UK, 35 of the best Iranian contemporary movies.

"There was something extraordinarily liberating about the vast open-endedness of a white screen suddenly darkened, and then illuminated with colorful im/possibilities. In the cinema we were re-born as global citizens in defiance of the tyranny of the time and the isolation of the space that sought to confine us. In cinema, everything was possible, and in that possibility we defied our paralyzing limitations. The cinema revealed our hidden hopes as a nation. With all the political and religious censorship that brutally limited our visual pleasures and experiences, we reveled in the rainbows of images that colored our cinematic daydreams." - Hamid Dabashi in ‘Close Up Iranian Cinema: Past, Present and Future’

Having been a compulsive lover of Iranian cinema for over a decade and having watched, lived and dreamt the silver screen worlds created by the cinematic genius of directors like Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Majid Majidi, Niki Karimi, Samira Makhmalbaf (and the list goes on… ) I was thrilled to hear about the launch of the first Iranian film festival in London. As any cine-lover would agree, this was well over-due, London being the “multicultural capital” of the world.

The inaugural press conference was held at the wonderful Roxy Bar & Screen in London on Thursday 4th November 2010. It was a quiet and intimate evening and the festival director Pejman Danaei along with the selectors were present to meet the press and to introduce the British media to this year's inaugural festival. After the initial introduction by the Festival director, Pejman Danaei and other selection committee members: Patrick Tucker, Zoran Veljkovic and Hossein Khosrojerdi, introducing the festival's mission and aims, there was a screening of clips and trailers from some of the films on this year's programme. The themes of death, survival, visual poetry and imagery, an overwhelming spiritual feel and scenes of the sea seemed to recur in the films over and over again, according to the selectors. The trailer was a visual treat and glimpses of the films were very seductive, leaving the audience wanting more.

The London Iranian Film Festival has been organised by a non-political organization called UKIFF. The Festival aims to produce the most diverse Iranian film programme in the UK attracting as many people as possible to view Iranian cinema and to introduce it to people who have never watched Iranian films before.

Whilst a handful of acclaimed Iranian Directors are familiar to UK audiences, the new generation of emerging talents remain largely unknown. “The intention of the London Iranian Film Festival is to introduce this undiscovered new talent to London’s film enthusiasts, as well as celebrating the work of legendary Iranian filmmakers”, says Pejman Danaei, the festival director. Mr. Danaei stressed that this is a “non-political” festival. The only criterion for submission to this festival is a high standard of art. The non-political nature of the festival has been somewhat of a hindrance to him when it came to raising funds, he said. However the festival has had amazing response from film-makers in Iran and abroad with 471 film submissions from 53 countries for this year’s festival, containing features, shorts and documentaries. Out of these, 35 films have been selected and will be shown at this festival. The festival’s main mission is to be a platform to the myriad of talent in Iran and introduce them to the world audience. Hence the festival doesn’t have a competition or Jury awards.

One of the major attractions of the festival this year is undoubtedly Jafar Panahi’s The Accordion which was the inaugural film of the ‘Venice Days’ portion of the Venice Film Festival and is still banned in Iran. It is the story of two young musicians on the streets of Tehran, who have their accordion confiscated as the result of an incident. The Accordion is the story of materialistic human need to survive under a pretentious religious order. Panahi, director of such acclaimed and uncompromising films as The Circle, has faced abuse and imprisonment from the authorities for his decision to express himself without fear and is currently on bail.

However there are many more gems at the UKIFF this year: Mohammad Rasoulof’s The white Meadow, which will be the opening film of the festival, is simply stunning with a story that borders between reality and myth, with the fable of a character called Rahmat who sails from island to island to collect tears in glass jars.  Another such film is Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly, which deals with a young girl’s mysterious disappearance while on a holiday on a beach by the Caspian Sea. The Accordion, Solitude, Delusive Sound are some great shorts, while Pearls on the Ocean Floor, The Glass House and Rough Cut are some of several fascinating documentaries to watch out for at the festival.

The Festival will be held from19th to 26th November and will screen films at four main venues: Ciné Lumière (French Institute), Apollo Cinema (Regent Street), Shortwave Cinema (Bermondsey Square) and the Roxy Bar & Screen.

For further information, check out the festival’s website.