Art Aware is a non-profit-making blog that monitors all that’s interesting in the world of contemporary art, literature and culture in Iran and in the Iranian worldwide diaspora.
It is a review and commentary of new exhibitions, events and developments in art media in Iran and in the West. I am a working artist and also an academic art historian.
Shahpour Pouyan, Mohsin Jamalinik and Mansour Rafei come together in a group exhibition, Vivid, Vibrant and Iranian, and express themselves through various approaches. Through this exhibition art lovers can get an opportunity to witness a variety of meaningful themes and styles.
Pouyan's four paintings in this show have been selected from his Tower series, inspired by Islamic Middle Eastern architectural forms and structures in uncluttered, empty surroundings.
Jamalinik displays paintings from the series From Ideas to Meanings, which, in contrast to his very heavy ideological work, are splendid canvases in simple monochrome colours.
Rafei, who was brought up in a family in the couture business, is inspired by tailoring and stitching.
Each artist sees life and expresses it in his own way. Pouyan sees art as a weapon. His concepts revolve around the relationship between power and wealth.
He says: "The concept I have depicted in this exhibition concentrates on very important parts of Iranian architecture. So the towers in my paintings refer to an indefinite period of Iranian history. Very tall and stretched, symbolic and ambitious, with phallic forms at times, they refer to the patriarchal culture of Iranian tribes.
"The Soltanieh Mausoleum in Iran is a good example of making a memorial — without any apparent use except as the sign of remembrance.
"It is a memorial to the Mongols, who killed one million Persians. It is just a symbol of domination. It's mankind's way to make them immortal."
He codes elements of power, wealth and history on his canvas and is determined to convey a message.
"I have some issues and questions. Our life is so complicated. I have a problem with war, wealth and domination. And I tirelessly look for an answer to arrive at a solution on how we can change that," Pouyan says.
Asked about the art movement his paintings follow, he says: "My art swings between Expressionism and Surrealism but in this Post-Modern era, there are some Persian influences and additions. I am attracted to the Sixties period in the United States. I also cherish new forms of structure and beauty."
Speaking about the artists whose works he appreciates, he says: "I idealise the art of David Hockney for a number of reasons. For instance, his accuracy in employing colours and techniques in his paintings is remarkable."
His artistic philosophy exceeds the colourful borders of art and reaches the actual frontiers of life.
He says: "Art provides a way for life to be more bearable and livable."
What about his upcoming work? "My new work is a series of canvases with a concept similar to this exhibition. However, they are presented in new forms and objects and represent a new synthesis between beauty and power."
Asked to whom he dedicates his success, he says: "I attribute my success to my family and friends, who have constantly and sincerely supported me."
If he were to choose Dubai as a subject for his work, what would the painting depict? He says: "I guess it would be in the form of a building because the emirate lives in a revolutionary age of exotic architecture."
"Art is a way to illustrate ideas and dreams hidden in different layers of your mind. Art is a particular way of thinking which can be expressed through painting or other mediums," says Jamalinik, whose ten monochromatic works are on display at the exhibition.
Jamalinik's concept is centred upon the importance of colours. "I am exhibiting artworks in monochrome to emphasise a particular colour and to draw attention to the importance that colour plays either in art and beauty or in learning its impact on the environment and in our daily life."
"I've always felt that my art creates questions rather than gives answers," he says. "Through my art I search for alternative channels to deal with contemporary issues. I enquire from others and from modern society to find the answers."
Asked about his favourite school of art, he says: "My art belongs more to Post-Modernism. However, my favourite is Impressionism, which, I think, contemporary art owes a lot to."
Which artist would he like to learn from? He says: "Van Gogh is my favourite painter." Asked if any international or Arab artist has caught his attention, he says: "I love Iraqi contemporary art the most for its strong techniques."
Jamalinik says: "Art is conceived by re-creating childhood memories and positively reacting to dissatisfactions and weaknesses. "Art is the definition of the way that we see the world and how we understand others and our surroundings."
Since his artworks in the present exhibition accentuate the significant role of colours in life, what colours would he like to employ in his paintings and why? And is there any particular reason?
He says: "All colours are important and attractive whether they are seen independently or merged with others. This is exactly what I attempt to express through the series by covering the whole canvas in a single colour." Asked about his future plans, he says: "I intend to continue painting on social and political subjects with extra emphasis on the issues that we deal with in our daily lives.
"I aspire to make my paintings as simple and direct as possible to be self-explanatory to people."
He dedicates his success and accomplishments in art to Van Gogh.
Being obsessed with colours, if he were to paint Dubai, which colour would he select? He says: "I would choose a plain single colour of amber, the desert shade of authenticity and pride."
Rafei, an admirer of Jackson Pollock, sees art as a sort of entertainment and likes to invent new forms of art.
"I think the most important thing in an artwork is the visual attraction," Rafei says. He tries to use bright and vivid colours to create an aura of joy and happiness in his paintings, eight of which can be seen in this exhibition.
The abstract expressionist's upcoming project consists of a series of paintings. "I'm working on a series of paintings with white background and very minimal stitching to create an impression of sky with birds flying there," he says.
He dedicates his art and success to Fereydoun Ave, an Iranian artist, curator and art collector.
"He was the first one to pay particular attention to my work. And I highly appreciate that," Rafei says.
Dubai would be represented as a palm tree in his painting. "I think the palm tree is the best picture to mirror Dubai's history and roots," he said.
Vivid, Vibrant and Iranian is on at the Total Arts at the Courtyard, Dubai, until August 31.
A work by Mohsin Jamalinik from his series 'From Ideas to Meanings'
Shahpour Pouyan draws inspiration from Islamic Middle Eastern architecture
Bahman Jalali, Iran, 1944–2010, Untitled from the Series Image of Imagination, 2003-2005, silver bromide print, purchased with funds provided by Karl Loring.
Many Iranian artists, including those in diaspora communities, visualize a society trapped between the present and the past in order to comment upon issues of gender, exile, history, and religion. Such is the case with the three artists represented here, whose work forms part of LACMA's growing collection of contemporary art of the Middle East.
Bahman Jalali's career coincided and engaged with the dramatic socioreligious transformation of Iran in the late twentieth century. As a documentary photographer, teacher, historian, and artist, Jalali (1944-2010) employed the photographic image as evidence that can be rediscovered with the passage of time. In the two untitled photographs shown here, from his series Image of Imagination, he fused two distinct Iranian legacies-the nineteenth-century Qajar dynasty and the 1979 Revolution-into one image. By layering early photographic portraits and documentary footage of a photography studio sign defaced during the revolutionary period, he reveals the complex relationship between past and present. The images of the women and the sign belong to the past, while the colorful defacement represents present-day Iran.
Yassaman Ameri (b. 1956) is a photographer and multimedia artist born in Iran who now lives and works in Montreal, Canada. Her series The Inheritance, of which six prints are included here, was inspired by a group of late nineteenth-century photographs depicting prostitutes, each of whom is identified by a black inscription. Ameri frames the photographs with colorful images of Qajar interiors or incorporates references to the nascent medium of photography in Iran. In doing so, she recontextualizes the women in fictive settings in order to afford them a new identity. The artist clearly identifies with a group of women whose profession alienated them from their own society. In a similar vein, Ameri was forced into exile from Iran following the 1979 Revolution.
Samira Alikhanzadeh (b. 1967) is a painter and multimedia artist whose work also references the past, but only so far back as the first half of the twentieth century when Iran was transformed into a modern nation-state under the leadership of Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925-41). The Shah undertook to bring both women and religious minorities into the mainstream of national life in order to create an ideal of modernity. As part of his reform movement, he sought the elimination of the Islamic veil; indeed, the compulsory uncovering of women was decreed by law in 1936. In the pair of untitled pieces shown here, Alikhanzadeh uses found images of women from this period and incorporates contemporaneous Persian carpets, which help to fix these young women in time and place.
This installation was made possible in part by the Art of the Middle East Council.
Pearls on the Ocean Floor: A Documentary on Contemporary Female Iranian Artists
Thursday, July 22
Robert Adanto's Pearls on the Ocean Floor challenges stereotypes and caricatures obscuring the vibrant and robust culture in Iran and its diaspora. Featuring Shadi Ghadirian, Shirin Neshat, Parastou Forouhar, Haleh Anvari, Sara Rahbar, Leila Pazooki, Afshan Ketabchi, Malekeh Nayiny, Bahar Sabzevari, Afsoon, Gohar Dashti, and Negar Ahkami. This screening takes place in conjunction with LACMA's special installation: Yek, Do, Se (1,2,3): Three Contemporary Iranian Artists, featuring artworks by Yassaman Ameri, Bahman Jalali, and Samira Alikhanzadeh, on view on the Fourth Floor of the Ahmanson Building July 10-December 5, 2010.
Free, no reservations
A Q&A with Director Robert Adanto will follow the screening
Image: Malekeh Nayiny (Iran, b. 1965) Three Uncles, 1997-1998 Digital Print Gift of the Art of the Middle East Council, Istanbul Trip 2008 M.2009.11.1
Tehran Shopping Malls, 100 x 150 cm, Acrylic on canvas, 2008. A work by 25-year-old Saghar Daeeri. Daeeri, an artist living in Tehran, has made the hijab of Tehrani women the topic of her art. (Courtesy of Saghar Daeeri)
On a spring night five years ago, millions of Iranians tuned in to national television and watched as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a little-known presidential candidate — spoke about a touchy issue: the way young people dress.
“Is really the only problem that our country faces today, the way our young dress?” he asked. “They like to wear their hair they way they do. It’s no business of me and you. We have many more important issues to deal with. Why do we belittle our people?”
They were words many Iranians had been waiting to hear from an Iranian official for years. But they remain simply that: words. In Iran, women are required by law to cover their body and hair in public, though that has rarely stopped many women, especially younger ones, from defying the conservative officials by wearing loose headscarves, tight clothes and make-up.
Since Ahmadinejad’s bold speech, the government has unveiled even stricter rules on the way women dress and occasionally unleashed the so-called morality police to enforce them.
However, as last summer’s post-election civil unrest proved, the power of the authorities to dictate the way people dress can depend heavily on events. During the mass street protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election, officials admitted that spending resources on “morality” wasn’t a priority.
“If in the previous months we’ve been more easy going on the issue of hijab, it’s because we wanted to crush the troublemakers. But now, the issue of ‘bad hijab’ has gone far enough,” Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the leader of the clergy faction in the Iranian parliament, told Khabaronline, a Tehran-based news website, recently.
Other officials are also again talking about new, harsher measures to combat “bad hijab.” In May, Mohammad Najjar, the interior minister, warned of a nationwide crackdown on immodest clothing. And in a speech that grabbed worldwide headlines in April, the acting Friday prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, foresaw an apocalyptic future for the country because of promiscuous women and unsuitable appearances.
“Women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” he said. “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has also weighed in, ordering morality police to take immediate action on the issue of hijab, which he has deemed to be in an unsatisfactory state.
So familiar with the restrictions of hijab in Iran is 25-year-old Saghar Daeeri, an artist living in Tehran, that she has made the hijab of Tehrani women the topic of her art.
“My paintings are a reflection of what I see in Tehran every day,” she said in an interview. “Everyday, I walk around in town, go to coffee shops and shopping malls and observe the people around me. What I see is women struggling to thrust themselves into modernity in a city that is still deeply attached to its traditional and religious roots.”
Indeed, the young women of Daeeri’s paintings are so engaged in becoming “modern,” that they become exaggerated, almost grotesque caricatures.
They have blonde hair, fake nails, thin eyebrows, Band-Aids from plastic surgery, and are weighed down by bold accessories. They try on skimpy dresses that can only be worn at private parties. They talk on mobile phones and eat ice cream and Mexican corn — a combination of corn, butter, spices and lime juice that is a favorite in Tehran shopping malls.
“My paintings show the reality of Tehran’s society,” Daeeri said. “There is a mind set in Tehran of what beauty is and women follow it religiously regardless of their class.”
Iran is the 7th largest consumer of cosmetics worldwide, according to a market research report published by a Tehran-based company called Tose’e Mohandesi Bazargostran Ati. Women spend $2.1 billion annually on beauty products, accounting for 29 percent of the total usage in the Middle East, the company says. What’s more, Iran is internationally known as a nose-job capital.
“This obsession of physical appeal exists in Iran because of so many pre-set boundaries,” Daeeri said. “Women in Iran are constantly grappling with what is right and what’s wrong. What the past generation considered ‘red-lines’ has become a launch pad for the next. That’s normal. But because of some restrictions, this has caused a clash which is evident in my paintings,” she said.
Reactions to Daeeri’s paintings in Iran were mixed, she said. Some viewers praised them as “modern” and “chic,” while others reacted badly to “a comic reflection of themselves.”
Daeeri said more restriction would add to the intensity of problems in a society already full of paradox.
“In a country where 60 percent of the population is under 30 years old and with the widespread usage of internet, satellite TV and world media, the youth are constantly getting a different idea of what is modern, and inevitably they are compelled to imitate that.”