Monday, 30 May 2011

Breakfast in Tehran: Contemporary Iranian Women

13 – 26 June 2011

Azadeh Akhlaghi, Navid Azimi, Majid Koorang Beheshti, Taha Heydari, Khosro Khosravi, Azadeh Madani, Saba Masoumian, Kourosh Salehi, Atefe Samaei and Rozita Sharafjahan

Breakfast in Tehran shows work from both male and female Iranian artists who all share a desire to explore the representation of contemporary Iranian women, but vary aesthetically and politically in their approaches to this representation. The artworks in Breakfast in Tehran have been selected as an attempt to subvert the accepted representation of women in Iran and to examine the process of its construction. In an increasingly international age, these artists produce work that not only confronts the patriarchal establishment of Iran but also that of Western liberalism and the international art market.

Breakfast in Tehran will be a chance to see a selection of drawings, collage, photography, video and printmaking from a group of new and established Iranian artists living in Iran and exhibiting in London together for the first time. The exhibition considers the representation of women in contemporary Iranian art, and demonstrates how accepted images and interpretations of femininity are being subverted.

Since the Islamic Revolution, images of turbaned mullahs, ayatollahs and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad present Iran as an extreme patriarchy whose narratives are shaped and written solely by religious men. We occasionally hear stories in the media of a few prominent Iranian women like lawyer Shirin Ebadi, writer Marjane Satrapi, or the artist Shirin Neshat, but of the millions of women who live in Iran we hear very little. What does this silence hide about the lives of this quietened mass of humanity?

Everywhere in Iran women are active and visible, apparent and hidden. Perhaps they are walking or driving along the teeming city streets or quiet country lanes, looking out of the window of a high-rise apartment at the street below, or bargaining in a shop, or petitioning in the courts, or just sitting down to smoke a cigarette after breakfast in their homes. Breakfast in Tehran presents work by male and female Iranian artists, each depicting the predicament of women in contemporary Iran.

These depictions aim neither to play to the standard ‘western’ idea of them as totally oppressed, nor claim that they are more liberated than we realise. Instead the exhibition acknowledges their unique situation where centuries of strictly defined roles, combined with decades of the Islamic Republic operating on a globalised stage have resulted in a strangely paradoxical environment. Women are active in all levels of society and the traditional roles of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ are only a part of the lives of many women. The Iranian feminist movement has been politically and socially engaged for some years, and visual artists are now bringing this activism into the cultural arena and changing and subverting the traditional representation of women in Iran. 

Janet Rady Fine Art @ Frameless Gallery, 20 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0DP

Azadeh Akhlaghi, Me as the Other prefers, 2010, Digital C Print on Paper, 50 x 70 cm

Azadeh Akhlaghi, Me as the Other prefers, 1, 2008, Digital C Print on Paper, 50 x 70 cm

Navid Azimi Sajadi, Untitiled, 2010, Digital print & offset ink on Fabriano Artistico paper, 300 gr, 60 x 100 cm

Navid Azimi Sajadi, Agamemnon, 2011, Lambda print on Kodak Paper, 40 x 67 cm

Navid Azimi Sajadi, Camouflage, 2011, Lambda print on Kodak Paper, 50 x 74 cm

Taha Heydari, Untitled, 2010, Acrylic and fabric on canvas, 25 x 33 cm

Taha Heydari, Untitled, 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 25 x 33 cm

Taha Heydari, Untitled, 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 25 x 33 cm

Majid Koorang Beheshti, Untitled, 2010 C Print on Fuji Paper, 70 x 100 cm

Majid Koorang Beheshti, Untitled, 2010, C Print on Fuji Paper, 70 x 100 cm

Majid Koorang Beheshti, Untitled, 2010, C Print on Fuji Paper, 70 x 100 cm

Majid Koorang Beheshti, Untitled, 2010 C Print on Fuji Paper, 70 x 100 cm

Azadeh Madani, Archive, 1, 2007, Monoprint and roller pen, 52 x 38 cm

Azadeh Madani, Archive, 2, 2007, Monoprint and roller pen, 37 x 43.5 cm

Azadeh Madani, Archive, 3, 2007, Monoprint and roller pen, 35.5 x 41.5 cm

Saba Masoumian, I've Been Left in Your Room, 1, 2010, Mixed media on wooden box, 28 x 84 x 15 cm

Saba Masoumian, I've Been Left in Your Room, 2, 2010, Mixed media on wooden box, 53 x 53 x 15 cm
Rozita Sharafjahan, Sixth Desire, 1, 2011, Digital print and thread on canvas, 120 x 90 cm

Rozita Sharafjahan, Sixth Desire, 3, 2011, Digital print and thread on canvas, 120 x 90 cm
Notes for Editors
  • This exhibition is co-curated by Aras Amiri and David Gleeson, who curated the successful show From Tehran to London at Jill George Gallery in Soho, London last year (20 May – 26 June 2010). Aras Amiri is a curator from northern Iran who currently lives and works in London. David Gleeson is an independent curator, freelance writer, art critic and media consultant who is based in central London.
  • JRFA Director and curator Janet Rady is based between London and the United Arab Emirates, and is a specialist in Contemporary Middle Eastern Art with over twenty years’ experience of the International Art Market. She has a Masters Degree in Islamic Art History from the University of Melbourne and a BA from the School of Oriental And African Studies in London.
  • The exhibition Breakfast in Tehran is a collaboration between the curators, Janet Rady and Tehran’s Azad Gallery.
  • The private view of this exhibition will be at the gallery on Thursday 16 June, 6.30-8.30pm. Music by Pouya Mahmoodi and Omid Amiri Larijani.
  • The curators will give free exhibition talks on Saturday afternoons at 3pm (18 and 25 June)
  • Frameless Gallery is opposite the Old Sessions House on Clerkenwell Green and just a short walk from Farringdon tube station

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Iranian painters turn golden pages of new chapter

A new chapter has opened for Iranian artists enjoying a boom in sales and interest from major international auction houses such as Christie's despite a global economic malaise and sanctions hitting Iran.

Works by Iranian painters have been selling for fairly high prices, not only outside Iran's borders but also inside the Islamic state where many Iranians are facing economic hardship.

Many Iranians are fearful for the future, worrying about higher food and utilities prices. Many middle-class Iranians are squeezed by soaring rents and grocery bills on the one hand and stagnant salaries on the other.

Iran's economy has suffered under international sanctions imposed by the West because of its nuclear activities.

World powers suspect Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons under the cover of its declared civilian nuclear energy program, but Tehran says it needs nuclear power to meet growing domestic demand for electricity.

Talks with Iran on suspending the nuclear program in return for trade and technology have ground to a halt, with the last meeting in Istanbul in January failing to yield results.

Sanctions mainly target vital sectors of the economy such as banking and energy, which analysts say raises the cost of trade by making it more difficult to transfer funds or insure cargo.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has also cut subsidies on fuel and food, which critics blame for increasing living costs and pressure on ordinary Iranians.

Nevertheless, there remains an apparently insatiable appetite for Iranian works of art, irrespective of the different styles and mediums and prices. There are over a dozen major galleries for paintings in Tehran.

Working in a modern office, Alireza Sami Azar, an Iranian art analyst, says the change in attitudes toward art has largely contributed to the current market boom for paintings, which he expects to continue growing.

"The recent phenomenon that has contributed to the growing market was the fact that this art is now regarded as a means for investment, and so it's got a cultural and financial aspect rather than an artistic, philanthropic reason behind it."

"This peaking trend dates back to 2006 when major auction houses like Christie's came to the region," he said.


Gallery owners in Iran say international sanctions have had little negative impact on the art market where wealthy Iranians have found it harder to invest abroad due to sanctions and stagnating property prices make real estate less attractive.

"Just a little when it comes to banking affairs and transferring money...Apart from that, there are no major bad things that have hit the market," Sami Azar said.

Christie's, owned by the French billionaire Francois Pinault, has 14 sales rooms around the world, from New York to Hong Kong.

Other major international auction houses, such as rival Sotheby's, have also been boosting their presences in the Gulf to meet demand from wealthy Arab investors and homesick expatriates who are looking to add a bit of "soul" to their shopping lists in a region long seen as a cultural desert.

It has become vogue in affluent Iranian society to have at least one of these paintings, sometimes without having a knowledge of the artistic value of the paintings.

"My five-year-old daughter can paint better than this but as all my friends have such paintings, I had to pay a fortune to buy these two as well," said Negar Bigdeli, a factory owner's wife, pointing at two paintings hanging over her fireplace.

Record oil prices have helped increased spending power in the world's major oil-exporting region, and some of that disposable income is now being channeled into art.

"The young contemporary Iranian artist, Farhad Moshiri, was the first ever Middle Eastern artist whose work hit over a million (dollars) at Christie's," Sami Azar said, adding that Artist Parviz Tanavoli has since sold his sculpture "Persepolis" for a record $2.8 million.

Iranian artists Hossein Zenderoudi and Mohammed Ehsai are also among the top sellers with works going for $1.6 million and $1.2 million respectively.

Owner of Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, Anahita Ghabaian said Iranian art has global appeal.

"Developments in Iran (politically and economically) interest many around the world ... still some think that Iranians are camel-riders ... they are surprised to find out that Iranian art is so progressive," Ghabaian said.


In a workshop in the affluent part of northern Tehran, Tanavoli, the top selling Iranian sculptor, is optimistic about a rosy future of Iranian art now that rich Iranians view it as a source of investment.

"There is a lot of wandering money in this country which in the past was only invested in housing and stock exchange. But this has changed now," Tanavoli said.

In a cozy central Tehran studio, Bahram Dabiri a 61-year old contemporary painter is somewhat cynical about big auction houses such as Christies, despite being satisfied over the market demand for his works.

"They say Iran is a country of wonders. They are right. We are facing economic hardship. But the number of art works I am now selling and their price -- in comparison to four years ago -- have increased immensely," Dabiri said.

Dabiri is critical of evaluation of art works within the framework of auctions such as Christie's.

"The price of art is love. The price of art is culture, history, civilization, and the sentiment of mankind. Let's measure art with these (concepts)not with the dollar."

Iran Darroudi, who champions the work of women artists and has had many exhibitions throughout the world is also happy with the buoyant market, but says Iranians buy art for enjoyment and education not investment.

"One (fact) is that an Iranian buyer never does anything for investment, but only buys for himself, to enjoy it, for the culture of the painting, so that their children's eyes would get used to art."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)


Via Reuters

Monday, 23 May 2011

Don't Call Him the Jeff Koons of the Middle East:

A Q&A With Iranian Art Star Farhad Moshiri

An installation view of Farhad Moshiri at the Farjam Collection, Dubai, Photo by Ben Davis

By Ben Davis

The Iranian painter and mixed-media artist Farhad Moshiri has become one of the brightest lights of contemporary art in the Middle East. Born in Shiraz in 1963, he went on to study both film and fine art at the California Institute of Arts in Pasadena, graduating in 1984. After returning to Iran in 1991, his work became increasingly inventive in carving out his own unique hybrid form of pop art, playing on themes as diverse as Iranian archeology — with a well-known series of images depicting monumental jars — calligraphy, and ancient Arabic codes.

More recently, he has turned to themes from everyday life in contemporary Iran, exploring the country's pop culture and kitsch aesthetics. Moshiri has given a unique texture to paintings by working with a frosting gun, while other works incorporate Swarovski crystals, sequins, gold leaf, and similar flashy materials. Today, his works regularly sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, with "Eshgh (Love)" drawing headlines in 2008 when it fetched more than $1 million at Bonhams Dubai.

Currently on view at the Farjam Collection in the Dubai International Finance Center is "Love Is Not Everything," a survey of the artist's work drawn from the personal collection of one of his earliest collectors, Farhad Farjam, which provides the most in-depth look yet at the various concerns that have guided his career. It ranges from his urn paintings to deadpan yet strangely surreal glitter-encrusted portraits of kittens to an installation made of a stack of Persian carpets with the outline of a cartoon character punched into it. Concurrent with the opening of the Farjam show, Dubai's pioneering Third Line gallery showed "Shukrun," March 15-April 21, a new work by Moshiri consisting of giant Arabic script spelling out the words "Thank You," formed by a thicket of household knives stabbed directly into the gallery wall.

While in town for the Art Dubai art fair, ARTINFO deputy editor Ben Davis sat down with Moshiri to talk about the themes that animate his celebrated body of work. 

You're probably one of the most well-known contemporary artists from Iran, and even from the Middle East as a whole. Could you start by giving a little background about yourself as an artist and how you came to do what you do? 
I went to CalArts in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and then after a couple of years I returned to Iran. I was playing around, trying to be an artist. In truth, it happened very slowly — I'm a late bloomer. I had many shows in Dubai before there was any major attention given to culture and art here, so I suppose I was just in the right place at the right time. There is this question, "Why Iran?", but it just came naturally that I went back to Iran from the U.S. — it's the country of my birth, and my family is there. And when I returned, I think the real catalyst in starting me off was the fact that I found myself in a place with no pressure, no mentality of "you must do something with yourself," no stress. The idea of being a professional artist was no longer on the table. I ended up starting to do stuff without any intention of being an artist — it was very simple, very naive, very free, and a lot of fun. I think that spirit was missing in the States. You know, the pressure of being successful, it can be very corrupting. I think the ease that you feel when you're in a place where there is no competition or stress, it really helped to give me the energy that I needed, and things started to happen when I least expected. The rest is history.

Are there any specific influences or artists that were important for your body of work? 
Well, of course we are all connected, in a way — it is very difficult to detach yourself completely from what is happening around you. However, when I was at CalArts I was introduced to the work of John Baldessari, who was my on-and-off mentor. I was sitting in on his art theory classes, and it was his theory that I really absorbed in college. Before I came, the Neo-Geo movement in New York had exploded, and Ashley Bickerton, Peter Halley, Jeff Koons — these people made a colossal impact on my state of mind. I was almost pleasantly devastated to see this incredible body of work that was really breaking through and opening up a whole fresh field of ideas that were quite original. As far as being inspired by artists, I think the Neo-Geo movement was really the most important inspiration for me. However, I've always been fascinated with Dadaism, which seems to have been the basis for a lot of contemporary art. On the other hand, when I went back to Iran a whole new world opened up to me, and the direction that my art took was to look outward at this culture, which had been detached from being exposed to the West. It was a very isolated situation, a lot of cultural contradictions and fascinating things were coming out of people who had picked up bits of culture from here and there, and were integrating them into their own tradition. And the combination of these influences led me to the ideas that have become the basis for a lot of the things that I work with, intellectually and physically, with materials.

The Farjam Collection show is the biggest collection of your works that have come together to date — is that right? 
Yes, I believe so.

I was struck by the different modes that you work in: the carpets with the cartoon cutout in it, the portrait profile made from knives stuck in the canvas, the works with Swarovski crystal. Is there a common thread, a theme that you're interested in, or are they all separate ideas? 
Of course you don't try to work that out before you create, you're only forced to figure that out when someone asks a question like the one you just did. But I don't like it when there is not some common thread. I tend to think that there should be some narrative and progression in the works. And, in fact, there is one — this sense that, with the culture that I am witnessing, I'm not sure I'm part of it. I feel like I'm just watching. This sense provides me with all sorts of sparks. All the aesthetic manifestations of this culture — new buildings that are being made, new ways of presenting your body, new furniture, ways of designing, ways of behaving, idiosyncrasies that are really not based on any deep cultural formation — these are all connected to very rapid adjustments in the society I live in, and form the inspiration for the ideas in my work. Time is passing by very quickly. These phenomena, these little things that pop out from the general public on an almost unconscious level, they tend to form the line of inquiry that I follow.

Can you talk a little about how the Farjam show came together? What's the story behind the retrospective, if that's what you'd call it. 
I personally have called it a "selection of works" — to call it a retrospective would be pretty grand considering the fact that we put the show together really quickly and didn't have time to do things like put out a nice book. But this show, basically, is covering about 10 years of my work, so it's a sampler, really, from this collection. What I finally decided is that the work would be categorized not by material but by color, because there was a tendency for my work to be cut into two very different periods, the first being the jars and bowls and number and letter paintings, which basically represent my fascination with a nostalgic past — but at one point I noticed there was a tendency for the market to become obsessed with a certain form of art that an artist is creating, and at that point I stopped continuing that type of work, because I didn't want to take advantage of the market....

Which type of work is that, specifically? 
My destroyed paintings, the cracked paintings, the folded ones, the earthy ones that evoke the texture of unearthed archaeological artifacts. At one time in my career, I focused on that form of art creation. But then I dove more into the contemporary aesthetic, and that brought me to using ornamentation and frosting, all basically inspired by buildings which are highly ornamented — what is called the Roman façade — that look like a wedding cake. I started working on the fake baroque, fake furniture, the obsession with gold, and the bling-bling element in the Third World. Or actually, this is a global phenomenon, since these things were being adopted by many societies, from China to the States. The blending of these two periods of my work was always a problem for me, and the main issue I had with presenting this show was how to mix these two bodies of work, because I actually didn't want to categorize them into two different periods. And I think that categorizing them by color in the Farjam Collection show worked out well.

You also have an instillation at the Third Line gallery, which incorporates a text in Arabic. Can you tell me about that installation? I'm told it is the first time you've done writing in Arabic. Is that correct? 

Is there a particular meaning to that? 
It says "Thank You," a general word that is also in Farsi. As you know, the Arabic alphabet is also used in the Farsi language, so the idea behind that piece was, to begin with, that I did not want to present more of the same type of things that were presented in the Farjam Collection in the gallery as well. That would be too much, kind of repetitive, and really I was intending to present an idea that would compliment the show rather than repeat it. So I decided to do the instillation of knives as a way of completing the whole cycle of the period that led to the retrospective. I felt comfortable with a simple "thank you" — of course with the ironic twist that it is spelled out in knives. But the work is not thanking anyone in particular; it's more of a question of being thankful for everything that has happened.

Dubai has been quite important to your career, hasn't it? You've done many shows here. It's an interesting dynamic, the relationship between what's going on in Iran and here, the long historical connection where Dubai has played the role of place where people could come and show things that they couldn't show in Iran. I'm interested to know the relationship between Dubai and your practice.
On a very logical level, Dubai just provided a platform. It was easy to access, it was close, there was an energy that was being really marketed and developed here. Once things got started, the scene snowballed into what it's become today, so for us the idea of showing in Dubai came naturally. First of all, we don't have this kind of space in Iran, the city is not designed to carry this type of dynamic, getting permits for these types of spaces within the city was practically impossible.

Within Tehran? 
Within Tehran. One main reason is the lack of space, the lack of marketing, the lack of exposure. There wasn't a lack of ideas, of course — it was anything but boring — but we needed a bigger space and more visibility, and Dubai was just a perfect place to do it.

You've studied in the states and worked in Iran. How do you think about your audience when you make your paintings? Do you think about which audience you're producing for, or is it just a universal audience? 
Of course, pretty much every artist would say that they are making art for a universal audience, and I'd probably say the same thing too — but I'll just try to go the other way and say, yes, I target something more specific. I like the challenge, it's fun — I like to make fun of myself. I think it's possible to do that, if you have the capacity to enjoy being humiliated and hated, ignored. If it's bad, if it's a no-no, if it doesn't translate, then to me it sounds interesting — why not give it a shot? But that does have the potential for severe backlash. It's a scary domain to embark on, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The odds of failing are far greater than the odds of succeeding, but it's fascinating because my work is all about that — it's taken from real people, rather than building on art that I've seen. My work is very "mall-oriented," in the sense that I use materials that are familiar to people, so I'm already at a very familiar starting point because of the materials I use. Paint is a very free material. There is nothing associated with paint, it's a very pure and innocent material, and it will always remain that way, which is why it is the preferred material — there is no attached connotation with paint, except maybe with red, which is always blood. You can do anything with blue and no one will say, "why did he use blue?" But when you embark on using, for example, crystals which are recycled from a chandelier, then you have already started to build in an audience, and then it is recycled as art and presented to the same audience as something else. This whole process of taking and giving back is really an integral part of my work. So I do dive in and I play with specific materials with specific connotations, and I think people are getting to feel comfortable with that. 

Right now with all the unrest in the Middle East, the question everyone is going to want to have asked in the U.S. is how the political situation is affecting the art scene in the region. Do you do have any thoughts about the political unrest? Is that something you're thinking about at all? Does it enter into your practice? You're not really a political artist, I wouldn't say, but does the present situation affect the way you're thinking about what you're doing at all? 
Well of course it does, I'd be stupid not to be considering what is happening around me. But there is a huge problem with being a political artist at this time. To be taken seriously is difficult. If you're a political artist, an Iranian political artist living in New York, I've heard many people say, "Yes, it's easy for you, you're chilling in Chelsea." But if you were in Iran then maybe you might be looking for an Iranian exile visa or a new passport, or you might be waiting to get a break in the art world. So it's a really problematic area, even though you might be really pissed off about a particular issue. Aside from getting in trouble for saying something you shouldn't — I mean, the whole thing is just not what I'm interested in. There are so many angles of misinterpretation, so I try to keep away from that territory. And sometimes that works even better. I've been criticized and consequently gotten a lot of exposure for being too lollipop-y when I shouldn't be, so there are advantages as well as disadvantages to not being political at this time.

I always think its funny when I hear people call you the "Jeff Koons of the Middle East." It's something people often say, and I'm sure it annoys you a lot. Do you think there are common misconceptions about what you do? 
Well, yes and no. I mean, people do like to simplify things, especially for the media; the media has to have an angle, that's why abstract art is not getting any attention, because how do you talk about art that is not attached to anything? They have to find an angle to tie it down, and "Jeff Koons" was one angle with my work. Somebody just said that, and it was just like, "Oh, that's just horrible." I do tend to wish that it had never been said, but it's out there and it has been helpful, because that familiarity does give you a foothold, and then you can build on that, and before you know it you create your own identity out of that. It's been good, I hated it, but it's been good.

Iranian mixed-media artist Farhad Moshiri, Photo by Ben Davis

Works by Farhad Moshiri at the Farjam Collection, Dubai

The AI Interview
Via Artinfo

Friday, 20 May 2011

Virtual Pavilion -- Venice Augmented

by Amir Baradaran

When in Venice for the 54th Biennale, search and discover media and performance artist Amir Baradaran's new visible (in)visible project Venice Augmented, active surrounding many of Giardini di Castello and Arsenale pavilions from June 1 throughout the duration of the the Biennale.

Using Augmented Reality (AR) as art, Amir Baradaran projects new meanings and movements onto the environment. As Baradaran states, "I am interested in how small acts of resistance, particularly within so-called virtual domains, can create pockets of transformation.  Seeking to generate much more than novel surprise, my art explores new ways of being."

Comprising a number of (un)seen attributes embedded throughout the docks and garden, Augmented Venice promises a landmark addition to the Biennale. Accessible to visiting publics through a number of activation points  scattered throughout the Venice landscape, the project is among the first Augmented Reality works to feature at the Biennale.

Moving from previous projects using both graphic- and facial- recognition activators (also called "markers" or "points of interest"), Baradaran's project for Venice pays homage to the city's rich history of Classical portrait painting and avant-garde Italian Futurist Movement.  Venice Augmented builds on previous infiltration of the Louvre Museum in Paris with Frenchising Mona Lisa, and the New York City FutARism Manifesto performance.

This year, Baradaran goes viral in Venice.

Here, in the city of cities, after built to fail, and after the crash and whimper proved the material immateriality of things, futARism emerges. We long for those rituals and traditions of eon that still resonate, while making meaning from the ether.   Augmented Reality is our tool; love, divine and exquisite, our guide!
 --Amir Baradaran, FutARism Manifesto excerpt 2011

Born in Tehran and raised in Montreal, Amir Baradaran's experience in academia and activism led him to pursue an artistic practice. Working in a variety of mediums, Baradaran engages the realm of speculative, participatory public experiences through the exploration of notions of technology and identity. Recently, under the title FutARism , he employed Augmented Reality (AR) as a new installation medium. The experiential, conceptual and legal shifts presupposed by the advent of AR connect to Baradaran's interest in radical subjectivities, failed utopias and mysticism. Iterations include the AR installations Frenchising Mona Lisa (Louvre Museum, Paris, France) and Takeoff (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY). Past works include Transient (2010), a series of video installations in New York City taxis (approx. 1.5 million viewers), and The Other Artist Is Present (2010), a guerrilla performance in four acts at Museum of Modern Art. Baradaran's work was also featured at Miami Art Week 2010 as a part of the exhibition Voyeur, presented by Young Patrons of the American Friends of The Louvre.

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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Allegory of authority

Shahpour Pouyan explores the relationship between wealth, power and money to make a contemporary statement about domination

 The projectiles represent the patriarchal society and the male domination of power and wealth in Iran and the Arab world.

By Jyoti Kalsi

The central theme of Shahpour Pouyan's work is the connection that wealth and power have with aesthetics and culture. In his allegorical paintings and sculptures, the young Iranian artist juxtaposes various symbols of power with beautiful traditional Persian decoration to make a contemporary statement about domination and possession through the force of culture. In his first solo exhibition in Dubai, titled Full Metal Jacket, Pouyan is showcasing three series of artworks that explore the relationship between power, wealth and beauty.

The first series, titled Towers, looks at monuments as an expression of power and dominance. The series is inspired by Pouyan's travels around Iran. The artist took thousands of pictures of historic monuments, such as medieval tomb towers and minarets. The fictional monuments in his paintings are a blend of ancient and contemporary architecture and decoration. Like the ancient monuments, they are embellished with gold and silver and decorated with verses from the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. But the artist has played with the words to create his own version of the Shahnameh, praising fictional kings from an imaginary era. The series is a wry comment on the fact that these imposing colossal towers that dominate and subjugate the surrounding landscape are an expression of power concealed beneath a veneer of culture.

"These monuments usually served no other purpose other than being a memorial and a historic record of the person who commissioned them. The beautifully decorated structures reflect the desire of these powerful people to defy mortality. And the same is true of contemporary art and architecture, because ultimately the creation of all art is driven by the desire of the artists and patrons to be remembered for ever," Pouyan says.

The symbolism in the second series, titled Hooves, dates back to pre-Islamic times. These ink drawings and paintings feature severed hooves depicted in great detail. But each hoof is crowned with a helmet inlaid with gold and silver and beautifully decorated with intricate traditional patterns reminiscent of Persian miniature paintings. The hooves allude to the mystical Golden Bull, revered by the ancient cultures of Sumer, Babylon and Iran and still worshipped in India. They are symbols of strength and virility and also have undertones of sacrifice and ritual slaughter performed by the wealthy and the powerful to display and further enhance their status. "By combining these gruesome hooves and the helmets with delicate, refined decoration, I wanted to create a contemporary symbol for the relationship between power, wealth and beauty," the artist says.

In his latest series, titled Full Metal Jacket, Pouyan has taken his exploration of this relationship further through three-dimensional sculptural installations, suspended from the ceiling. The metallic artworks, which the artist refers to as "projectiles", are inspired by medieval Persian armour and military helmets. They are made from chainmail and metal and the artist has worked closely with traditional armourers and metal smiths to create them. Each piece is beautifully decorated with traditional calligraphy and gold and silver inlays and has various fin-like projections adorned with etchings of birds, flowers and other classical Persian motifs.

While some of the pieces look like human figures, others resemble modern-day missiles and rockets. Once again, the artist has combined ancient and contemporary symbols of dominance and military might with elements of luxury, refinement and beauty, highlighting the influence of wealth and power on culture and civilisation.

"I find it fascinating that throughout the ages, Iranians have always tried to beautify every element of their lives ranging from armour and weapons to household knives and scissors. And I wanted to use this traditional ornamentation in my work to create something contemporary. I prefer to call these artworks ‘projectiles' because the term suggests ascendency and a scientific approach but leaves the pieces open to individual interpretation," the artist says. But he also points out that the phallic shapes of the projectiles, towers and hooves represent the patriarchal society and male domination of power and wealth in Iran and this region.

On another level, the projectiles also question the perception of the Western world about the East. "Westerners see us as exotic civilisations with a rich culture and artistic heritage but also as regressive and dangerous. My projectiles combine traditional craftsmanship with elements of latest scientific developments in weaponry. And they are suspended from the ceiling to suggest both instability and dynamism. Cocooned within the brutal and sinister-looking metal jacket is a historic civilisation and rich culture, making these projectiles the perfect metaphor for The Arabian Nights' Western perspective about Iran and the Eastern world. As an artist, I do not want to make any judgments. I just want to present this paradoxical situation and make people think about it," Pouyan says.

Shahpour Pouyan is showcasing three series of artworks — Towers, Hooves and Full Metal Jacket — in his latest exhibition.

Jyoti Kalsi is a UAE-based arts enthusiast.

Full Metal Jacket will run at Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, Al Quoz, until June 8.


Monday, 9 May 2011

Graphic Content | Neshan

Iran’s stunning contemporary graphic design is virtually unknown in the West. But there is some light emerging. Over the past few years, books showcasing Iranian graphic design, posters, calligraphy and typography have been published in the West, opening a very rich vein of design that combines tradition and modernity. And one of the best places to view this work is Iran’s first and only graphic design magazine, Neshan. (Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the magazine.)

A cover design for Neshan, the Iranian graphic design magazine.

Smartly designed and edited in Farsi with English summaries, Neshan made its debut in 2003 after a group of graphic designers decided that Iran needed a design magazine that was aimed at both domestic and international audiences. It was founded by the leading players in Iran’s design scene: Majid Abbasi, Saed Meshki, Morteza Momayez (who died in 2005), Ali Rashidi, Firouz Shafei and Iraj Zargami. The most important role was played by Momayez, a renowned Iranian book and book-cover designer, as editor in chief. He formatted Neshan to be at once distinctly Iranian and decidedly modern in its simplicity. “He exerted his entire knowledge and expertise for the improvement and enrichment of Neshan,” says Abbasi, who now lives in Canada. (After Momayez’s death, the magazine’s editorial board took over his responsibilities.)

A spread from an article on contemporary Iranian graphic design.

Neshan is available in a beautiful print edition and in an online version. The magazine showcases the diversity of the Iranian graphic design community and its projects, covering subjects like the Tehran Metro Signage System or Iranian magazine title design, but also focuses on Western influences, including stories on “visual research” in Amsterdam.

Neshan is essentially a contemporary journal, but it also looks back at Iran’s visual-script heritage, which encompasses miniatures, page decoration and calligraphy. As a rule, Abbasi explains, “Neshan presents a new description of them in today’s context. But it is not always very fruitful to look at these sources and use them.” He insists that history only goes so far in defining contemporary design: “Originality does not have the past values as its only source; it is a concept related to the present time, which is rooted in a fruitful past with all its heritage.”

Neshan also covers international graphic design; shown here is an interview with the designer Luke Hayman, a partner in Pentagram.

Modern graphic design started in Iran about 80 years ago, with the advent of machine printing and its ability to produce faithful copies of works of art. During the last 50 years, illustration has become more simplified and stylized in a contemporary manner, or what Abbasi calls “a post-Islamic originality of Iranian arts through today’s techniques and definitions of graphic design.”

Since Neshan is independent of the official government, religious or cultural establishment, it is financed by its founders, some advertising and subscriptions in Iran. But Neshan is still subject to social, religious and cultural limitations. “Sometimes our friends who visited Iran compared it with Eastern European countries during Socialism in the ’50s though the ’70s,” says Abbasi, referring specifically to the poster explosion in Communist Poland, “which is the same with a situation in Iran.”

“Limitations,” he continues, “are causes of finding creative solution. So, we know very well the way of censorship and adapt ourselves with it.”

Abbasi is optimistic about Neshan’s future, within reason. “The main problem is budget. We couldn’t pay the cost of writing to anybody. Actually each of the five [surviving] co-founders are working on the magazine with all their passions. So, I am sure that Neshan is one of the best professional and artistic magazines, not only in Iran but in the Middle East.”