Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Armed with a Paintbrush:

Q&A with Farah Ossouli

 Mona Lisa, Photo: Courtesy of Farah Ossouli

By Erin Joyce, Aslan Media Art Editor

Every once and while an artist appears on the international scene whose work hypnotizes an audience, forcing them to stop and take in, in a meaningful way, what they are seeing. Iranian painter Farah Ossouli is one of those artists. The rich patterns and saturated colors Ossouli employs in her work are visually arresting. Ranging in subject matter from autobiographical to quasi-religious, Ossouli lends a breadth and range to her paintings, adding to the multi-faceted quality of this talented artists.

Born in 1953 in Zanjan, Iran, Ossouli has been living the life of an artist since childhood. She received her B.A in graphic design from Tehran University and has not stopped painting since. Ossouli has had several solo-exhibitions in Iran and Germany, and has been featured in many group exhibitions in Paris, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Turkey, and extensively throughout the Arab World. Her work is part of the permanent collection at museums in the Netherlands, Germany, and throughout Iran and Jordan, and she has won several prestigious awards for her artwork.

Ossouli recently sat down with Aslan Media to discuss her life, her beginnings as an artist, what it means to be a woman artist in Iran, and what inspires her to paint.

Aslan Media: You were born, raised and educated in Iran. What was life like growing up there and how has it impacted your life as an adult?

Farah Ossuli: I had a childhood full of joy and love, parents and siblings who filled my life with happiness. The result of an active childhood and adolescence full of travels, games and recreation was a sense of hope and self-confidence. It still gives me an impetus to challenge the problems. I have a painting titled Childhood Paradise which shows my feelings of my childhood. I have many paintings centering on Mother.

AM: Were your parents artists or artistic in any way or involved in the visual arts? What influenced you as a child to begin your work in the art world?

FO: My parents played a major role in me becoming an artist. I inherited a talent for visual arts from my maternal family. Many of the relatives on my mother's side paint as a hobby or are interested in art. Therefore, they always encouraged me to paint. My aunt began to study art when I was born. She is a Painting graduate of School of Fine Arts. She also obtained her MFA in Graphic Design from Art University. She provided me with large papers and diverse colors so that I could make different experiments during my childhood.

One of my sisters is a professional painter who has already graduated from Art University. My other sister and brother are also painters, but studied Drama. Therefore, art runs in the family. During the time I was at the elementary school I used to write short stories and paint a lot. I thought I would become a writer in the future.

AM: That is such an amazing resource, to have such an artistic environment in which to grow up. What age were you when you decided to commit to art as a career?

FO: I participated in national painting competitions as a school student. I was the winner of the first prize at times and received prizes. The prize for one of these competitions was the free admission to a professional painting class. I was fourteen at the time and it was difficult to attend both the painting class and school. It changed my view of painting, though. It ushered me to the great world of painting at an early age.

I was awarded in another competition a year later. This was the beginning of a serious initiation into the world of art. This time, though, I won admission to the summer classes of the School of Fine Arts. The teacher who taught there asked me what field I was planning to study. I said I was planning to study literature and to become a writer. She suggested that I participated in art entrance exam and chose painting as I had a talent for painting.

AM: How much do you feel your training in university influenced your artistic aesthetic?

FO: I entered the School of Fine Arts when I was fifteen and choosing painting, I entered a paradise of which I am, fortunately, yet to be expelled.

AM: Do you feel that to function as an artist in contemporary society that a degree was a beneficial undertaking?

FO: Academic studies do not make an artist, but it is important to go to university if you are looking for the right direction, contacts, discussions, debates, practices and order, and need to live in an art environment along with other students and teachers during an early stage in life when an individual is most influenced by his/her environment.

Childhood Paradise, 76x76, 2005, Photo: Courtesy of Farah Ossouli

AM: On being influenced by one’s environment; to what extent do you feel your Iranian culture and heritage has influenced your art aesthetic?

FO: To a large extent … I am greatly inspired by the standards of Iranian visual arts. Early miniature paintings, architecture, tile work, Pop Art, klims, rugs, literature, philosophy, history, geography, sociology, and psychology of this land are among the subjects that interest me. Therefore, they are directly or indirectly reflected in my work. AM: Who do you create your artwork for? Do you have a specific audience in mind or do you create just for yourself, and people happen to see your work?

FO: I have never been commissioned to produce a work for a specific audience. I have things to say and try to express my ideas in my own way. I try to depict my thoughts as I wish. I assume that there is always an audience for what an artist creates.

AM: As a member of the artistic community (and audience member yourself), specifically the community of artists working in and around the Arab world—what is your impression of Middle Eastern art scene today? What other artists are you a fan of from the Middle East?

FO: Art of the Middle East is going through an important era. Artists are discussing issues that have never been touched upon. In the age of Internet and information technology, artists of this region are also encouraged to express their views and get heard by important people around the globe.

Differences in life conditions, governments, traditions, and standards led to a new art form that introduced audiences in the east and the west to the novelty and distinction of the art of this region.

Shirin Neshat, Mohammad Ehsaei, Shirazeh Houshyari, Parviz Tanavoli, Ghada Amer and Mona Hatoum are among the artists I am interested in.

AM: Has the oeuvre of other artists influenced your-self as a painter? Who were your favorites?
FO: I was inspired by and learned from many artists at the beginning of my studies at the School of Fine Arts and college. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Georges Rouault, Henri Matisse, Gustav Klimt, Kate Kolwitz, Marc Chagall, Jackson Pollock, Rothko, and Toulouse-Lautrec are among many others.

AM: I find that my taste in art is always in flux and my favorite artists tend to change over time. Have your favorites changed over the years?

FO: My interest grew over time to include artists such as Reza Abbasi, Kamaleddin Behzad, Otamaro, Hokusai, Judy Chicago, Anish Kapoor, Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman, Georg Baselitz, and many other contemporary artists of the east and west.

AM: In your own words, what has the response been to your work? Do you have any interesting accounts of how someone reacted to your art in either a positive of negative way?

FO: Once a European couple came to my studio to acquire an artwork. They had a three-month child and had been waiting for a long time to use their savings to buy a painting. The couple had lost part of their savings for some reason, though. They were at the end of their tenure in Iran and had to return to their country. They explained their financial situation and proposed a price that was a quarter of the original price I had offered. The moment I agreed to the price they had offered, the young man delightedly jumped up and ripped his trousers, while milk trickled off his wife's breast. I will never forget this delightful moment.

AM: What do your parents and/or other family members think of your life as a visual artist? Do you ever discuss your artistic motivation with them?

FO: My family, including my parents and siblings, my children (my daughter studies painting) and my husband (a prominent filmmaker) respect what I do. They encourage me and we always discuss my motivations and ideas as well as other art forms.

AM: What has been your personal favorite work that you have created?

FO: It is not possible to choose a specific painting as my best artwork. I sometimes have ideas, though, that take a long time to become an artwork. I enjoy such challenges and feel happy and at peace when I succeed.

AM: Do you feel that you will ever reach a point where you will become bored with art?

FO: Since I love art, it will never bore me. I have been practicing art for 43 years and am not sure how I can live without it. The hope to paint wakes me up every morning. Creation is an endless, pleasant journey for me.

AM: With all the unrest in the region right now, and the revolutions of the Arab Spring, do you feel inspired or, maybe better phrased, motivated by these events in your painting? Have themes or issues that relate to revolution appeared in your work?

FO: It has often been controversial. Traditional miniature painters believe that my work is riotous and destructive to the miniature painting. On the other hand, conservative Westernized painters consider my work traditional miniature painting. I feel alone and unappreciated by both groups.

During the thirty years I have been mastering miniature painting I have been criticized time and again for not fitting into any categories.

On the other hand, I have enthusiastic buyers and admirers inside and outside Iran. My work is especially interesting to art critics and researchers abroad.

AM: Do you think your work is controversial? What is life like for you right now in Iran? Are you able to openly exhibit your artwork there?

FO: Yes, I can present my work to galleries and museums in Iran. However, some of my works are not presentable in Iran.

AM: Have you ever been in a situation where your artwork has been censored?

FO: My work has never been censured except in rare instances. I myself might have been censured for my ideas and mentality. It seems there will be even more limitations in the future.

AM: To you, what does it mean to be a female artist from the Middle East on a global scale?

FO: Female artists of the Middle East have so much to say. An educated artist from this region is not different from a female artist from the West. We are, however, limited in terms of our personal behavior, words, positions vis-à-vis developments, and presentation of artwork. Therefore, the discomfort that results from such regulations, traditions, and limitations can be wearing. This is the path every artist has to tread in one way or another. What art does is to upset current traditions and norms. Art always criticizes the world around, thus paying a price.

For more information on Farah Ossouli, or to see her complete works, please visit www.farahossouli.com

Via Aslan Media

Saturday, 25 June 2011

'A Wolf Lying in Wait': The Poetry of Abbas Kiarostami

There's more than one way to cut a diamond.

by Aria Fani

Classical Persian poetry is characterized by its creative and highly cultivated language as well as strict regularities of rhyme and meter. Ahmad Shamlu, the highly regarded poet and literary critic, famously described Hafez as the brilliant diamond-cutter of the Persian tongue, with his poetic form of the ghazal as the tool. There are endless articles on the difficulty of translating Hafez -- or the "impossibility" of it, as Mohammad Reza Shafi Kadkani says. Those who have attempted the feat all attest to the challenge of transferring both the cultural nuances and the melody of his verse. To an extent, the romanticization of Hafez's musicality has diverted attention from the prismatic world of meanings in his lines. Abbas Kiarostami, among the most celebrated of Iranian filmmakers, has reintroduced Hafez to Persian speakers by removing the musical element -- at least in its classical expression -- and breaking his ghazals into haiku-sized poems. His contemporary retelling highlights the power of Hafez's imagery and invites readers to focus on the meaning of individual narratives. The elimination of rhyme also gives Kiarostami the liberty to convey his perspective through enjambment more effectively.

Kiarostami's international reputation as a filmmaker is well established, but how much do we know about him as an author? He has published two collections of short poems, both in bilingual editions. Within Persian poetry, his style is akin to sher-e sepid ("white," or free, verse). It is unrhymed and, relative to other poetic forms, very close to human speech. It bears many similarities with the Japanese haiku -- it disregards the cultivation of a literary language, places observation at the heart of its generative process, and highlights lifelike narratives and experiences. In contrast to classical Persian poetry, haiku employs language not as an end, but as a means to situate the reader before the heart of its narrative. The reader encounters not dazzling diction, but rather simple, unadorned phrases that make use of a great body of imagery. The serene, nonchalant, and often profoundly philosophical language of haiku allows the poet to swiftly touch on the core of the universal human condition: love, despair, humor, death. The elegant brevity of haiku also prompts readers into an active relationship with the poem -- pleasure is found in locating one's individual perspective on a compact expression that can be viewed from multiple angles. Kiarostami brings these elements of haiku into Persian poetry.

In the introduction to Kiarostami's collection A Wolf Lying in Wait, cotranslator Michael Beard writes, "There are people among us -- bird watchers, photographers, naturalists -- who are at home in the nonhuman world, who can tune in to the rhythms where nature follows its own rules. Out walking with them you may become aware gradually that they are noticing a totally different array of sights -- spotting where the birds are perched, determining which wildflowers are out and when. It is no surprise that Abbas Kiarostami is such a person." Indeed -- patient, perceptive, he alerts us to overlooked narratives and the most delicate of details: "What a pity / I was not a good host / for the snowflake / that settled on my eyelid." His work often makes us feel as if we are looking directly at an image with him: "Moonlight / shining on a narrow path / that I won't take." Although his poetry is most characteristically visual, he continually summons all of our senses: "the smell of burning rue," "the sound of a baby crying," "old wine."

Kiarostami's cinematic sensibility pours into his verse as well. He lightheartedly shifts the vantage point, manipulating his readers' sense of perspective: "The full moon / reflected in water / the water / contained in the bowl / and the thirsty man / deep in sleep." Far from the aesthetic and lyric traditions of classical Persian poetry, hardly closer to Modern Persian verse (sher-e Nimai), his short poems, with their eloquent, cool, and subtle phraseology, are profoundly meditative. Kiarostami is playing an important role in the development of Persian poetry, by turns shining new light on Hafez and Saadi and, as exemplified in the following selections from A Wolf Lying in Wait, sharing his own singular vision.

A red dotted line on the white snow
wounded game
limping away.
The full moon
reflected in water,
the water
contained in the bowl,
and the thirsty man
deep in sleep.
shining on a narrow path
that I won't take.
What a pity
I was not a good host
for the snowflake
that settled on my eyelid.
White colt
red to his knees
after gamboling
in a field of poppies.
Morning is white,
evening is black,
a gray sorrow
in between.
A wolf
lying in wait.
is the reward of a caterpillar
that wrapped itself
in a cocoon of silk.
A whirlwind
the shepherd's boiling kettle
set up on top of a hill.
The smell of smoke
the smell of burning rue
the sound of a baby crying
An adobe hut.
A young moon
an old wine
a new friend.
An apple fell from the tree
and I thought of
the apple's attraction.
Recommended reading:
Hafez be Ravayat-e Abbas Kiarostami [Hafez Narrated by Abbas Kiarostami] (Farzan Rooz Publications, 2006).
Saadi be Ravayat-e Abbas Kiarostami [Saadi Narrated by Abbas Kiarostami] (Niloufar Publications, 2007).
Walking with the Wind, translated by Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak and Michael Beard (Harvard University Film Archive, 2002).
A Wolf Lying in Wait, translated by Karim Emami and Michael Beard (Sokhan Publishers, 2005).
Photo by Aria Fani. Comments af@ariafani.com.

Via Tehran Bureau

Friday, 24 June 2011

Censorship or honest mistake at the Intercontinental?

By Mary Louise Schumacher of the Journal Sentinel

Fahimeh Vahdat climbed the 8-foot ladder to untack the ceiling-to-floor artwork that she had up at the Intercontinental Milwaukee's M Gallery on a recent afternoon.

Then, she flipped the long canvas around, so its main image, a woman raising her hands in supplication, would face the wall and no longer be visible to visitors to the gallery space.

"This hurts," she said, stepping off the ladder. "I'm very emotional doing this. I am doing what I shouldn't be doing -- turning my piece the other way."

Vahdat is an Iranian-born artist who has been creating work about human rights for many years. She came to the U.S. 30 years ago after several members of her family were executed for being of the Baha'i faith, she said.

Her artwork, titled "A Prison Called Iran" features a contour drawing of a female nude, her arms raised in supplication. It is a subtle and layered work, with the main image obscured by rows of faint black lines, red script letters that repeat the  work's title and red netting the veil the work from top to bottom.

The work is intended to be a metaphor for the lack of freedom in Iran, particularly for women. It is a beautiful and vulnerable image, hung, not coincidentally, at about the time of the second anniversary of Iran's Green Movement.

"So many women are in prison and tortured," Vahdat said. "Even silent protest can lead to execution."

The Intercontinental informed the organizers of the show that the piece was not appropriate for the space last week, according to Tim Smith, the hotel's general manager.

Asking Vahdat to silence her work, so to speak, is an unfortunate act that never should have happened but was probably inevitable. It raises questions about many well-intentioned art programs in nontraditional locations and how they are managed.

In the last few years, several local hotels have created art programs of various sorts, in an attempt to provide a draw for locals while providing artists with exposure to new and sometimes international audiences.

The Marcus Corp., which owns the Intercontinental, has been the leader in this. It started a residency program at the Pfister Hotel, now in its third year. The Intercontinental created a physical gallery space in its freshly designed lobby and about six months ago entered into a partnership with the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design for curatorial services. It provides $5,000 toward the art school's scholarship fund as part of the arrangement, which funds a student curator who works with advisers from MIAD. Other hotels, such as the Iron Horse, the Aloft and the Hotel of the Arts Days Inn also have staged exhibitions.

This all sounds wonderful, right?

Well, let's look at what happened at the M Gallery. The gallery is not supervised on a day-to-day basis by an art professional, is also used for events and is a space that will attract casual passersby. In other words, the space has some natural constraints.

In practical terms this means the gallery can't accommodate three-dimensional works (unless you want caterers hauling art around) and time-based mediums such as video also become a challenge. Also, content and didactics need to be thoughtfully considered to accommodate the more public venue, a place that hotel visitors, theatergoers and others will happen upon.

It'd be very easy for a gallery like this to be superficial, to hang art that behaves like scene setting for fundraisers and wedding receptions. In the right hands, though, it's a wonderful opportunity. What's needed in a space like this is curatorial expertise and finesse. And the Intercontinental is to be applauded for recognizing the need for outside curation.

The female form tends to surface in the history of art and nudity is never a straightforward issue when it comes to quasi public venues. This warranted some clear understanding in advance of this incident. A complaint was made by a potential hotel client, who was viewing the space, and a decision was made, according Smith.

This of course raises questions about how easily the human form is by its nature deemed inappropriate, depening on the context. Would a photograph of a classical sculpture have offended anyone? Of course not. Vahdat's image is not overly explicit nor is it at all sexual.

But perhaps the more fundamental point is that the piece is not at all suited to the space. It is a work that deserves a more contemplative setting rather than an on-again, off-again fete location.

MIAD decided to host the "MARN Mentors" show,  which is the culmination of a project in which established artists and emerging ones are paired up for mentorship and collaborations. The exhibit, organized by the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network, tends to feature a large number of artists and diverse works.

I can see why MIAD, which coordinated the show and its installation, and MARN would want to showcase some of the city's better artists in such a high-profile spot, but this may have been where the first error was made. The works in this show are quite varied and at times conceptually dense. I'm not sure the art is served by the informality of the setting.

Perhaps what's important, however, is not that this situation arose but how it gets handled. Before Vahdat turned her piece around, MIAD and MARN made a decision to fold the long canvas up and pin it closed, so that only the woman's face could be seen, according to Vahdat and MIAD and MARN officials. Then an email was forwarded to Vahdat with no direct message, only an image of the pinned-up work. The situation was less than ideal, but the piece could be opened for the opening reception and press visits, Melissa Dorn Richards or MIAD wrote to Melissa Musante of MARN in the email exchange. 

This is offensive. The art school and advocacy group were certainly in a difficult spot, but obliterating the content of the piece -- particularly this piece -- was most certainly the wrong thing to do. To take an artwork that is about creative expression and close it up was a terrible symbolic gesture.

If there was some communication failing on the part of MIAD, MARN and the Intercontinental, as understandable as it may have been, why was the artist the only one asked to comprimise? What message does this send to the emerging artists being mentored and in the show or to the would-be curator who is working with MIAD?

It is not too late to correct the offense. What's the solution? Perhaps the hotel, MIAD and MARN should arrange for an alternative and more full showing of Vahdat's work in a more contemplative setting. I don't know. This is not my area of expertise. What I do know is that asking Vahdat to excise or edit her work communicates a terrible message about what's important in art.

I believe all the parties involved are incredibly well intentioned but have failed to see the maining of their decisions in this case. If Vahdat exhibited this work in the country of her birth, she might be jailed for it. A more thoughtful outcome is warranted. I hope one can be reached by the time the show officially opens to the public on Thursday.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Encyclopædia Iranica Exhibition of Iranian Art

Opening Reception   Thursday, June 23    6 - 8 pm
The exhibition continues through June 28, 2011 @ Leila Heller Gallery (LTMH)

Sadegh Tabrizi, Untitled, 2009, Oil on canvas, 23.6 x 23.6 in / 60 x 60 cm
Premiere viewing of the Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation's collection of magnificent work by four generations of Iranian artists, who, for many years now, have enthusiastically supported the Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation in its efforts to foster and promote Iranian cultural heritage.

Nicky Nodjoumi, Untitled, 2007, Gesso and gouache on paper, 
28.5 x 27.5 in / 72.4 x 69.9 cm

 Shirin Neshat, Games of Desire, Photography with original handwriting, 11 x 14 in / 27.9 x 35.6 cm
The exhibition includes work by:

Nasrollah Afjei, Armond Ayvazian, Assurbanipal Babilla, Sima Chakamian, Bahram Dabiri, Iran Darroudi, Siamak Davarpanah, Mehdi Ebrahimian, Hossein Edalatkhah, Mohammad Ehsai, Eran Far, Mohammad Reza Firouzei, Hengameh Fouladvand, Nahid Haghighat, Parviz Kalantari, Marjan Karim, Hosayn Mahjoubi, Cyrus Malek, Mehdi Mansouri, Ramin Mehdinejad, Masoumeh Moradi, Mina Nouri, Niki Nodjoumi, Shirin Neshat,  Farah Ossouli, Nasser Ovissi, Shakiba Parvaresh, Payandeh Shahndeh-Djahan, Sudi Sharafshahi, Gizella Varga Sinai, Sadegh Tabrizi, Sepideh Sahar, Afsaneh Taebi, Mohammad Ali Taraghijah, Habib Tohidi, Ahmad Vosuq Ahmadi, and Adel Yunesi.

For further information please contact Anahita at anahita@ltmhgallery.com.

Via Encyclopædia Iranica
Iranica Logo  

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Delfina Foundation Open call for Iranian artists in partnership with Magic of Persia and in collaboration with the V&A Museum

The Delfina Foundation has announced a new residency opportunity in London as part of its ongoing partnership with Magic of Persia (MOP).

Previously, DELFINA and MOP have joined forces to offer opportunities for artists associated with the Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize (MOP CAP). Next year, in addition to providing residencies for a few select MOP CAP artists, DELFINA and MOP are creating an opportunity for Iranian artists to apply directly to DELFINA through an open call process.

This residency offers a career-defining opportunity for an emerging to mid-career Iranian artist, aged 25 or over, to undertake an 8-week residency in London in February/March 2012 (dates to be confirmed upon selection). In a unique collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the successful applicant will be given the opportunity to create a new work, to be showcased as part of the V&A's ‘Friday Late' night event coinciding with Nowrūz (Persian New Year) on the 30 March 2012.

The ideal candidate will have a performance or site-specific, installation-based practice that could respond to the V&A's extraordinary architecture or extensive collections. Although not a requirement, there may be opportunities for collaborative work with other artists and audiences.

For more information and to download an application form, please click here.

Closing date for applications: 25th July 2011, 5pm.