Monday, 19 September 2011

Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran

Turning tragedy into a source of creativity, or why art doesn’t have to be street art to be politically subversive.

One November evening in 1998, Iranian intellectuals and activists Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, supporters of the democratically elected Prime Minister, were savagely murdered in their home in Tehran. Their devastated daughter, Berlin-based artist Parastou Forouhar, channeled her grief in the language she spoke most fluently: art — powerful, poignant, subversive art that pulls you into its uncomfortable beauty with equal parts urgency and mesmerism. In, Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran, London-based writer and curator Rose Issa has gathered some of Forouhar’s most provocative yet poetic work from the artist’s exhibitions in Germany, exploring everything from democracy to women’s rights to her partents’ brutal murder.

In a way, Forouhar’s work is the polar opposite of the loud, conspicuous, explicit messaging of Iran’s street art. Her soft colors and fluid shapes might lull you into their surface beauty…until you realize they depict scenes of torture and tragedy — living proof that art doesn’t have to be “street art” in order to be subversive and make compelling cultural commentary on even the most uncomfortable of subjects.

When I arrived in Germany, I was Parastou Forouhar. Somehow, over the years, I’ve become ‘Iranian.’ This enforced ethnic identification took a new turn with the assassination of my parents in their home in Tehran. My efforts to investigate this crime had a great impact on my personal and artistic sensibilities. Political correctness and democratic coexistence lost their meaning in my daily life. As a result, I have tried to distill this conflict of displacement and transfer of meaning, turning it into a source of creativity.” ~ Parastou Forouhar

Images copyright Parastou Forouhar courtesy of Saqi Books

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Audrey and Hannibal

[ personal history ] by Anita Alkhas

Besides his unfinished portrait of me, I don't have any of our father's oil paintings. But I do have the only one of our mother Audrey's that made it through dozens of moves, crossing the ocean at least four times. My sister Adrianne gave it to me and it is worth a lifetime of birthday gifts. Written on the back of the canvas is the name of a classroom at the Art Institute of Chicago (where my parents met in the mid-1950s), so it must have been painted as an assignment. Instead of a proper frame, it has four pieces of wood, one nailed to each side. The best kind of frame for an oil painting, according to Hannibal. I imagine he fashioned the frame for her, an early gesture of courtship.

Hannibal's parents sent him to Chicago to become a doctor like his maternal grandfather, who had gotten his degree in the U.S. There was a small, established Assyrian community there, including Hannibal's aunt Nelly, to help him settle in. She says he was a quick study -- like herself, in fact. Perhaps they were able to adjust so well to a new language and culture because they were already bilingual in Farsi and Modern Syriac and had grown up as minorities in Iran. Of course, Hannibal also had drive -- he soon dropped out of Loyola University and enrolled at the Art Institute, his personal ambitions overriding his obedience to his parents.

Audrey, a native Chicagoan and her parents' only surviving child, was getting her degree in art education. They were somewhat reassured that their unpredictable, artsy daughter had chosen a profession with at least a measure of practicality. But they didn't expect her to up and marry a foreigner and then move halfway across the world. As Ann, her best friend growing up, told me recently, it was always an adventure when you were with Audrey.

I like to sit and look at her painting. It's deceptively simple, depicting the façade of a Chicago row house, in deep red and black. Its geometric shapes -- rectangles, triangles, squares, arches, and a strip of black (sky?) across the top -- give it an abstract feel. I find it exciting and mysterious, yet familiar. It has the same red that dominated Hannibal's paintings for many years, all the way through the 1970s. She clearly had a strong influence on the development of his style; her contribution was even officially noted in an article on Hannibal's work by the writer and critic Jalal al-Ahmad. They were introduced to al-Ahmad and his wife, the writer Simin Daneshvar, by Hossein and Bettie Tavakoli, our close family friends since the 1950s. It was one of the first of their many encounters with Iranian intellectuals over the years.

After al-Ahmad's death, Hannibal painted a large canvas in tribute to him. It ran the length of the wall in the dining room of our house in Tehran, the first one we lived in after my sister was born. As I remember it, even though it had a sad subject, it was filled with bright colors, some straight from the tube: yellows, greens, blues, and occasional touches of deep crimson. Its different sections told many stories, and each time I looked at it, I would choose a corner to focus on and decode. I could never take it all in at the same time.

The house where it hung (on Heravi Street in the Saltanatabad district) was sprawling. It had been built as a summer residence, so it had no insulation. During the winter, we lived primarily in two rooms upstairs that we carpeted and heated by kerosene stoves. The rest of the year was another story. Our home always seemed to be filled with visitors (when we weren't out ourselves at other people's homes). It had an untended yard that stretched so far, you couldn't see the back wall. There was even a pool, but since it had no filtration system, the water was ice-cold for the first month of summer and then tadpoles would take it over. Audrey was never the "hostess with the mostest," as she put it, but she loved parties and had a laid-back, genuine acceptance of people that tended to disarm even the stiffer, stand-on-ceremony visitors who came. You might not get a decent estekan of tea, but you felt welcome all the same.

It occurs to me now that the al-Ahmad painting never hung in our subsequent homes. As inflation increased, the homes we lived in started to shrink, so there was no longer enough uninterrupted wall space for Hannibal's larger canvases. We lost our lease on the big house on Heravi when we went to the U.S. for our parents' sabbatical year (Audrey taught art at the Tehran American School and Hannibal was on the fine arts faculty at the University of Tehran). Upon our return, a generous friend let us live in his upstairs flat for little or no rent until we found an apartment we could afford. Our final family home was a basement, coincidentally on Heravi Street, a few blocks from our first. Although it was an actual basement, not a basement apartment, Audrey used her considerable talents to make it homey, inviting, and even aesthetically pleasing. My sister and I slept in what had been a storage room and our parents slept on the floor in the front room, along with the occasional visitor who decided to crash at our place, or sometimes our brother Buna when he was on leave from his Iranian military service. By proportion, or maybe even by actual numbers, the parties at the basement apartment seemed bigger (and wilder) than the parties we used to hold down the street.

I tell my students that each of us has a defining moment that splits our life into before and after. Mine is easy to pinpoint. Our parents' divorce and the Iranian Revolution happened the same year. When your parents divorce, you start trying to figure out just how far back things started to go wrong (I guess that's also true of a revolution). I used to think that it was a classic story of their upbringing kicking in harder as they aged, that their "irreconcilable differences" stemmed from clashing cultures rather than personalities. Were they doomed from the start? I wondered (I've always been rather over-dramatic, my family likes to tell me). But from what I've gleaned from old photos and letters, and the many stories friends and family have been offering up lately since our father's death last year, they seem to have had a surprisingly solid marriage for almost all of their 25 years together. Audrey had an unwavering belief in Hannibal's talent and the importance of his work and he trusted her exceptional eye and uncannily good taste in art. She was not ambitious herself and so never jealous of his success, nor even of his many female students and admirers. And, not least of all, they were both equally loving and fun-loving parents to the three of us.

Parents always loom large in the eyes of their children, but I think it's fair to say that Audrey and Hannibal often seemed larger than life, both individually and as a couple, to their many students, friends, and children of friends. I may be overstating the case, but I think they reflected a certain style of their time period and exerted a personal magnetism that was uncommon. They developed deep, long-lasting friendships and both of them later found fiercely loyal life partners. I don't know exactly what pressures broke them apart, but in the last year or so before the Revolution, I do know things had gotten a little out of hand, outside in the world and inside the marriage. Our life had become a bit too unstructured, even for Audrey. So she packed up and shipped off whatever belongings they agreed she could take, and left Iran with my sister and me.

Audrey's timing was eerily good, as it turned out. I like to think that she sensed we were arriving at the end of an era. Had she waited even a few months longer, she wouldn't have been able to take anything but memories with her. And that means I wouldn't have Audrey's painting in Hannibal's frame, their inviting home I can always enter, no matter what.

Via Tehran Bureau

Friday, 16 September 2011

The State: Social/Antisocial?


(L) Hesam Rahmanian,1000 Dollar Baby (I), 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 122x91 cm
(R) Hesam Rahmanian,1000 Dollar Baby (VI), 2010, Acrylic on paper, 77x57 cm

Opening this fall on September 21st (at The Third Line) and running through October 20th, 2011 several Iranian artists represented by The Third Line and Traffic will be exhibiting at the two spaces. The show attempts to question and discuss the state of the contemporary environment through artistic representations depicting social behavior, ecology, and psychology.

The State: Social/Antisocial? is inspired by and, a continuation from, previous shows at Traffic also titled ‘the state’. This exhibition resumes a dialogue explored earlier in shows held at Traffic: The State (2010), the inaugural exhibition, questioned the socio-political state post September 11; and The State: Uppers & Downers (2011) ran a commentary on the global condition, from an economic perspective, with the city of Dubai as a focal point. This third installment of investigation combines works from the collection of The Third Line, Traffic and The Farook Collection, and is exhibited at both galleries to connect the conversations previously limited to one physical space.

This exhibition aims to move beyond mere presentation and aspires to act as a forum on socialization and the current state of people and behavior. It also complements the launch of its online counterpart With a focus on the various social aspects of the current “state” of today, the show puts a mirror up to the face of society for self-observation and self-reflection through the subjects of the works themselves, as well as the social, psychological and emotional impact on the viewers.

The works featured at both venues examine the social and human condition by posing questions about how society operates. Artists such as Arwa Abouon and Slavs and Tatars question belief in faith, tradition, and ritual; Fouad Elkoury, Hassan Hajjaj, Ahmed Mater, Hesam Rahmanian document the everyday in all its glory; Tracey Emin, Susan Hefuna, Damien Hirst, Huda Lutfi and Youssef Nabil depict emotional expression, nostalgia, and memory; and James Clar, Abdulnasser Gharem and Aman Mojadidi address the aspect of the anti-social.

The State: Social/Antisocial? takes the viewer on a journey of self discovery with the artworks at its starting point, contemplation as its road, and self revelation as its ultimate destination - defining society as individuals and as a collective.

Participating Iranian artists include: Abbas Akhavan, Amir H. Fallah, Laleh Khorramian, and Farhad Moshiri.
And showing at Traffic starting Thursday, Sept 22nd, will be Iranian artists Hesam Rahmanian, Mahmoud Bakhshi, Aman Mojadidi, Anahita Razmi, along with other international artists: Banksy, Damien Hirst, The Bruce High Quality Foundation, James Clar, Nada Dada, Tracey Emin, Shepard Fairey, Rami Farook, Abdulnasser Gharem, Hayv Kahraman, Ahmed Mater, Shaikha Al Mazrou, UBIK, Ayman Yossri, aka Daydban.

On September 22nd, at the show’s opening at Traffic, there will be a one-hour musical performance by Bunty (aka Kassia Zermon). Bunty is part of Brighton-based collective Beatabet. Using just her voice, fx pedals and a mash of real and made-up languages she whispers, beatboxes, claps, stamps and produces frenzied harmonies to create her music live from scratch.

About Traffic

Created by Rami Farook in 2007 as a social arts organization, to create, exhibit and exchange, Traffic’s 10,000sqft space combines commercial shows with public programming. It serves as a platform for emerging and established artists, from the region and beyond, and is the permanent home of The Farook Collection, which spans over 300 works. Other aspects of Traffic include an educational program, a bookstore and a ping-pong table.
Artists currently represented by Traffic include James Clar, Ayman Yossri aka Daydban, Abdulnasser Gharem, Ahmed Mater, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Aman Mojadidi, Hesam Rahmanian, Faisal Samra and UBIK.

The Third Line is an art gallery that represents contemporary Middle Eastern artists locally, regionally and internationally in Dubai, UAE. The gallery organises non-profit, alternative programs including Kutub, a bi-lingual Arab literature appreciation circle and documentary and feature film screenings.
The Third Line’s publishing sector, Works on Paper, publishes books by associated artists from the region. Books published include Presence by Emirati photographer Lamya Gargash, In Absentia by Palestinian-Kuwaiti Tarek Al-Ghoussein, and most recently Cosmic Geometry by Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Karen Marta.
Represented artists include: Abbas Akhavan, Ala Ebtekar, Amir H. Fallah, Arwa Abouon, Babak Golkar, Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Farhad Moshiri, Fouad Elkoury, Golnaz Fathi, Hassan Hajjaj, Hayv Kahraman, Huda Lutfi, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Lamya Gargash, Laleh Khorramian, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Pouran Jinchi, Rana Begum, Shezad Dawood, Shirin Aliabadi, Slavs and Tatars, Susan Hefuna, Tarek Al-Ghoussein and Youssef Nabil.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Parviz Tanavoli: Poet In Love

Exhibition and Panel Discussion
21st September to 29th October 2011
Lecture and Panel Discussion:
22nd September 2011

Parviz Tanavoli is one of the most influential and pioneering artists of the Middle East. An artist–fabricator, teacher and collector, he was born in 1937 and lives and works between Iran and Canada. Tanavoli is a founder member of the Saqqakhaneh School (a school of art that derives inspiration from Iranian folk art and culture), a school that has been described as a 'spiritual Pop Art' and is now considered the inspiration for progressive modern Iranian art. His key work is the calligraphic figure of Heech (Nothingness), a recurring theme in his sculptural repertory which contains reference to the human figure, evident both in the upright sculptural forms and their titles.

The exhibition at Austin/Desmond Fine Art, his first solo show in Britain since 1960, distinguishes him as one of the finest draughtsmen of his generation. The works on display feature over thirty–five pieces including ceramics, fibreglass and bronze sculptures, paired with contemporary drawings, emphasising his abiding and joyful love for Persian architecture, culture and poetry.

To mark this event, Tanavoli will participate in panel discussion held at The British Museum on 22nd September 2011, organized with the help of Iran Heritage Foundation and The British Museum.

Key works include: Prophets, Poets, Lovers, Wall, Lock, Hand and Bird along with calligraphic figure of Heech (Nothingness). These recurring themes in Tanavoli’s sculpture consistently contain references to the human figure, evident both in the upright sculptural forms and their titles. Tanavoli progressively replaces any descriptive figurative features with cultural symbols. This fusion of human and cultural emblems is an enduring characteristic of Tanavoli’s powerful sculptural statements.

Each work imbues special meaning like Persian poetry, which is more concerned with subjective interpretation of reality than with its external manifestations. It is this quality that is embraced in a wide range of works and revealed in Lovers, Beloved, Prophet and Poets. His signature series 'Heech' has found its place in various prestigious museums and galleries worldwide. Red Heech (below) is in the British Museum, London.

Tanavoli, at 74, is as productive as ever. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the artist’s collection and features a number of works never seen before.

He has taken part in several international group exhibitions and is one of the most popular artists at auctions. His work The Wall (Oh Persepolis) set an unbroken world auction record of 2.8 million dollars, for the sale of a work by a Middle Eastern artist at Christies Dubai, 30 April 2008.


Parviz Tanavoli is an Iranian sculptor now residing in Canada. He was born in 1937 in Tehran where he remained until he graduated from Tehran’s School of Fine Arts in 1955. He then travelled to Italy where he continued his studies in Carrera and Milan. He later worked in Milan under Italian artist Marino Marini.

Upon graduating from the Brera Academy of Milan in 1959, he returned to Iran and won the Royal Awards in the 2nd Tehran Biennale in 1960. In the same year he founded his first studio, the Atelier Kaboud, which acted as both a studio space for him to work in as well as an exhibition space for him and other contemporaries.

Tanavoli taught sculpture for three years at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He then returned to Iran and assumed the directorship of the sculpture department at the University of Tehran, a position he held for 18 years until 1979, when he retired from teaching.

He has held solo exhibitions in Iran, Europe, Dubai, United States and Canada and participated in numerous biennales and group exhibitions including, Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, Barbican Centre, London, 1989; Continental Shift, Museums of Aachen, Maastricht, Heerlen and Liège, 2000; Picturing Iran: Art, Society and Revolution, Grey Art Gallery, New York, 2002; and Word into Art, British Museum, London, 2006.

His works are housed in international private and public collections, including The British Museum, London; Grey Art Gallery, New York Uni- versity Collection; Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota; Esfahan City Center; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Nelson Rockefeller Collection, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Vienna; Olympic Park, Seoul; DIFC, Dubai; and Royal Society of Fine Arts, Amman.

Heech and Cage V 2006, Edition of 6, Bronze, 38 x 14 x 13 cm; Literature: Parviz Tanavoli 'Monograph', 2009, illustrated p.307;  Exhibited: Meem Gallery 2009, Dubai.

Lovers II, 2011, Unique, Bronze, 35.5 x 14 x 10 cm.

Poet turning into Heech, 1973-2007,  Edition of 6, Bronze, 228 x 70 x 58 cm; Literature: Parviz Tanavoli 'Monograph', 2009, illustrated p.188; Exhibited: Meem Gallery 2009, Dubai.

Horizontal Heech Lovers, 2008,  Edition of 6, Bronze, 53 x 72 x 43 cm; Literature: Parviz Tanavoli 'Monograph', 2009, illustrated p.319.

 Via Iran Heritage Foundation and Austin/Desmond Fine Art

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian art on sale at Sotheby's London

Sotheby’s London announced a sale of Modern and Contemporary art by Arab and Iranian artists will take place on Tuesday, 4 October 

 Left: Bahman Mohasses's "Untitled"; Middle: Hadieh Shafie's "10450 Pages"; Right: Ferhad Moshiri's "Blue Dome"

Comprised of 123 lots, the sale will include major works by leading modern masters such as Louay Kayyali, Fateh Moudarres and Aref el Rayess, as well as key pieces by some of the foremost contemporary artists, among them Farhad Moshiri, Ziad Antar and Yousef Nabil.

The sale will also be highlighted by seven Iraqi works, including a work by Jawad Salim. The sale is expected to realise in excess of £2.5 million.

Following on from the success of Sotheby’s 2010 Contemporary Arab and Iranian sale, Sotheby’s will present two works by Sohrab Sepehri and Bahman Mohasses. Mohasses’s Untitled (estimated £50,000- 70,000) provides an enlightening perspective into the isolated nature of Mohasses' disposition. He felt confined by his Iranian identity when he was living in Rome and by developing his distinct style, he fell further into fashioning fresco-style paintings juxtaposed with harsh realism.

Sohrab Sepehri’s Tree Trunks Series was painted during a spell in New York. The trees were a solace to the artist and became an escape from the hustle of Manhattan and the pressures on his time. One of the most highly acclaimed and reserved of Iran's modern masters, Sohrab Sepehri, poet and artist, has left an indelible mark on the Iranian art scene. His Untitled from this important series, is estimated at £200,000-300,000.

A group of three distinct works by Farhad Moshiri represent three stages in the artist’s personal artistic development. An early work by Moshiri, Blue Dome (From the Persian Motif Series) was painted at a time of hopefulness and perhaps rediscovery, when Iran was opening up to the West. This work is estimated at £60,000-80,000.  Space Station is one of Moshiri's most striking hand embroidered works to come to public auction. Estimated at £100,000- 150,000, Space Station epitomises the artist’s experimentation in juxtaposing the crafts of Iran with the modernity of the West.

The third work by Moshiri is his 9's On Yellow, estimated at £150,000-250,000.

A very exciting work in the New Artists component of the sale is Iranian artist Hadieh Shafie’s 10450 Pages, estimated at £4,000-6,000. Process, repetition and time are all essential to Shafie’s oeuvre; all of which is rooted in the influence of Islamic arts and crafts. Shafie has been shortlisted for this year's Jameel Prize to be awarded at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London at the end of September.

Also included in the sale is Iranian artist Navid Nuur, who exhibited in this year's Arsenale at the Venice Biennale, showing two works from the same series as the present work. Inspired by the monochrome works of artists such as Anish Kapoor and Mark Rothko, Nuur observed that these artworks all feed from a certain eye coordination movement; the same movement used when looking at any single monochrome work. His Study (From The Eye Codex Of The Monochrome Series), executed in 1984-2010, is a unique work estimated at £3,000-4,000.

A particular highlight is the appearance of Scratching on Things I Could Disavow Parts 2 & 3 by leading Lebanese artist Walid Raad, whose work focuses on researching, documenting and preserving the contemporary history of Lebanon. Scratching on Things I Could Disavow Parts 2 & 3 is estimated at £15,000-20,000.

Sotheby’s sale of Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art will offer seven works by seven Iraqi artists, collectively estimated at £182,000-248,000. Artists working in Iraq, in the 1970s were notably active in the art world, exhibiting in Biennales and creating excitement across the Arab world and beyond.

Highlighting the Iraqi Art component is Jawad Salim, a decisive figure in the Iraqi movement. His Portrait Of A Girl (circa 1950), is estimated at £70,000-90,000. His capacity to create remarkable sculptures and paintings inevitably led to his impact on the history of Iraqi art.

A further highlight from the Iraq component of the sale is Dia Azzawi’s Visit Of Al Kassim  (est. £20,000-30,000).

The sale will also include a section of 10 Contemporary Iranian works donated by artists which will be sold to benefit children’s charity Kids Company. Founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1996, the charity provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable children and young people. Kids Company have a hugely successful arts programme, encompassing visual arts, new media, fashion, music, drama and dance.

Via Ahram Online