No Subject was the unusual title of an exhibition of contemporary Iranian art featuring the work of ten young artists based in Tehran. Curator Vida Haideri chose this title because rather than restricting the show to a single theme, she wanted to focus on the ideas of each artist. The show features a diversity of media, subjects and styles. As expected, many of the artworks reflect the uneasy atmosphere prevailing in Iran and the region.
Sara Abbasian and Katayun Karami's depiction of the political scenario is more graphic. In Abbasian's dark marker drawings, the eagle — a symbol of strength and courage — has been reduced to bones and crucified. On the other hand, Karami expresses her own fears and her desire for change and breaking free through a self-portrait framed in shattered glass, titled Have a Break.
Kimia Rahgozar's black-and-white photographic works feature multiple exposure images of silhouettes of men and women who appear to be lost in their dreams. "The idea behind this work was to peek into the imaginations of these people. While shooting on one negative, I have to imagine the final result, hence the process of creating these artworks is similar to the concept itself," the artist says.
Kambiz Sabri presents a more tangible version of his dream of a secure world in his series of fibreglass mattresses. In Sometimes Happens, a bunch of twigs on the mattress represent the worries that we take with us to bed. And in Childhood Dreams, dolls emerging from the mattress symbolise forgotten childhood dreams. But the artist sends a message of hope with A House On the Other Side of the Night, which features people coming out of their confined spaces to explore new horizons and realise their dreams.
"I chose a mattress to represent our dreams and the many layers of our lives because it is a symbol of a safe and joyous world. We are placed on it after we are born, we sleep on it, dream on it and spend happy moments on it," the artist says.
A recurrent theme in the artworks is nostalgia — perhaps driven by a desire to escape from the gloomy present and reconnect with childhood dreams. Niloofar Rahnama's pencil sketches depict her carefree childhood of climbing trees and playing on the swing. But mingled with the sketches are a series of light boxes carrying dark and hazy childhood memories. A closer look reveals that these dark figures have been cut out from MRI scans of patients to comment on our polluted environment and diseased society. "All I see today is a murky haze. So going back to old memories represents a subconscious yearning to recreate my childhood dreams and soar to new heights," she says.
Samira Alikhanzadeh's walk down memory lane involves using old family photographs borrowed from friends. Through mirrors placed on the eyes of these strangers, she looks for herself and seeks a connection with unknown aspects of her own personality and the past. "Old family albums incite my imagination. And by placing mirrors and non-reflecting mirror patterns on the photographs, I like to play with the idea of absence and presence and of getting lost in the folds of time," she says. But besides nostalgia, images such as Sweet Nightmare, which depicts a child on a rocking horse, also express fear about the future.
Mahta Saghafi's childish collages of bizarre figures and imaginary wonderlands come from her own imagination and express her concerns about issues of gender, adulthood and the chaos around her. In contrast with her colourful drawings, Taha Haideri's paintings are done in black-and-white. Titled Last Night, the series is about a dream of a warm conversation taking place in a cold city. The city of Tehran seems frozen in time and cracking on the surface, while the people from his dream are depicted as a hazy presence. The paintings are coupled with clocks that move backwards. These artworks provoke viewers to think about the identity of the people, the nature and intention of the conversation, the present political situation and the possibility of turning back time — either to reach a better place or to undo the past and make a fresh beginning.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.