Art Aware is a non-profit-making blog that monitors all that’s interesting in the world of contemporary art, literature and culture in Iran and in the Iranian worldwide diaspora.
It is a review and commentary of new exhibitions, events and developments in art media in Iran and in the West. I am a working artist and also an academic art historian.
learn about Iran on most any newscast on any day, but what, really, do you know
of Iranian people? Iranian culture? Iranian art?
anti-American protests in the streets of Tehran, or we see the president of
Iran giving endless, hateful speeches that reliably ramble into incoherence.
That’s about all we see of Iran, and of Iranians.
think in North America of Iran is burdened by media images, by news stories
that are all about politics and about very difficult things,” says Andrea
Fitzpatrick, an assistant professor in the visual arts department at the
University of Ottawa, and curator of a new exhibition of contemporary Iranian
photographs and video at SAW Gallery. “In this exhibition you will not see
those issues. It’s not that the exhibition is a clouding over or white-washing,
but the art is . . . not about political issues.”
seems a political opportunity lost, consider the alternative value of seeing
everyday Iranians doing the everyday things that consume most of their lives.
This is the quotidian Iran, the real Iran, an insight into the private lives of
the Iranian public.
a bridge, in that the photographic concepts, techniques and styles on display
are universal, and therefore drive home the understanding — perhaps for some
viewers the revelation — that Iranians aren’t that much different from us
in the west. Only the motifs and themes make the photographs and videos
distinctly Iranian, and they are more easily digested by western viewers
precisely because they are wrapped in familiar aesthetics.
basically,” Fitzpatrick says, “how artists are representing ancient Persian
history or those traditions, some of which are pre-Islamic, using contemporary
digital technology . . . in a way that is aesthetically sophisticated and could
be understood by international art audiences.”
From "The Emperor's New Clothes," by Melika Shafahi, in the exhibition of contemporary Iranian photography at SAW Gallery. Image courtesy of Ottawa Citizen Blogs
example of this may be The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Melika Shafahi, an
Iranian expat who lives in Lyon, France. (All other artists are from Tehran,
except for Raheleh Saneie, a young video artist from Ottawa.)
photo, in addition to alluding to a Western folktale, is compositionally
inspired by Caravaggio. Anyone who saw Caravaggio’s masterful paintings at the
National Gallery last summer will see his influence in the noir-ish lighting,
and in the theatrical poses of the people who all lean dramatically into the
centre of the frame. This is a blend of the Muslim east and the secular or
Catholic west, and one that would never be shown in a public gallery in Iran,
due to the exposed skin of the woman at the centre of the trio.
photos rely on digital trickery to achieve their results, and they sometimes
challenge Fitzpatrick’s desire to keep politics out of it. Sadegh Tirafkan’s Multitude
#3 shows a crowd of women enjoying the rare opportunity to attend a soccer
match. Tirafkan has superimposed over the women an ancient pattern of Persian
carpet – which to me says, “see how so much time has passed, yet still Iran
represses its women.”
Najaf Shokri's bachelor photos, in Cipher, an exhibition of contemporary
Iranian photography at SAW Gallery. Image courtesy of Ottawa Citizen Blogs
photos are less posed, with no obvious digital modification, and as a result
perhaps give the most genuine and intimate view into the daily existence of
average Iranians. Najaf Shokri takes us into a bachelor pad, where single men
lounge amid the familiar accoutrements of any western man-cave – a flat-screen
TV, a computer with a dating site displayed on its screen, and posters of Al
Pacino and Che Guevara on the walls.
bachelor photos differ starkly from western norms is in the physical intimacy
the Iranian men show to each other, in ways that are homoerotic by western
standards but are not seen as such in Iran. “Men are much more affectionate to
each other in Iran, so here there will be different readings,” Fitzpatrick
Asgari-Tari's photo on the salt flats of Iran, in Cipher, an exhibition of
contemporary Iranian photography at SAW Gallery. Image courtesy of Ottawa Citizen Blogs
photos in the exhibition are printed in large format – four feet in length –
and have tremendous visual impact. Mehrdad Asgari-Tari has digitally inserted a
woman in scarf and sunglasses in seven poses, all set on a vast salt flat, with
day-trippers in the background. The narrow and wide expanses of blue sky and
white salt are vivid and arresting.
the photograph mean? I can’t tell you, maybe nothing. Like Jalal Sepehr’s photo
of a Persian carpet fluttering downward – as if it fell out of the domed and
ornate ceiling above – it is beautiful. It’s as if we westerners can stick out
heads up through the hole in Sepehr’s ceiling and see a view into the very
heart of Persia, and perhaps for the very first time.
by Jalal Sepehr, in the exhibition of contemporary Iranian photography at SAW
Gallery. Image courtesy of Ottawa Citizen Blogs