Friday, 29 June 2012

Prints of Persia

Contemporary Iranian art defies stereotypes of a narrow-minded culture.

Contemporary Iranian Art Exhibition at New Albion Gallery opens on Thursday 5th July and runs until August 4. 
 Barbad Golshiri, Quad, 2010, type C print, 106.5 x 106.5 cm (The same size as Malevich's Black Square [1913]), edition of 9, Image courtesy of New Albion Gallery

Lynne Dwyer, SMH

Iran is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a burqa. In the West, it's a nation defined by stereotypes of religious fanaticism, female oppression and human-rights violations. Yet the latest cultural evidence coming out of Tehran would have you think otherwise.

Art, a window into a society's heart, is thriving in the Iranian capital and the West is taking notice. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is now showing work by modern Iranian artists and one of London's Asian art specialists, Rossi & Rossi gallery, held a show by Iranian women last year. In Sydney, the largest exhibition of contemporary Iranian art in Australia opens on Thursday at New Albion Gallery, covering themes of identity, the pull of modernity against tradition and female independence.

Iranian artist, critic and university lecturer Behrang Samadzadegan says: ''I can see a sort of anarchistic art in this new generation of artists … I call them the Tehran hip-hop generation.

''You see the very beautiful pop-art image but with a lot of radical and anarchistic context in it,'' he says.

''They are always narrating stories about politics and the social situation of life and all the stories you hear in the news about Iran right now.''

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Fighting Flags

by Tamzin Baker, Guernica

As a child, Sara Rahbar was scolded for refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag. Her command of English was basic, and she didn’t understand why her classmates stood with their hands over their hearts. The flag returned to haunt her shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. She was going to her parents’ Persian restaurant in Queens when her mother called to tell her that someone had threatened the family and ordered them to hang an American flag in the restaurant’s window. “It was a terrifying moment,” she remembers. “I looked for one everywhere, but I couldn’t find a single American flag. I returned to the restaurant with an image I found on the Web.” The murder of a Sikh man who lived in the neighborhood prompted Rahbar to stop speaking Farsi in public for a time. In 2004, Rahbar left New York City for London to study painting at St. Martin’s School of Art and Design; there, fueled by anger and loneliness, she conceived her first flag. (Slideshow “here”)

 The flags serve as poignant metaphors fashioned from fragments of Persian fabric, embroidery, gun saddles, and flagellation whips used by Shiite men during the month of Muharram.

Little did Rahbar know that the piece of art would soon blossom into an acclaimed body of work that today includes forty-four hybrid Iranian-American flags made from fragments of Persian fabric, embroidery, gun saddles, and flagellation whips used by Shiite men during the month of Muharram. These works have become poignant metaphors for a large constituency of Iranians and Iranian-Americans in search of democratic pluralism, a compromise between Islamic faith and liberal values. Rahbar assigns melancholy titles to many of her tapestries such as Whatever we had to lose we lost, and in a moonless sky we marched, Flag #41 (2009), which will be on display from June 12th to September 12th at the Palais des Arts et du Festival in Dinard, France. She also currently has an exhibition at the Pompidou Center, on view until February 2011, which showcases her work alongside more than two hundred women artists including Frida Kahlo and Sophie Calle. Flag #41 depicts portraits of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy beside a drawing of the White House, incandescent beneath a starry sky. The flag echoes her own journey to the United States shortly following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. For seven nights, five-year-old Rahbar and her family hiked through snow-covered valleys heading for Turkey en route to New York.

Paris hosts Iranian arts festival

A festival of contemporary Iranian art, Iranian Arts Now, is taking place in Paris until the end of June. It is art in its broadest sense; visual arts, performances, music, dance, film and design.

Arash Fayez is one of four photographers whose work is on show. Describing himself as a conceptual artist, his pictures examine political propaganda, the line between truth and fiction and where it blurs.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

An Iranian Jeff Wall?

Mitra Tabrizian's first solo show at Leila Heller Gallery runs through July 7.
City, London 2008, 2008, C-type photographic print, 48 x 98.5 in / 122 x 250 cm, Edition of 5, 2 APs, Image courtesy Leila Heller Gallery

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Marry Me Till The End Of Love

A New Interactive Live Sculpture

Curated by: Fereshteh Daftari, 23-30 June 2012
Watch Live Stream at Amir Baradaran: Saturday 23 June 2012 6-9pm (Paris Time)

Image courtesy Amir Baradaran

Amir Baradaran announces a new interactive performance—his wedding to anyone and everyone he can convince to enter a temporary marriage (Mut'ah/Sigheh). This pronouncement of marriage also functions as an invitation, where participants are welcome to wed Baradaran’s live sculpture and become an element in both Baradaran’s body of work and the larger schema of performance art.

The collaborative performance is an attempt to introduce temporary marriage into the performance art lexicon and playfully question the recent and perplexing push by "progressives" to "include" same-sex couples in the definition of marriage. When asked about his lack of enthusiasm regarding gay marriage, Baradaran says, “it is ironic that to be considered progressive today, one must adopt a conventional attitude and conform to the confines of a failing conservative institution.”

Baradaran’s fascination with temporary marriage stems from its recognition that love and desire are temporal, shifting, and always changing. Moreover, Sigheh sheds light on the transactional aspect of any relationship. But above all, this Islamic edict, also known as “pleasure marriage,” permits desire for desire’s sake rather than for procreation. Baradaran asserts that, “although Sigheh may not be egalitarian at its core—for example, women must either be widowed or divorced to seek partners for pleasure—introducing Sigheh into conversations about marriage and sexuality throws the paradigm off kilter, just enough, to open up new understandings and lines of inquiry.”

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Red Ink

What happens when censorship becomes an artistic device? 
Image from Flickr via j. verspeelt, Courtesy Guernica

by Tomas Hachard, Guernica

There’s a Communist joke that the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek loves to tell about the tricky nature of freedom of speech. A man moves from East Germany to Siberia, where he knows his letters will be censored. He establishes a code with his friends: anything written in blue ink is honest and true; anything written in red ink is false and only there to get the truth past the censors. A month goes by and the man’s friends receive a letter written in blue ink: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theaters show good films from the West. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.”

Speaking at Zuccotti Park, Zizek interpreted the joke as an allegory for the West (we have the freedom to do whatever we want but dissent; we have everything but red ink). But in his 2002 book, Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Zizek points out the subversive quality of the joke. In the absence of red ink, the letter writer still manages to get the truth about conditions of life in Siberia past the censors. The letter, the friends know, should have been written in red ink. The joke is about the illusion of freedom, but it is also about the various manipulations and contrivances to which individuals—or, for my present interest, works of art—must resort if they are to not only speak truth to power in the face of censorship, but, much more simply, speak truth at all.
Not surprisingly, then, Circumstance is a movie about escape, about hoping for change and then realizing that fleeing is the only option.
In the past year, three movies were released about Iran that found distinctive ways of eluding censorship in order to give us an intimate view of the effects of repression on individuals living in that country. Circumstance, A Separation , and This Is Not a Film have making-of stories closely tied to Iran’s lack of free speech; the first was filmed in Lebanon, the second was approved by Iranian censors, the third had to be snuck out of the country in a cake in order to be screened. But these films are not only noteworthy examples of works that “maintain resistance in the face of seemingly absolute power,” as Edward Wong wrote about Ai Weiwei in the New York Times. They share a specific form of resistance that provides a vision of the personal weight of repression, a notion of Iranian society as an enclosure that divides and slowly suffocates the individual, and, to differing degrees, a sense that such a situation cannot go on much longer without either the necessity of escape, a slow spiritual death, or, most radically, an outbreak of violence.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Things We Left Unsaid

Zoya Pirzad is a renowned Iranian-Armenian writer and novelist. She has written two novels and three collections of short stories, all of which have enjoyed international success. Things We Left Unsaid has been awarded multiple prizes, including the prestigious Houshang Golshiri award for Best Novel of the Year and her most recent collection of stories, The Bitter Taste of Persimmon, won the prize for Best Foreign Book of 2009 in France. She grew up in Abadan, where this novel is set, and now lives in Tehran.

About the Novel

A model wife and mother, Clarisse leads an unremarkable life. She has all she's ever wanted: a well-respected engineer husband and three children, tucked away in a wealthy, middle-class neighbourhood. But her tranquillity ends forever with the arrival of an enigmatic Armenian family across the street. The debonair widower, his beguiling tween daughter, and his mother, a domineering aristocrat with an exotic past, steal their way into Clarisse's home. Before she has time to understand what's happening, passions, politics, and a plague of locusts have whipped up emotions that she never knew she had. Suddenly, there are options, opinions, and desires, a wholly different life ready for the taking - but only if she can figure out what they are. Things We Left Unsaid is a humourous yet poignant insight into the hopes and aspirations of Iranians in the years that led to the Islamic Revolution.

Excerpt from Chapter 9

I went inside and locked the door behind me. In Abadan, nobody locked the door in the middle of the day; I only did so when I wanted to make sure I was alone. My penchant for self-criticism meant that I had challenged myself on this more than once: What does locking the door have to do with being alone? To which I always answered: I don’t know. I leaned up against the door and closed my eyes. After the bright light and heat outdoors, and the noise of the children, the cool, quiet chiaroscuro of the house was lovely. The only sound was the monotonous humming of the air conditioners, and the only smell, a hint of Artoush’s cologne hanging in the hallway. I felt like having a coffee.

I looked at the kitchen clock. It was just before ten. Mother and Alice would certainly turn up within half an hour. I’ll wait¸ I thought, so we can have coffee together, and took the pack of cigarettes out of the fridge. Where had I heard that cigarettes would not go stale if kept in the fridge? I didn’t smoke much, but when the house was empty, I liked to sit by the window in the green leather armchair, lean back, puff, and think. In these rare moments of solitude, I tried not to think about daily chores like fixing dinner, getting Armen to study, Artoush’s forgetfulness and indifference. I would reminisce about things I usually didn’t have time to think about. Like our house in Tehran – its little yard and big rooms, its long hallway that was dark even in the middle of the day. My father used to come home at noon, wash his hands and face, sit down at the table and eat a big lunch. He ate whatever Mother had prepared that day with great enthusiasm, listening attentively to her recount the morning’s events in minute detail: how the watermelon she had purchased proved pale and unripe once cut open. About the rising price of pinto beans. About the fights between me and Alice, which were a daily occurrence. Father would mutter things under his breath that we could not quite make out, or if we could, we would not remember. Then he would get up from the table, thank Mother for lunch, and head down to his room, at the end of the somber hallway. It was a small room with brown velvet curtains, always drawn, and cluttered with stuff that Mother would constantly complain about, saying, ‘Why do you keep this junk?!’

Thursday, 7 June 2012

After fleeing Tehran, three young Iranians release album in adoptive US

The Iranian post-punk band Yellow Dogs - Obaash, 23, guitar and vocals, Looloosh, 25, guitar and synthesiser, Koory, 23, bass, synthesiser and backing vocals and Arash, 26, drums, all of whom go by their first names only - fled possible arrest in Tehran to settle in Brooklyn, New York, in 2010 and chase the rock'n'roll dream. Their EP Upper Class Complexity was released on May 9.

by Mark Lepage, The National

How do you play in a rock'n'roll band when it's illegal?

We all met in 2006 through the skate park in Tehran - skaters, punk rockers, it was a Shangri-la for rock'n'rollers, that kind of subculture. We were underground. Our rehearsal space had soundproofed walls. There is the ministry of culture in Iran and any sort of art you wanna do, you have to get their permission. But getting their permission is so hard - you have to play the music that they want. So we went underground all the way. Playing concerts was a really, really risky thing to do, but back then we were 18-year-old kids, so we didn't care.

Was it dangerous? 

Yes. You could be arrested, and the punishment was unpredictable. They could send you to jail for a couple of years, or fine you, or lash you - the lash is such a common punishment in the court system of Iran.

Then how did you find out about western rock'n'roll?

We grew up as teenagers listening to The Clash, the Sex Pistols, then as we got older we got into more electronic music. We basically downloaded it all - with a faulty internet speed. I remember there was a time when you would start the download, go to bed and when you woke up, you had it in your computer.

How did people hear about you? I mean, the Iranian rock scene isn't very prominent internationally.

We were in this movie [No One Knows About Persian Cats which received the audience prize at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2009] by Bahman Ghobadi, this famous Iranian director, made about our scene and the general underground scene in Tehran, including hip-hop artists, not just rock'n'roll. That film got huge [it won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2009] and suddenly brought a lot of attention to the scene, especially the government's attention, which sucked. We were afraid of getting caught. We had cops taking pictures of us, so we were paranoid. We wanted to go to America, but we had no passports.

We had a lot of problems getting out of Iran, but we did it at the right time, when the movie was everywhere. We sorted all the paperwork and went to America to play. First we came with an artist visa, then we got political asylum. Now we're a travelling band, but we're based in America. Our first stop will be Istanbul.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Painted Politics: The Mural in Modern Iran

Rain bird by Mehdi Ghadyanloo, 2012, Image courtesy Mehdi Ghadyanloo

by Bahamin Azadi, Tehran Bureau

The history of mural painting returns to the first efforts of human beings to trace their experiences and thoughts in pictorial form in an effort to communicate and adorn their lives. The term comes from the Latin word murus, "wall." Urban murals are distinct from other forms of painting in that they bear the feature of "publicity" -- in other words, a painting that is created in public for the public. 

In the modern era, across different societies and cultures, mural painting has generally reflected the political atmosphere of the time. Murals have been used to express protest and a desire for emancipation. Through their use of symbols, murals have the power to express narratives that promote social awareness and a variety of minority and socioeconomic class viewpoints. 

Bringing art into the public sphere is one of the most important characteristics of murals. In numerous societies -- especially ones, such as postrevolutionary Iran, that are highly politicized -- they tend to express the ideological values of the state because they are almost invariably commissioned and sponsored by the government or its affiliated organs. Art, and in this specific case, murals, can perform the role of a vital medium for the expression of ideological, economic, social, and cultural change. This is because they are a "place" where everyday life, publicity, and artistic expression cross paths.

The Mexican muralist art movement, identified with painters such as Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and José Orozco, is perhaps the best-known of this genre. Other countries with important traditions of political mural painting include Northern Ireland, Colombia, and East Germany. In each, murals played an important role in reflecting changes in the political culture through the depiction of subjects ranging from religion to sex. 

Murals in modern Iran and elsewhere have often served the role of creating public awareness of certain issues and in decisive ways performed the function of sociopolitical critique, as well as reinforcing political and community identities. The mural has the power to act as a mediator between the public, the government, and artists. This relationship is complex and very prickly at times, especially when, as is so often the case in Iran, art is politicized and politics is aestheticized.