Tuesday, 31 July 2012

War in the Iranian Theater

A terrified stupor in the realm of the absurd.
by Arts Correspondent, Tehran Bureau

Three years have passed since the last presidential election and its violent aftermath. Three years are nothing. But strangely, most of the Iranians I know don't talk about those events anymore. No significant tribute has been paid even on Facebook, though the occurrences of June 2009 were instrumental in establishing it as the virtual theater of political protest.

Could anyone not recall what happened? It is difficult to forget such traumatic violence and humiliation. But memory is a strange thing, it changes over time, and the artistic expression of painful events transforms as well. I have in mind a play I saw in February, during the 30th Fajr International Theater Festival: Two Liters by Two Liters of Peace, written and directed by Hamid Reza Azarang.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Birth of the Iranian Vampire Western

One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilisation represses and oppresses - Robin Wood
 Never seen an Iranian vampire Western flick? Neither have we!

by Sara Zia Ebrahimi, REORIENT

Ana Lily Amirpour is an Iranian-American screenwriter and director of narrative films and music videos, whose work has been screened at festivals around the globe, and honoured with prestigious international awards. Ana, along with lawyer and producer Sina Sayyah, is the co-founder of Say Ahh … Productions, whose team is gearing up to shoot a groundbreaking new feature length film, entitled A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I recently sat down with Lily to ask her about the film, which is being hailed as the ‘first Iranian Vampire Western’.

SZE: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Nightis a unique mix of genres. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the project? You’ve noted David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish as influences, but what inspired the overall idea for melding all these inspirations together to create an Iranian vampire film?

When you’re this indie, a lot of the film grows out of necessity. Like, ‘I have to somehow make a film. This is generally what I’d like the genre to be – now what else do I have, and what can I do with that’, you know?  So I had this deep desire to have my first feature be an Iranian film, but it’s not like I could shoot in Iran. So I thought, I’ll make my own place, like an Iranian Gotham – and I invented Bad City. I had these actors whom I wanted to work with, so I actually wrote the parts with them in mind, and there was this desert ghost town near where I grew up which became the location, and these amazing Iranian musicians I know, and a badass Iranian graffiti artist, and a 57 T-Bird also came into the picture. So it started from there and very quickly came together.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Women's Life

This is a 3 minute video about the series of paintings Women's Life 
with a narration by the artist Aida Foroutan.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

It’s a Man’s World

Interview with Shurooq Amin, Kuwait’s Rebel with a Cause
Shurooq Amin, My Harem in Heaven, Image courtesy REORIENT

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT

On March 5, 2012, just three hours after opening, Shurooq Amin’s highly anticipated exhibition at Kuwait’s AI M. Gallery, It’s a Man’s World, was shut down. Commencing at 8 PM, the exhibition attracted a large number of people, and Amin managed to sell a few pieces, although by 10 PM, the local police stormed the scene, and began questioning both Amin and the gallery owner. Apparently, the authorities had been informed that Amin’s work was of a ‘pornographic’ nature, and as such, could not be shown in Kuwait. As the evening progressed, more and more officials arrived at the galleries, taking pictures of Amin’s paintings to send to the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce. Needless to say, in the end all of Amin’s paintings were taken down, and the exhibition was cancelled.

Although various accounts of the incident exist in both Arab and Western media, I talked to the woman behind the paintings herself, to hear her side of the story. As Amin would say, this is the story heard straight from the horse’s mouth!

Saturday, 7 July 2012


An exhibition of emerging Iranian Art
Mise–en–scène is shown at Etemad Gallery Dubai until 28th July
 Farniyaz Zaker, Puppet behind the curtain, Puppet behind the window, 2012, is a new interpretation of Sadegh Hedayat’s popular short story of the same name which details the accounts of a young man who falls in love with a mannequin in a shop window. Image courtesy of Etemad Gallery

by Paul McLoughlin, Brownbook

As one of the best representatives of Iranian art outside the country, Etemad Gallery Dubai continues to push the envelope in promoting emerging Persian artists. Etemad’s latest exhibition is testament to this, bringing together some of Iran’s brightest young artists in Dubai through a mixed media display entitled mise–en–scène.

The exhibition includes the work of contemporary artists such as Ghazaleh Avarzamani, Pedram Baldari, Mostafa Choobtarash, Elnaz Farajollahi, Arash Fesharaki and Farniyaz Zaker combining painting, photography, sculpture and film. Subjects often deal with contemporary issues through traditional modes of expression such as Choobtarash’s pop art-inspired paintings that references Persian folk tales. Jareh Das from Etemad Gallery Dubai says of the exhibition, ‘mise–en–scène brings together the works of emerging artists from Iran, showcasing the diverse practices, influences and approaches adopted by a new generation of Iranian artists.’

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A Defiant Beauty

Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection at the Met” is on view until September 3, 2012 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(L) Faces #10 Y.Z. Kami  (American, born Iran, Teheran 1956),1992 , Oil on canvas, H. 22, W. 14 inches (55.9 x 35.6 cm.), Image courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
(R) "Way In Way Out": Women of Allah Shirin Neshat  (Iranian, born 1957), 1994, Ink on photograph, H. 12, W. 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm.), Image courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Given the media’s almost daily drumbeat reporting the ill will, distrust, and unveiled hostility defining today’s Iran, it seems not only implausible but foolhardy to believe that art – whether good or bad – can be created in such a benighted place. The coupling of art and Iran may be oxymoronic, but the current installation, Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, displaying seven works by six contemporary Iranian artists spanning three generations, puts a powerful lie to notions that nothing good or beautiful can come out of that deeply scarred land.

The Met has been collecting contemporary Iranian art since 1993, its earliest objects acquired by the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and in 2011, the Department of Islamic Art began to collect in this area.

The artists – Monir  Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (born 1924), Afruz Amighi (b. 1974), Ali Benisadr (b. 1976), Y.Z. Kami (b. 1956), Shirin Neshat (b. 1957), and Parviz Tanavoli (b. 1937) – are living cross-sections of modern-day Iran, not only by age and gender (Farmanfarmaian, Amighi, and Neshat are women), but most significantly by their socio-political messages and their chosen artistic media to communicate their respective visions. While all are natives of Tehran, four of the six make their home in the United States or Canada, and the remaining two continue to work in Iran. Within their essential diversity, each artist addresses the larger issues of identity, gender, religion and politics, evoking at the same time nostalgia and pride in a rich artistic and cultural heritage.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Whimsical Cool

At play in a painter's mental universe.

by Setareh Sabety, Tehran Bureau

On a beautiful sun-splashed Sunday in May, I went to visit Manou Marzban at his studio-villa in a fishing village a few miles up the coast from Cannes.

Manou is the sort of man whom everyone sooner or later loves. He is full of himself, but in a good way. His character is so large, so generous, and so vibrant that people find themselves happy in his company. His enthusiasm is contagious.

The son of an Iranian diplomat who served under the Shah, Manou was educated in Britain and the United States. As the eldest son of a family in exile, he was not able to pursue his passion for art as a young man, opting instead for an MBA and a corporate career. Perhaps it is this latent desire, now happily released, that makes his art to explode with youthful panache. It is the art of an inner boy set free.

Visiting his studio, I was moved by how much it reflected him. Not in the heavy sense of expressing his anxieties or "demons," but in the childlike, whimsical manner of artists who have approached art as play. His art is dramatic, thought-provoking, but above all beautifully animated and colorful.

A renovated and refitted boat garage serves as Manou's studio and gallery. It displays the artist's paintings, drawings, and sculptures. But it does more than that. The place itself is an art installation, with the artist's jet black 1973 Corvette Stingray as its proud centerpiece.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Reversing the Stereotypes

by Roxane Zand, Sotheby's

As a student I was a great fan of Edward Said’s Orientalism and used to feel offended by the vague, notional stereotypes that the West held about Middle Easterners. That sensitivity has been turned on its head in recent times with Middle Eastern artists ready to invert the very elements and aspects that used to caused offence.

Take Shirin Neshat’s series of Stills from her film Women Without Men. The other day I was arrested by a print from the series hanging on the ground floor at Sotheby’s New Bond Street. Zarin, the subject of the film, lies crumpled in the foetal position, her anguish contrasted and witnessed so poignantly by the Western icons that surround her.

Shirin Neshat’s Zarin in Bedroom, a still from her celebrated film Women Without Men. Sold for £17,500 in the Contemporary Art Day sale in London on 27 June. Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Her exotic-looking bedroom could be a Moroccan or even Ottoman brothel, although it actually references Tehran’s seamy ‘shahr-I naw.’ While the images of Elvis Presley and Deborah Kerr evoke so many layers of meaning!

For those of us who remember the smoke-filled cinemas of Tehran or Cairo or Baghdad, these actors were not brands the way film stars are today, but larger-than-life characters that symbolized the golden era of Hollywood. I simply love what Shirin has achieved in this series, and totally covet the one that hangs in the study of my good friend Layla Diba in NYC. Just the other day Susanne, another friend who collects Iranian art, showed me the image of her latest acquisition and yes, it was one of these and yes, I felt a pang of envy!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Fire of Joy

The exhibition “Fire of Joy” runs until July 28 at Galerie Perrotin

Inspired by Pop Art, Farhad Moshiri has developed a remarkable and hybrid visual language that draws at once from popular Iranian and Western cultures: “The Iranians are searching for their identity. Depending on their mood, they lean towards the East or the West. Iran is undergoing an inevitable phenomenon that complicates, confounds and diversifies traditions. This is why I am just as inspired by the mall or the bazaar as I am by the ornamentation aesthetic that belongs to Iranian culture.”

In the exhibition Fire of Joy, the artist continues to draw upon the traditional “feminine” technique of bead embroidery for its ornamental qualities, which he combines with thick layers of acrylic and gold leaf. He is here playing upon the concept of “happiness”, which for him leaves greater place for sarcasm and cynicism.

Here Iranian craftsmanship and pop culture merge or often confront each other with irony by using as much the advertising aesthetics for housewives of the 1950’s, Curl, as the popular western icons of comics, Uncaged, Breath. In a country that is mistrustful of representation, Moshiri, like a collector or antique hunter, lifts all kinds of images from daily life such as emblems of kitsch, censored photos, childish motifs and western advertising: “I like to uncover things that have no artistic pretention, that have been created by others and strive to recondition them in the form of works of art.”

In Anatomy of a Woman 2, for example, an icon of Persian tradition is treated like an anatomical image. In Mystery Man a face covered with coloured circles refers to the fuzzy faces of censorship and in God the word repeated infinitely on extremely coloured and sparkling backgrounds such as luminous signs functions like a slogan. Through these effects of juxtaposition, stereotypes and sacred or taboo references — the female body, censorship, God — Moshiri’s language reveals his powerful dissidence defined in relation with other things in a playful, offbeat manner.