Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Savushun: A Novel about Modern Iran

Published over 40 years ago, Simin Daneshvar’s masterpiece shows no signs of wear

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT

This March, Iran lost one of its most beloved writers. Simin Daneshvar, one of those rare, exceptional talents from the country’s literary renaissance of the mid-Twentieth Century – a period from which only vestiges now remain – produced one of the most widely read and printed Persian novels of all time. Since its initial publication in 1969, Savushun has sold over half a million copies in Iran alone, has gone through roughly 16 printings, and has been translated in over 15 languages. Indeed, from both a literary and commercial perspective, the novel was nothing short of groundbreaking.

Simin Daneshvar & Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Image courtesy REORIENT

Set in Shiraz during the period of the Allied occupation of Iran (1941 – 1945), which saw Iran at its most abject state in decades, Savushun brilliantly captures the essence and spirit of the era, as seen through the eyes of Zari, a young wife and mother. After deposing of Reza Shah, the then-ruler of Iran, for his unwillingness to provide support against the Germans, among other things, the Allied forces – particularly Britain and Russia – placed the young Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the last Shah) on the throne, and for all practical purposes, occupied the country. While the Russians exercised their influence in the North, the British took control of the oil-rich South.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

I Dream of Jeannie: I See Demons

Iranian-American Artist Eric Parnes Dreams of “Jeannie” in His Middle Eastern Solo Debut
  "Dreaming of Jinn I," 2012, photographic print. Image courtesy of Artinfo

This fall the Iranian-American artist Eric Parnes will be granted his wish, premiering new works inspired by the Orientalist 1960s TV sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie” in his first solo show in the Middle East at Doha's Katara Cultural Village. The exhibition, “I Dream of Jeannie: I See Demons” (October 23-November 24), takes its cues from the same-named Barbara Eden star vehicle, which ran from 1965 to 1970 on NBC and shaped the way American audiences thought about the Middle East long before the war on terror and the Arab Spring.

Parnes, whose work often applies Iranian iconography, text, textile, and ceramic patterns to incongruous mass-produced objects like soccer balls, deck chairs, or cars, coined the term “Neo Orientalism™” to describe what he calls in his artist's statement “a specific notation of aesthetic exchange between the East and the West within the framework of popular culture.” It refers not only to Westerners' enduring habit of seeing the Middle East as an otherworldly and exotic place, but also tracks the effects of this apparent exoticism when it is seen by Middle Eastern audiences.

In a variation on the Neo Orientalism theme, his Doha exhibition will include “Dreaming of Jinn,” an image of a Middle Eastern woman wearing the same hot pink veil donned by Eden as the show's main character, Jeannie, whose name in turn is a pun on the mystical, wish-granting character of the genie, a deformation of the Koran's supernatural Jinn. The seductive image's winking substitution highlights the distorting effects mass entertainment can have on intercultural perception. An installation of Barbie-style dolls sporting veils, miniature designer clothes, and boutique shopping bags will similarly underline the two-way flow of consumer goods and their embedded cultural values.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

"Made in Iran" and a Studio Visit with Icy and Sot

Iranian Street Artists Step Into New Territory as they prepare for US Debut
 Icy and Sot (photo © Jaime Rojo)

by Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo, The Huffington Post

Both born in the 1980s, Iranian Street Artists Icy & Sot are equally fans and loyal students of all the stencil techniques that have characterized the western scene in the last decade. What's fascinating in this story is that, despite creating work on the street since 2005, neither brother has been able to attend their own gallery show in person outside of Iran until this week in New York.

With a new sense of freedom and some new works for "Made in Iran", the self taught Tabriz-based artists are riding the momentum that will take this show to Amsterdam, Berlin and Milan. The gallery work on display is similar to the variety of styles they have experimented with in streets of cities like Tehran, Paris, Turin, Istanbul, and even the rural Mazichal forest in Northern Iran. Thematically they wrestle between oppression, celebrity, freedom, war, and daring to dream.

Hitting the well promoted New York opening will be an eager audience of curious fans who have been waiting to see in person the svelte guys who have become a bit of an Internet sensation because of their origin, and because being caught painting in Tehran is more severe than most illegal street artists in the west would care to imagine.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Underground Iranian Band Steps Out Of The Shadows

Making music is tough in Iran, the regime censors everything from lyrics to instruments. That's why the underground band Kiosk has brought their work to the U.S. Their sound is influenced by Gypsy jazz, Iranian folk, blues and rock. Jacki Lyden speaks with lead singer Arash Sobhani about their latest album, 'Outcome of Negotiations'.

by Jacki Lyden, NPR

Recently, a friend handed me an Iranian music CD and said you have to hear this. My friend is an Iranian filmmaker and once, long ago, he took me to an underground jazz concert in Tehran. It was dramatic traveling through back alleys to get to the gig and I did a story on it for NPR then in 1997.

One of the musicians I met that night was a bass player named Marob(ph). Speaking through a translator, he mentioned the freedom music creates, even in an authoritarian society.

MAROB: (Through translator) I won't do anything that doesn't give me a sense of freedom. I feel freedom in the music and I think there will come a time when we will be able to perform for the public.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Iranian art analysed from a different perspective

 A view of Tehran from Pantea Rahmani's art exhibition Seismic Sanctuary. 
Image courtesy Pantea Rahmani / Salsali Private Museum

"Seismic" is a good word to describe the enormous uncertainty in Iran right now. Not only does it resonate with a country that sits on one of the world's most restless fault lines - which reared its head recently with a devastating earthquake in the north-west of the country - but also sabre-rattling from Israel, obstinance on the part of Iran's top brass over its nuclear programme and a lot of hand-wringing in the West is being compounded into daily, nervous tremors.

Yet this fault line is plumbed in a more introspective way by the artist Pantea Rahmani in her solo show at the Salsali Private Museum from September 10, with three works drawn from the private collection of Ramin Salsali. She's titled the show Seismic Sanctuary and it includes works of both self and city analysis.

Rahmani last exhibited in Dubai in 2009 with her Expose series; self-portraits with every line and facial crease rendered with unabashed exactitude. On the unprimed reverse of a piece of canvas, the artist uses gesso and white paint to create monochromatic works of self-analysis.

The effect is often mistaken as pencil work, with its ashen inflections of light and the yellowed hue from working on unprimed canvas. Her work is an intensely laborious process: "For just a five-centimetre-by-five-centimetre section, I'm going over it again and again, maybe 100 or 50 times," says the artist, smiling and looking rather less fierce than she etches herself in portrait. "I do the priming, painting and drawing all at the same time. Working in gesso means that I need a surface that can absorb a … lot of liquid and the primed side of the canvas doesn't do that. The effect is that when you touch the canvas there's no texture - it's completely smooth. If you close your eyes you can't feel that it's a painting."

This, Rahmani says, is attractive for her as it allows the canvas to "inhale and exhale" the image that she's working into it.

Seismic Sanctuary includes a piece from the Expose series, which depicts the artist lying in the corner of a room and staring at the viewer from across the reflected surface of a mirror. Cradling her head slightly, her legs bent foetal-fashion, the vulnerability of her pose is offset by a stark fixedness in her eyes and a mesh of lines across her brow. The background is a tonal mingle of greys, with a darkening pitch to the right of the canvas that creates an almost enveloping, shielding effect around the subject.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

London Calling: Tehran

The first in a series of exhibitions fostering dialogue between Iranian & British artists

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT 

Between July 21st and 25th at Tehran’s 7Samar Gallery, Yashar Samimi Mofakham and Tarlan Rafiee, an Iranian artist/curator couple, hosted a unique art exhibition aimed at fostering artistic and cultural dialogue between British and Iranian artists.

Curated by John Phillips, a prominent British artist whose works have been exhibited at such institutions as the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Liz O’Sullivan, an art consultant, who among other establishments has lectured at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London Calling: Tehran was conceived at their artist-run, nonprofit organisation/gallery, londonprintstudio. It marked the first in a series of collaborations which seek to further acquaint British audiences with contemporary Iranian art, and vice versa.

I, along with REORIENT’s Tehran correspondent, Fatemeh Kavandi, recently had the chance to speak with Yashar, Tarlan, Liz, and John about the exhibition and its significance in promoting cross-cultural dialogue, as well as the relationship between Iranian and Western artists in general.

What was the motivation behind organizing London Calling: Tehran? How did you come to be in touch with londonprintstudio?

Liz – It never ceases to amaze me how londonprintstudio is like a magnet for the most extraordinary people. They just appear. I would say that John Phillips is the real magnet, actually. I adore contemporary Iranian art, and when John telephoned me to talk about this interesting artist, Yashar, I joined them for lunch. Our lunchtime conversations about art, commerce, visionaries, censorship, and representation were fascinating and enlightening, and I knew immediately that I wanted to work with Yashar. That could have been working on anything — making sandwiches, fixing a car – anything. Developing this show with John, Yashar and Tarlan has been amazing. Incredibly open people. What a privilege.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The tortured face of Iran

A banned novel by Iran’s greatest living writer and a collection of poetry from the country and its exiles give voice to the terrible cost of oppression. 

By Arlice Davenport, The Wichita Eagle

This is how the world ends.

An old man, drenched from relentless rain, having just buried his teenage daughter – who was tortured to death for distributing anti-government pamphlets – meditates on the horrid fate of his five children – three dead at the hands of successive, oppressive regimes; one driven mad in prison and now hiding in his father’s basement; one surviving through marriage to a profiteering sycophant, who props up whichever corrupt despot is in power.

At the same time, the old man reviews the shame and humiliation of his mortal sins – murder and military insubordination. He dons his dress uniform, stripped of its insignia, takes down the gleaming saber from his living-room wall – the saber he ran through the heart of his adulterous wife, then eviscerated her with – feels the edge of the blade, runs his thumb across his jugular vein, steps out into the courtyard, crowded by the specters of his past, and takes his own life.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Golha Programmes

These programmes covered the entire history of classical as well as contemporary Persian poetry, giving marvellous expression to the whole gamut of traditional Persian music and poetry.

‘Flowers of Persian Song and Music’: the Story of Digitalizing the Golha Archive

by Jane Lewisohn

The Golha (‘Flowers of Persian Song and Music’) radio programmes were broadcast on Iranian National Radio for 23 years from 1956 through 1979. They comprised approximately 850 hours of programmes made up of literary commentary with the declamation of poetry, which is also sung with musical accompaniment, interspersed with solo musical pieces. The programmes themselves were the brainchild of Davoud Pirnia, a one-time Assistant Prime Minister, who in addition to being a well-known politician and judge, was an enthusiastic patriot and scholar who harboured a deep love for Persian culture and its rich literary and musical traditions. When he retired from political life in 1956, for the next eleven years he devoted himself tirelessly to producing of the Golha programmes.

Pirnia persuaded many of the foremost figures in classical Persian studies in Iran to work alongside him, so that the most formidable literary, academic and musical talents of his day offered him their collaboration and support. These included professors of Islamic Studies like Jalal al-Din Homa’i, Sa‘id Nafisi and Badi‘ al-Zaman Foruzanfar, the writer, scholar and senator ‘Ali Dashti, Iran’s poet laureate Lotf ‘Ali Suratgar, the historian Rezazada Shafaq, and the great song-writers and poets such as Mu‘ini Kermanshahi, ‘Emad Khorasani, Rahi Mo‘ayyeri, Toraj Negahban, Shahriyar, Simin Behbahani, Hushang Ebtehaj (Sayeh) and Bizhan Taraqqi. All the most eminent literary critics, famous radio announcers, singers, composers and musicians in Iran also participated in them. These included the likes of musicians and composers such as Abu’l-Hasan Saba, Mortaza Mahjubi, Ruho’llah Khaleqi, Habibo’llah Badi’i, Lutfo’llah Majd, Mortaza Naydavud, Hasan Kasa’i, Jalil Shahnaz, Reza Varzanda, Hasan Kasa’i, Ahmad ‘Ebadi, Farhang Sharif, Husayn Tehrani. The greatest Iranian vocalists of the twentieth century such as Banan, Marziya, Humayra, Qavami, Golpayegani, Iraj, ‘Abd al-Wahhab Shahidi, Sima Bina, and Puran were also featured in the Golha programmes. Even Iran’s supreme virtuoso singer—Mohammad Reza Shajarian—saw his career launched on these radio programmes.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Five Great Iranian Films

by Hamid Naficy, Tehran Bureau

When A Separation became the first Iranian film to win an Academy Award, more people gained awareness of the country's rich film legacy. Hamid Naficy, a leading authority on Middle Eastern cinema, lists a selection of his favorite Iranian films.

The House is Black (1961), directed by Forugh Farrokhzad

This is a documentary about the lives of the lepers in the Babadaghi Leper Colony near Tabriz -- one of the few films about disability in prerevolution Iran. This was not a typical institutional documentary, however, as it did not laud the services of its sponsor, the Society for Assistance to Lepers, and it did not use the official documentary style (except in a brief medical midsection). In fact, it set the tone and became the model for poetic realist documentaries and their vision of "radical humanism." The film begins with scenes of bitter irony in the classroom of the leper colony in which voice and image counterpoint each other to create a powerful third message. A boy whose fingertips have been eaten away by the merciless disease and another whose face and eyes are ravaged read out loud from a textbook: "Lord, I praise thee for having given me hands to work / Eyes to see the beauty of the world." In other scenes the lepers act like other people: they celebrate a wedding, put on make up, dance. This best poetic realist film by the foremost female poet of the last half of the 20th century, also manifested the parallel between writing poetry and film editing. A detailed examination of films she edited shows that she took a similarly careful approach to film editing as she did to composing poetry. Her written work is characterized by words that are highly evocative, atmospheric, emotional, sensorial, and corporeal. One of her coworkers at Golestan Film Workshop, Karim Emami, noted that many of her words "appertain to senses and the nervous system." Her words refer to the physicality of reality in the same way that each shot of a documentary -- the type of film she made -- indexes an external reality. In addition, her poetic realism stems from her working with each shot in her films as though it were a word in a poem, with great care and precision.

The Cow (1969), directed by Dariush Mehrjui

This is a fiction film about a villager who owns a pregnant cow, the sole source of milk for the village, to whom he is very close. One day when he is town his cow disappears and his wife and other village elders decide to hide that fact from him, claiming that she had simply ran away. The villager does not believe this, but he is so traumatized by the loss of the cow that he gradually becomes the cow, assuming his identity, sleeping in the cowshed. The film helped bring about the new wave movement, which put Iranian cinema on the map of the world cinema. Based on a short story by a prominent writer and psychiatrist, Gholamhosain Saedi, and adapted for the screen by the UCLA trained director, the film inaugurated the theme of the return to authentic Iranian roots in the face of ersatz westernization then in vogue. However, it was also filled with the fear and anxieties of a modernizing nation under authoritarian rule -- inaugurating another important theme of art cinema. It was banned for several years but after its triumph at the Venice film festival it was eventually released to great acclaim.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Iranian art needs more exposure, says artist

Exhibition showcasing Iranian and Middle Eastern art underway at Arsh Art Gallery runs till August 31, 2012.
by Carolina D’Souza, Staff Reporter, Gulf News

Iranian art needs more exposure, said Iranian artist Saba Orouji by way of observation at Arsh Art Gallery, Dubai, where an exhibition showcasing Iranian and Middle Eastern art is underway.

The exhibition, titled Group Exhibition, features surrealist and abstract paintings and sculpture by mostly Iranian artists Taha Behbahani, Parvin Soheili, Mona Orouji, Tara Behbahani, Behnaz Sarhangi and Italian Marinella Campisi.

The 37 pieces are of oil on canvas and mixed media.

“There are so many artists in Iran whose works are still unknown to the world. Not many foreigners travel to Iran to be familiar with contemporary Iranian art,” said Orouji, who is also the Co-Director of the Gallery.

Her reasoning also feeds in to the idea behind the Gallery that was launched earlier this year. “There are many contemporary artists in Iran who are interested in exhibiting their work around the world; our gallery provides the space for them,” she said.