Sunday, 23 September 2012

Iranian Art That Transcends Politics

Parvis Tanavoli's 'Heech' means nothing, or null in Farsi. He writes the word in the Farsi script and places it in different positions and forms. Image courtesy Al-Monitor

by Roshanak Taghavi

For a mystic like ancient Sufi poet and philosopher Jalal al-din Rumi, the progression toward “nothingness” — known in Persian as “heech”— is spiritual.  No matter what one’s external circumstances may be, self-awareness is an art to be realized personally, deep within oneself.

“Since you are more than tongue can tell, behold how eloquent I am without a tongue,” he wrote almost eight centuries ago. “Like the moon, without legs, I race through nothingness.”

Iranians have, throughout their history, engaged in this pursuit of spiritual progression — both during Iran’s millennia-long institution of monarchy and also after the country’s 1979 Revolution, which brought with it the establishment of an Islamic Republic.

Through it all, they have adapted to the challenges that came with new shifts in rule, infusing the realities of their external circumstances into personal rituals (such as holidays or prayers), and saturating their poetry and art with symbolism. Through the written word, the creation of art and an inherent flexibility, Iranians have always managed to communicate “without a tongue.”

Rumi, whose 800 year-old poems are, coincidentally, the most widely read throughout the United States, remains deeply revered within all strata of Iranian society. His teaching of humanity as Heech, or nothingness, is most prominently conveyed through the work of contemporary Iranian artist and sculptor Parviz Tanavoli.

Tanavoli’s sculpture, Poet Turning into Heech, which depicts the body of a man turning into a poet, is the centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection of contemporary Iranian art in New York.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Beauty Regime

by Tori Egherman, Tehran Bureau 

When I first started living in Iran, I was a kind of an illiterate, exotic creature who had to learn the alphabet from scratch and could have meaningful conversations only with toddlers. I was tolerated and coddled in equal measures, which made life easier for me. My mistakes were cute and lovable instead of breaches of protocol that could cause catastrophic rifts in the delicate political balance of the family.

It wasn't just language that messed with me. I was a fashion disaster, ill-mannered and coarse. I must have seemed an oaf to people who'd practiced good manners for millennia.

Nothing made me feel more oafish than the women surrounding me. Most wouldn't dream of leaving the house looking less than perfect. Their nails were exactingly manicured, their hair straightened and dyed, their bracelets gold, their eyes carefully outlined. At parties they wore low-cut, form-fitting dresses. They danced with flair as though their hips were unhinged, while my moves had been learned in proto-mosh pits. I could slam with the best of them, but anything more refined required concentration.

On top of that, my eyebrows had never been trimmed and my hair was unruly. I had never quite outgrown my tomboy phase and the longest time I'd spent in heels was about two hours: long enough to dance at a friend's wedding.

In the cafés in North Tehran, women let the obligatory headscarves slip to their shoulders, making a great show of lifting them up over exquisitely coiffed hair. They balanced on heels high enough to make me dizzy, navigating the uneven pavement with grace.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Rhino Season

Bahman Ghobadi’s Latest Film, Featuring the Return of the ‘Hero of Children’
(L-R) Caner Cindoruk, Monica Bellucci, Yilmaz Erdogan & Behrouz Vossoughi. Image courtesy REORIENT

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT

Under a starry sky, on a typically warm and humid September night in the heart of Toronto, throngs of giddy Iranian filmgoers (with, of course, the odd exception here and there) formed a serpentine queue outside the historic Elgin Theatre, full of hope and great expectations – and understandably so; for they were a privileged few, who would not only witness the world premiere of a film from one of Iran’s most celebrated directors, but also the performance – and presence – of an Iranian icon. After apparently denying countless other offers for lead roles in other films, Behrouz Vossoughi – perhaps the most beloved and celebrated Iranian film star from pre-Revolution Iran – chose Ghobadi’s latest cinematic venture to make his long-awaited comeback.

Undeniably the star of the evening – far overshadowing even Ghobadi himself – Behrouz was given nothing short of the red carpet treatment, as ecstatic, ogling fans cheered and applauded at his every word, and presented him many a standing ovation. If not for the ‘hero of children’, as Ghobadi referred to him throughout the evening, then for whom else would they do so? For who could ever forget the brazen avenger that was Gheysar, the tragic Reza Motori, the naïve and foolhardy Mamal Amrikaee, or the tough-nosed brawler in Kandoo? It would be perfectly plausible to surmise that on September 12, Iranians stormed the Toronto theatre for little else than to catch a glimpse of that hero of children, and perhaps revel in the memories of Iran’s golden years.

Rhino Season, Ghobadi’s latest film set in Turkey, starring alongside Vossoughi the Italian actress Monica Bellucci and oddly, Iranian pop sensation Arash (as well as a cast of Turkish actors including Yilmaz Erdogan), is based on the story of the ill-fated Sadegh Kamangar, an Iranian Kurdish poet, and draws upon true events, as well as Kamangar’s diaries and collection of poems for its basis. Seen through the lens of Ghobadi, whose direction of the film was based on his personal interpretation of Kamangar’s poetry (as he later revealed after the screening), Rhino Season is at once a love story, a surreal exploration of one man’s soul and poetic vision, and a depiction of the tragic consequences of the Islamic Revolution.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Moments of truth

An exhibition of Iranian art
Pouya Parsamagham's CCTV-like Chase installation. Courtesy Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

by , The National

Farrokh Mahadavi is a painter and a boxer. He says that he hears nothing when he fights because his entire being is focused on moving and weaving about the ring.

He brings a similar tautness to his canvases, too; images of bare torsos that he has worked and pummelled into a paired-down pink mass against a white background. The flesh is raw and tenderised, it slopes to indecorous contours and sinewy folds.

“The thing is crystal clear,” says Rokni Haerizadeh, one of Iran’s most eminent contemporary artists, who has selected works by Mahadavi for a group show – What Lies Beneath, Second Edition – of emerging Iranian talent due to open on September 10 at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde.

“There is no spirituality or spiritual meaning around his bodies: if he shows a heart, for instance, it’s just the heart that is inside your body. It is rough, tough work,” he says.

What Lies Beneath, Second Edition has been conceived – not curated –by Haerizadeh and is a continuation of a project that was initiated last year.

Haerizadeh makes a clear distinction on his role because the exhibition seeks to present the development of a group of six young artists that he, together with his brother, the artist Ramin Haerizadeh, has provoked and challenged since their last showing.

Rather than individual works curated for the show, the second edition of the project features, with the exception of two, the same artists presented at the gallery in February last year. “I don’t believe that you should keep on introducing new artists all the time,” says Haerizadeh. “There have been so many new names passing through galleries here that you can’t necessarily trust them on just one exhibition. It’s important that the audience see the evolution of an artist’s work.”