Monday, 30 December 2013

Islamic World Through Women’s Eyes

Mideast Photography at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“Untitled #2,” by Gohar Dashti, from Iran. Courtesy the artist, via Forbes.
‘She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers From Iran and the Arab World’: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, presents an ambitious and revealing exhibition.

by Vicki Goldberg, The New York Times

Middle Eastern women, supposedly powerless and oppressed behind walls and veils, are in fact a force in both society and the arts. They played a major role in the Arab Spring and continue to do so in the flourishing regional art scene — specifically in photography — which is alive and very well indeed. Some Middle Eastern photographers have taken their cameras to the barricades, physical ones and those less obvious, like the barriers erected by stereotypes, which they remain determined to defy. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, takes note in “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers From Iran and the Arab World,” an ambitious and revealing exhibition of work by 12 women, some internationally known.
The curator, Kristen Gresh, says in the catalog that this show, which runs through Jan. 12, was intended to explore “the dualities of the visible and invisible, the permissible and forbidden, the spoken and the silent, and the prosaic and the horrific.” These approximately 100 photographs and two videos generally respond to that intention and open a wide window on what preoccupies women in regions that are read about here more often in news articles about riots and refugees. At times, the ideas in this show count more than the images, which range in quality from remarkable and convincing to the merely derivative in some cases.
In the Middle East, it hasn’t always been easy or considered respectable for women to photograph. Boushra Almutawakel, born in Yemen, recalled that a man once asked her what she did; when she replied that she was a photographer, he said sweetly, “It’s nice to have a hobby.” She was nervous about her first show, partly because it included pictures of herself, but only later did her mother voice disapproval: “Who shows pictures of herself?” She answered, “Mama, they’re art, they’re in a museum,” to which her mother replied, “Who sells pictures of herself?”
Iran poses particular difficulties to photojournalists, both male and female. Shadi Ghadirian, from Iran, said in a video that in her country a female photographer is a potential traitor. Many colleagues have been detained and imprisoned, and some have never returned. Newsha Tavakolian, an Iranian who has photographed for The New York Times, said in an interview, “We have a red line.” Where is it? “I don’t know. No one knows where it is.” Then, with a shrug, she added, “Everyone knows.”

Friday, 27 December 2013

Custodian of Vacancy: The Iranian Embassy in the USA

Iranian Embassy, shuttered for decades, was known for hedonistic, star-studded gatherings

Recent U.S.-Iran negotiations have sparked hopes of renewed relations and memories of swanky embassy parties.
Eric Parnes, Hospitality, 2013, archival print on cotton paper, 56 x 100 cm. Courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

By , The Washington Post

Eric Parnes stood in the rain beside the austere white building on Embassy Row, its parking lot empty, its rooms silent and shuttered for more than three decades, and he pointed at where bacchanals once raged late into the night.

Here was the grand entryway where limousines dropped off diplomats, socialites and movie stars. There was the courtyard with its delicate blue-flowered tile work, and, just beyond it, the Persian Room, an imposing space whose high-domed ceiling glittered with hundreds of tiny mirrors.

The Iranian Embassy at 3005 Massachusetts Ave. was once “the number one embassy when it came to extravagance,” wrote frequent guest Barbara Walters in a memoir. As tuxedo-clad musicians serenaded, the flamboyant ambassador welcomed Washington’s A list with endless bowls of fresh Caspian Sea caviar and glasses of Dom Perignon.

All that came to a shuddering halt in 1979, when Islamic revolutionaries replaced the shah with a theocracy and the partying stopped.

The 34-year freeze between Iran and the United States has in some ways been colder than the Cold War, when the United States and Iron Curtain countries at least had diplomatic relations and embassies. Since the 444-day hostage crisis, representatives of the United States and Iran have had scant direct communication. Nuclear negotiations over the past few weeks have represented the most extensive overt diplomatic contact in decades and have set off speculation about the possibility of renewed relations between the former allies.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

An Iranian in Paris

Asghar Farhadi’s The Past raises questions about what makes a film Iranian and how we should treat that category in the first place.
Image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics and Guernica.
by Tina Hassannia, Guernica

Earlier this fall, Iran selected Asghar Farhadi’s The Past as its official submission for the 2014 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. The decision marked a strong reversal in Iran’s attitude about the American awards ceremony, which it boycotted last year in protest against the U.S.-made anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. The change comes primarily due to the new moderate president Hassan Rouhani, who, since his inauguration, has made efforts to soften Iran’s cultural policy. It may not be difficult to see why the government picked The Past, considering Farhadi’s name recognition after his film A Separation won the foreign film award two years ago (a first for Iran). Yet some, including hardliner conservatives in the country, have commented on the lack of “Iranianness” in The Past. While a few scenes in the film feature Persian dialogue and several of the cast and crew members are Iranian, it’s more accurately a French production, given the source of its funding, shooting locale, and setting.

The aesthetic and cultural discussion about the film’s identity is broader and more multifarious than the technicalities of its production or exhibition context, however. In spite of its European elements, can a film by a diasporic Iranian filmmaker still be considered to some extent, Iranian?

In the past few years many acclaimed Iranian filmmakers have started working more regularly abroad. Last year saw the release of Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love (filmed and set in Japan), Bahman Ghobadi’s Rhino Season (filmed in Turkey), and Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Gardener (a documentary filmed in Israel). The Past is, then, part of a growing trend likely brought on by the increasing tensions and limitations posed by Iranian authorities on filmmakers, even those who have long established careers at home. (The hope now is that Rouhani’s election may lead these filmmakers to again make movies in Iran).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Floral is The Political

by , The New Inquiry

I’ve been following Shirin Neshat’s work for a long time. Initially, it wasn’t by choice: her Women of Allah series was unavoidable. Black and white, clearly confrontational, the images were everywhere, and helped turn the art market towards Iran and its women, and her progression into video art, films always came with admirers and detractors. Neshat was in London for some events, including a workshop and the London Film School as well as a double interview with Isaac Julien at the Barbican. We met over a glass of wine (for her) and an espresso martini (for me), to discuss her latest film with Natalie Portman, the politics of art, and homework.
Shirin Neshat, Speechless, 1996.
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery and The New Inquiry.
 Tara Aghdashloo: How has your understanding of your background and relationship to your subject matter – which is often Iran – evolved over the years?
Shirin Neshat: The development of the ideas of my work started from the personal to more social, and back to personal. It always relies on where I’m at in my life. To me art is about framing questions. Questions that are really important to the artist. What you question has to do with you and what you struggle with as a human being. These could be existential, political, or things that are from the unknown.
The evolution of my subject and my work reflects the way I navigate in life. If my father dies I think about death, and I make a work about death, like Passage (2001) that I made with Philip Glass. If I’m trying to return to Iran, around 1993-1997, and reconnect with it, then I make Women of Allah, which is a kind of nostalgic point of view of an artist living abroad. When I want to have a sharp knife and be critical about the government, then I make The Last Word, which is a trial. It’s a little bit like music. The artist goes up and down according to the melody and the emotions that drive them to do what they do.
TA: Do you think art is always political, even if you don’t want it to be?

SN: You could say for an Iranian art is always political. And you could say that about Andy Warhol maybe, but I don’t know. If you look at contemporary art and the likes of Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, it’s not political art. It’s actually very narcissistic and it is the artists’ interest in their own ego. Which a commentary about their own culture whether it’s American culture or Western culture as a whole. If you look at Iranian culture then yes, I could say that every Iranian artist, however they work, somehow it becomes political. Even if they paint flowers it’s political because they are making an effort to move away from the political, and that is a political act.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The widening Gulf

On the explosion of Middle Eastern investment in Western art and an exhibition of Iranian art at the Asia Society
The Museum of Islamic Art. Courtesy James Panero and The New Criterion.
by James Panero, The New Criterion
A few years ago, I came as close as I’ll ever get to the center of the art world. Over Dover sole at Sant Ambroeus, a restaurant on the Upper East Side, I sat across from someone who might have been mistaken for an out-of-place young grad student. While she was at Duke, my lunch companion, class of 2005, had double-majored in literature and political science. Now at Columbia, she was pursuing a masters in public administration. Casually dressed, she looked as though she were on a study break from Butler Library. Her demeanor was reserved, a little shy, and serious. “It’s work all the time. Sometimes it’s just very difficult, but I think it’s doable,” she explained. The “art world’s most powerful woman,” as The Economist has called her, had much on her mind.

Between taking classes at the time and raising her family, Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, known as Sheikha Mayassa (a name that has a James Bond ring to it), runs the museum operations of Qatar, where she is the fourteenth child of the former Emir and the sister of the current one. “I’m still figuring out the best ways to do all this. I set up video conferences. I have my staff come to New York every month. Then I take classes,” she told me. Funded by the oil and gas riches of her principality, a thumb-shaped pile of sand that sticks into the Persian Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula, Mayassa has been leading an acquisition program that, by a wide margin, has recently spent more money on art than any other entity. “The small but energy-rich Gulf state of Qatar is the world’s biggest buyer in the art market—by value, at any rate—and is behind most of the major modern and contemporary art deals over the past six years,” The Art Newspaper wrote in 2011. On ArtReview’s 2013 “Power 100” list, which ranks “the contemporary artworld’s most powerful figures,” Mayassa is ranked number one.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Fake – Idyllic Life

Shoja Azari, Banquette of Houries, (The King of Black), 2013, lenticular 3D depth on acrylic sheet, 76.2 × 105.41 cm. Courtesy Leila Heller Gallery, New York and ArtAsiaPacific.

by Bansie Vasvani, ArtAsiaPacific

In the press release for Iranian artist Shoja Azari’s exhibition “Fake – Idyllic Life” at the Leila Heller Gallery, New York, the artist states, “Faced with an increasingly hostile world governed by identity politics I approached this new series as a way to examine assigned and reassigned identities.”

Referencing famous 19th-century Orientalist paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Eugène Delacroix, and Jean-Auguste Dominique-Ingres, that depict slaves waiting on reclining odalisques, Azari attempts to re-envision the objectified female body by making its objectification explicit. This is also an effort to challenge Western perceptions of the Middle East by generating more empowering narratives.

In Oriental Bath or Bunnies R Us (2013) and Oriental Interior or Bunnies R Us (2013), Azari attempts to upend the intentions of the original paintings by replacing the women’s languishing bodies with upright, voluptuous Playboy bunnies. The diptych created by the two works is surrounded by a wallpaper of violent images associated with Islam gleaned from YouTube. The composite is sensationalizing, and thus renders the central compositions impotent. Yet this swapping of female bodies, inspite of the replacements more sexualized and potentially more empowered nature, is not entirely effective. The women remain surrounded by 19th-century depitions of dark-skinned slaves and their Playboy status continues to reduce and caricature. In addition, pale bodies pandering specifically to a Western male gaze resist the reassignment of power.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Iranian Woman

Songs of yearning, desire, and despair from the female Iranian vocal tradition

still from Malek Khorshid (The Sun King) (1975) - Ali Akbar Sadeghi
Ali Akbar Sadeghi, still from Malek Khorshid (The Sun King),1975.

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT

It stands in supplication, rending its breast, crying out to the heavens above, a look of anguish on its stony, weathered face. With curiosity and awe, I regard the statue of a singing woman, unearthed from a grave in Marlik, an ancient site in the foggy, leafy, Northern Iranian province of Gilan by the Caspian Sea. Images from Ebrahim Golestan’s haunting documentary, The Hills of Marlik flash before my eyes, and for a moment, I try to imagine the story behind this, as well as the other myriad statues of men, women, and animals sculpted some 3,000-odd years ago by the roughened hands of my ancestors. And the fruits of the earth once again returned to the earth; and the earth is a woman deep in slumber, with secrets and dreams. Who was this woman, I ask myself; what was her song, and to whom was it addressed? Gazing at these earthenware sculptures, almost childlike in their simplicity and earnestness, I find myself in disbelief, tempted to look upon them as the stuff of myth and fable; but again, the images flicker before me, and I’m reminded of the reality: But they were – they ate, slept, laughed, and dreamt.

From the songs of Marlik to those of today’s generation of musicians, Iranian women have been continuing a tradition that, while suppressed at various points in Iranian history, still remains ever strong and forceful. With the fall of the Sassanian Empire and the ushering in of new traditions, the female vocal tradition was relegated more or less to haram (lit. ‘forbidden’) territory, although it nonetheless managed to survive the ravages of time, and even enjoy a popular resurgence from the early 20th century onwards. Today, efforts are yet again being made to stifle the sound of Iranian women. While a ban on solo female singing in Iran is in place, that hasn’t diminished its popularity in any respect, nor has it deterred female Iranian singers from performing, recording, and touring, albeit outside the country. If you want these bonds broken, wrote Forough Farrokhzad in a poem addressing the Iranian woman, grasp the skirt of obstinacy!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Wise men from the east

Zoroastrian traditions in Persia and beyond

 24 October 2013 – 27 April 2014 at British Museum, London

Farvahar, Aida Foroutan, 2003. The winged figure is seen by the Iranian artist as a symbol of national identity. © Aida Foroutan 

by Wall Street International

This small exhibition will explain Zoroastrianism, an ancient but living religion named after the Prophet Zarathustra, through objects and coins from Persia (Iran) and beyond.

The display will feature a variety of ancient and modern objects and coins, and will highlight the importance of Zoroastrian traditions in other religions. It will touch on the concept and imagery of the Three Kings of the Christian tradition, who are described in the New Testament (Matthew 2.2) as Magi from the east – Zoroastrian priests in the Persian tradition.

Magnificent Islamic coins from Mughal India which follow the Iranian Zoroastrian calendar adopted by the emperor Akbar (1556–1605) will also be on display.

Modern objects will show the ongoing legacy of this ancient Iranian religion and its significance as a symbol of national identity for Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian Iranians in modern Persia and beyond.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Notes from Underground

‘In Iran, we’ve learned how to speak our minds without creating problems for anyone’

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT

A few months back, on a sunny Thursday morning, I met a lanky, wavy haired wild child for tea at Tehran’s Khaneh-ye Honarmandan, a cultural centre in the smoggy heart of the city. I’d been in touch with Moslem Rasouli for a while online, after having developed an interest in his ingeniously clever Facebook images, mostly featuring his face superimposed on those of Qajar concubines, subjects of  Renaissance paintings, and Hollywood belles. It was only later, of course, that I discovered his recordings, and his experiments in fusing classical and folk music from Iran with modern, electronic sensibilities, and his ambition for preserving his country’s musical heritage.

Sipping on a cup of hot Indian chai, overlooking the leafy square below us (where a few individuals had been hanged only weeks earlier), Moslem and I chatted about his rise to comic fame, our shared Rashti roots, and his penchant for Spongebob Squarepants, as well as Tehran’s underground music scene, his life as a twenty-something musician in Iran, and his work.

Having been recently featured on a UK radio programme, and with a new music video out on the net, Moslem is one emerging musician who’s been making quite a ‘sound’ these days, as we Iranians like to say. Exclusive to REORIENT, the following is his first media interview.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Paul Revere rides again in 'Persian Visions'

Revolutionary potential in Iranian photography show at USM

Untitled by Ebrahim Khadem Bayat
by Daniel Kany, Press Herald

In America, we don’t typically think of artists as intellectuals. Warhol proffered the idea of artist as ringmaster – mixing theater and salesmanship with talent. The Abstract Expressionists were sold as hard-drinking brawlers isolating themselves for their own self-expressive spiritual journeys. Now we aren’t sure if Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst are even on our side or if they’re just selling snake oil.

But somewhere in there is an American notion of an avant-garde with truly revolutionary ideas. We can hardly forget, after all, not just Paul Revere’s ride, but his highly-propagandized image of the “Boston Massacre.” After all, it is often argued that it was Revere’s artistic license with this engraving that set the revolutionary fire alight. A similarly credited image is Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die” engraving of a snake chopped into its component colonies.

These images do not illustrate facts or traffic in settled notions. Instead, they seek to stretch the viewer’s imagination forward. While Franklin used the logic of wartime (and economic) alliances, Revere mobilized fear: If citizens of Boston could be shot down in the street by British troops, no one in the Colonies would be safe.

The power of these images created by our most famous leading intellectuals led average citizens to conclude marshal action was necessary. This is how the American Revolution went from unthinkable to logical to inevitable – to history.

Governments have long understood the power of art. History is dotted with Savanarolas getting Boticellis to toss their own paintings onto bonfires. There are Daumiers and Hogarths and Malevichs: The Soviets came to fear the revolutionary potential of Malevich’s abstract paintings because they saw how he became a leader in a successful revolution – their own – so they turned on him and banned his abstraction. Now, we are reading about Cornelius Gurlitt’s hoarding of 1,500 allegedly Nazi-confiscated paintings; a reminder that the dark genius of Hitler – a talented painter – did not overlook the power of entarte Kunst – “degenerate art” – and its propensity to inspire revolutionary ideas.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Persia meets Europe in Zurich

by le mag, Euronews

The artistic dialogue between Persia and Europe is at the heart of a new exhibition in the Swiss city of Zurich.

It explores the way Europe and Persia, today’s Iran, began to inch closer 400 years ago – politically, economically, culturally and artistically. Europe dispatched trading companies and religious orders; the shah sent his ambassadors. Rubens drew inspiration from Persian miniatures and Muhammad Zaman created works inspired by Italian and French painters.

An exchange that lives on to this day according to curator Axel Langer: “I think it really comes from both sides. There isn’t one side which has less or more [impact] than the other. But, what I thought is interesting is that the two react differently to each others’ art,” he said.

The adaptation of famous engravings by Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi is a prime example of the way European art influenced Persian painters. Semi-naked bodies had long featured in Persian painting, but nudes were used solely to illustrate stories and were not intended to be sensual. The encounter with European art brought about a dramatic artistic evolution.

“The Persian nude was something that might have been developed through contact with European sources. We don’t expect it, because we have a certain prejudice or certain idea of Islamic ethical behaviour, and we think this didn’t exist, but it is not true. it was for private use only. It was not copying European sources but they turned it to something new,” said Axel Langer.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

'Persian Visions,' Ovations concert promise 'diverse immersion' in Iranian culture

“Untitled”, Arman Stephanian, 2003. Courtesy MaineToday Media.

by David Carkhuff, Portland Daily Sun

The universal character of art is one of the revelations offered by an exhibit of Iranian photography at University of Southern Maine.

The lesson: "It's not so foreign after all. Art does flourish, it's part of our aspect of being and it will flourish even at times of repression," said Carolyn Eyler, director of Exhibitions and Programs at University of Southern Maine in Gorham and Portland.

"Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran," on display until Dec. 8, gives visual clues to life in Iran, a nation also known as Persia with deep roots in ancient Asia. For years, Iran has dominated the news cycle in America for different reasons, generally as a result of policy tensions and political conflicts. Yet, the photographs reach into a deeper understanding of Iranian life, Eyler noted.

"It's interesting that the country that we knew as Persia still exists, there's a place, a people, a culture, there's a particular sensibility," said Eyler, describing a "very refined aesthetic sensibility," as illustrated in ornate tapestries and other works of art. The photography often cuts against the grain of tradition. albeit with subtlety and nuance.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Infinite Regress

Two Iranian Artists Multiply Their Spiritual Images

The Golden Gate Bridge and clouds are kaleidoscoped to resemble the mind-expanding art adorning mosques. Courtesy SF Weekly

by Jonathan Curiel, SF Weekly

With an arts tradition that goes back more than 5,000 years, and a modern art scene that embraces everything from graffiti to avant-garde film, Iran is one of the world's greatest countries to experience the visual arts. It's a travesty that Iran has been off-limits to most Americans since 1979, when a revolution turned it into a pariah state. But the détente that has emerged on the political front with the election of a new Iranian president (who, by the way, is on Twitter) parallels the opening of three new exhibits that are giving Americans a first-hand look at the intricacies of Iranian art and sculpture.

The largest show, "Iran Modern," is at New York's Asia Society, but San Francisco has two sterling exhibits: "The First Family" at Haines Gallery, which features the work of longtime Iranian artist Monir Farmanfarmaian, and "Twisted Sisters: Reimagining Urban Portraiture" at San Francisco City Hall, which features the work of Sanaz Mazinani, who spent her early life in Tehran and now lives in Bernal Heights.

Mazinani's montages take traditional Persian motifs and infuse them with modern touches — and a San Francisco aesthetic. Golden Gate Bridge, for example, has red sections of the span's towers floating in a blue sky, where they connect with cloud puffs and geometric shapes to form an otherworldly kaleidoscope. Influenced by patterns found in traditional Persian carpets, and utilizing Persian blues that adorn some of Iran's most dazzling structures, Mazinani made Golden Gate Bridge for a series she calls "Forever in the Sky." In 16th and Mission, also on display at City Hall, Mazinani has tall, thin palm trees floating in the air next to an assemblage of alluring shapes. In Sutro Tower, it's the top of San Francisco's tallest transmission structure that hovers high in the sky, Persian-style. The patterns — like the patterns of floral shapes, calligraphy, and architectural swoops that cover Iranian mosques — are designed to both focus the mind and free it.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Iranian New Wave 1960s-1970s (Film Series)

November 2-22, 2013  Asia Society and Museum
Banned both before and after the revolution, Bahman Farmanara's village drama Tall Shadows of the Wind (1979) screens on November 12. Courtesy Asia Society.

This film series features rarely screened films of the Iranian New Wave, an exceptional film movement that took place before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. During the cosmopolitan and yet turbulent period of the 1960s-1970s, an auteur cinema emerged and responded actively to the cultural, political, and social conditions of the time. Iranian New Wave is distinguished by its philosophical inclination, social critique, poetic disposition, and vigorous experimentation. This innovative spirit resonated with new cinematic trends sweeping across the globe at the time, from France and Czechoslovakia to Brazil and Japan. Collectively, the films present the artistic vision, humanism, and social consciousness of a generation of Iranian filmmakers. These films have left an important legacy and laid the groundwork for later generations. This series offers an extraordinary opportunity to survey these works and provides a window into Iranian life during this period. A documentary film about the Iranian New Wave is included in the selection.

Interview: 'Iranian New Wave' Film Curator Uncovers a Precious, Threatened Legacy

by Jeff Tompkins, Asia Society

Screening over three weeks in November, Asia Society New York's film series Iranian New Wave offers a rare opportunity to explore a vital yet little seen period in Iran's film history. Responding to the same currents that were then electrifying cinema from Paris to Prague to Tokyo, Iranian filmmakers of the 1960s and '70s produced a range of formally innovative, socially conscious and philosophically searching films that paved the way for the later, more internationally recognized generation of auteurs that includes Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Ashghar Farhadi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. (Underscoring this continuity, the series concludes on November 22 with Kiarostami's early work, 1974's The Traveler.)

Friday, 1 November 2013

Iran's artists warn US and European sanctions are affecting their work

Tehran-based artist Sohrab Kashani could not visit US due to visa 'complications' – and he's not the only one

Super Sohrab in Azadi Square: 'He doesn't do many impressive things.'
Sohrab Kashani, The Adventure of Super Sohrab, 2011. Image courtesy the artist and Guardian.

by , Guardian

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Super Sohrab. Iran's own superman stands in front of Tehran's famous Azadi Square, the site of the country's 1979 Islamic revolution as well as the mass popular uprising of 2009. His cape is a piece of green cloth, the battle armour his own underwear and on his chest is the abbreviations for Super Sohrab in the Persian alphabet. He is a symbol of the contemporary Iranian art world, whose creative wings have been clipped.

"He doesn't do many impressive things," said Sohrab Kashani, the artist turned superman. "He washes the dishes, makes pasta, does the laundry, checks his Facebook profile. He is actually very isolated."

Super Sohrab plays a leading role in Kashani's photographs, videos and comics. His life mirrors that of the average Iranian artist plagued by domestic censors and blanket international sanctions. Recently, Kashani was due to speak at Iran: Art and Discourse, a symposium in New York hosted by the Asia Society and the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. But to the dismay of organisers and participants, gathered to study Iranian contemporary art, Kashani was unable to participate because the US authorities did not respond to his request for a visa in time. Another guest speaker, Hamid Keshmirshekan, an art historian and editor from Tehran, was issued a visa but not in time.

Friday, 25 October 2013

What it Was Like to Travel to Iran With Andy Warhol in 1976

Andy Warhol in Isfahan, Iran, in 1976. (Bob Colacello). Courtesy Asia Society

by , Asia Society
Longtime Vanity Fair contributor Bob Colacello has said he was the Andy Warhol biographer who knew Warhol for more than 15 minutes. He was editor of Warhol's Interview magazine from 1971 to 1983, and became actively involved in all aspects of life — business and social — at The Factory, Warhol’s studio, including procuring celebrity clients for Warhol's famous silkscreened portraits. Colacello's book, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, came out in 1990. Not one to be pigeonholed, Colacello also published an expansive biography of Ron and Nancy Reagan in 2004.

In 1976, Colacello traveled to Iran with Warhol, and recently at Asia Society New York, Colacello  appeared in a panel discussion on Iran's art scene in the 1960s and 70s. (The complete video of the event is embedded below.)

First, can you describe what brought about your trip to Iran with Andy?

Well, it happened because we had gotten to know the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Fereydoon Hoveyda, and he actually arranged for Andy to do a portrait of the Shabanu, or the Empress, Farah Pahlavi. So the purpose of the trip was basically for Andy to take polaroids of her, which then would be made into portraits.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Politics on canvas

Nicky Nodjoumi and the New York enclave
The artist's work transcends borders and displays a worldliness that is a hallmark of Iranian artists in New York.
Nodjoumi's artwork walks a fine line between art and politics.
Nicky Nodjoumi, Hasty Retreat, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 70 x 50 in / 177.8 x 127 cm. Courtesy of Taymour Grahne Gallery.

by Hamid Dabashi, Al Jazeera

The corner of Laight and Hudson in New York, where the newly established Taymour Grahne Gallery was exhibiting its very first show, seemed like an odd place for an Iranian artist to reflect back on his lifetime achievement. But early in September, the gallery was the scene of a spectacular opening featuring the large-scale oil paintings of Nicky Nodjoumi, Chasing the Butterfly and Other Recent Paintings.

After decades of unwavering, principled, and quiet work, Nodjoumi has finally arrived as a major aesthetic visionary of his contemporary time, having carved a commanding angle on our lived experiences from the assured perspective of a global worldliness that has patiently and consistently crossed all artificial borders of identity and politics.

Today it is the overwhelming political force of his art that immediately attracts his viewers. The Huffington Post captured the very essence of the evident political implication of Nodjoumi's art when covering his exhibition: "Iranian Artist Nicky Nodjoumi Talks Revolutions, Secret Police And The Vietnam War."

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons

Excerpt: 'The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons' by Goli Taraghi

by Asia Society

Drawing on childhood experiences in the old-money neighborhood of Shemiran in Tehran and, later, adult exile in Paris and Tehran after the 1979 revolution, Iranian novelist Goli Taraghi captures universal experiences of love, loss, alienation, and belonging — all with an irresistible sense of life's absurdities. Out this week from W.W. Norton, a new collection of her short fiction, The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons, translated into English by Sara Khalili, gives English-language readers an opportunity to meet a writer Azar Nafisi has hailed as "a natural storyteller, at once original and universal, filled with passion, curiosity, empathy, as well as mischief — definitely mischief."

For a sense of Taraghi's range, the title story relates how a woman traveling from Tehran to Paris is obliged to help an old woman, the Pomegranate Lady, find her way to her fugitive sons in Sweden. In "The Encounter," meanwhile, a woman's world is upended when her former maid becomes her jailer. And in "Gentleman Thief," excerpted below, a new kind of polite, apologetic thief emerges from the wreckage of Iran's revolution.

Taraghi will read from The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons and discuss her work in a conversation with Brigid Hughes at Asia Society New York on Monday, October 28.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Art meets Politics: Iranian Revolution poster art on display

by Kyle Sherard, Mountain Xpress

There are roughly 200 connections between Asheville and the Iranian Revolution of 1979. No, really. It just so happens that one of the largest privately held collections of posters from the Iranian Revolution, nearly 200 in number, resides here in Asheville.

For the next two months, 146 of these posters are on view as part of In Search of Lost Causes: Images of the Iranian Revolution: Paradox, Propaganda and Persuasion, a multi-institutional exhibition series and program, showing at three institutions across Asheville.

Thirty posters hang in UNCA’s Ramsey Library, 10 line the walls of Firestorm Cafe and Books and the remaining 106 fill up two floors in the Phil Mechanic Studios’ Flood and Courtyard Gallery in the River Arts District.

The weekend-long schedule begins at UNCA on Friday, Oct. 17, with an opening reception, film screening and lecture by Dr. Dabashi, an Iranian-born scholar, cultural historian and the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Using a N.C. Humanities Council grant, Dabashi traveled to Asheville to co-curate the exhibitions with Steward, and give a series of lectures and presentations on the collection’s historical and contemporary significance.

The collection belongs to Carlos Steward and Cynthia Potter, who operate the Courtyard Gallery in the Phil Mechanic Studios. They received the posters in 1999 as a gift from a source they will not disclose. Dabashi believes the donor was heavily involved in the inner-workings of the revolution, which took place between 1977 and 1979.

The posters span from the Revolution’s build-up in post-coup, 1960s Iran to the height of the Revolution to the aftermath in the early '80s.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Incisive exhibition reveals range of Iranian modern art

Iran Modern exhibit spans three decades leading to the 1979 Revolution
Parviz Tanavoli’s mixed media composition, “Innovation in Art” (1964) consists of a Persian carpet adorned with hand painted Islamic motifs and a jug (used in toilets in lieu of bidets) inserted in the centre. From the Iran Modern exhibition, courtesy Asia Society and Guardian.

by Shadi Harouni for the Tehran Bureau, Guardian

I went to see Iran Modern with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. On the one hand, I was eager for the chance to see the works, many of which have been hidden away for decades; on the other, I had the sour memory of past exhibitions curated through a western orientalist lens. This unprecedented display of Iranian art from the 1950s up to the Revolution of 1979, on view at Asia Society in New York, brings together works from private and public collections around the world, including the Andy Warhol Foundation, New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Mathaf in Doha, Qatar. From the first pieces I encountered, I sensed that this was to be no exotic narrative of Iranian modernism meant for a western market. The quality of curation and scholarship involved has produced an exciting and valuable exhibition.

At first, I found myself playing the comparison game, looking at the dates on the labels to see how the works stacked up against their western counterparts. Who influenced Manoucher Yektai to use such heavy impasto in the 1950s? Do Marcos Grigorian's earthworks of the 1960s precede or follow those of Robert Smithson? The game can continue down to the year and even the month, but it is senseless and soon tiresome. And, thankfully, it is hardly the point of the exhibition. Indeed, many of the works, especially those in the distinctly Iranian Saqqakhaneh style, well represented, do not have European counterparts. The show soon takes you out of comparison mode and into richer considerations.

Contemporary Iranian art speaks from the heart

Masoumeh Mozafari, ‘Heat stroke’, 100x100cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and {}.

by Aya Johanna Daniëlle Dürst Britt, {}

During World War II, the third floor of the building at Herengracht 401 in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam hid a number of German Jewish artists behind its facade. Today the post-war art venue Castrum Peregrini, which was founded subsequently, offers a temporary shelter to the contemporary artwork of over twenty Iranian artists carefully curated by Shaheen Merali. The latter titled the current collection of graphics, photographs, paintings and various installations ‘Speaking from the heart – The polemic sensibility from Iran’.

According to the internationally acclaimed artist Mehraneh Atashi (1980), this title somewhat unnecessarily replaces an earlier one. Atashi is among the twenty-three Iranian artists who already participated in the earlier though differently titled exhibition also curated by Merali, at the Freies Museum in Berlin in 2011. The only difference in the line-up is Reza Abedini, the famous graphic designer and artistic director of the Azad Art Gallery. He designed the poster accompanying the present exhibition and replaced late fellow artist Farideh Lashaei (1944-2013) in ‘Speaking from the heart’.

Aesthetic opposition

The Azad Art Gallery in Tehran is an initiative run by the artists listed at the bottom of this article, who are all taking part in the Amsterdam exhibition. The Azad Art Gallery exhibits artwork for a maximum of two weeks: a time-span long enough for the public to pay a visit, but usually short enough not to arouse the suspicion or repercussions of the regime. After the Iranian elections of 2009 gave birth to a series of events generally referred to as the ‘Green Movement’ (which originated a year ahead of the wave of uprisings in the Middle East dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’), Iranian artists found their social work space often confined to the borders of the city, or, in some cases, even limited to the confines of their homes. Their personal experience of gross human rights violations and immense social distress is a prominent and confronting feature in most of their works.

The House on Iran Street

But streets do not just disappear, do they?
Image from Flickr via Kamyar Adl. Courtesy Guernica 

by Hooman Majd, Guernica

The Past


The streets still glimmer from the early freezing rain, and the traffic is heavier than usual. Shared taxicabs are packed with passengers, crammed into small cars, and they sweep by her without slowing down. She stands on the corner of the busy avenue, looking at the massive snowcapped mountain that dominates the view in the northern part of the city, and puts her arm out from under her black chador in the hope that a vacant cab, or at least a cab with room for one more body, will materialize. She holds the chador tightly under her chin with one fist and keeps her stare toward the mountain. Eventually a battered orange Paykan taxi, belching thick black soot from its exhaust, stops, and the driver gruffly asks her destination through his half-opened window. The two chador-clad women seated in the back of the cab, their faces barely visible, stare straight ahead, their bodies stiff as mannequins.

Abbasabad-e-Einedoleh,” she says loudly, turning away from the mountain for a moment and glancing at the women. “Khiaboon-e Iran.” Iran Street. The taxi driver grunts and accelerates without a word, leaving her standing on her corner. She sticks out her arm again, unconsciously waving her hand slowly in an up and down motion, and turns her gaze back to the mountain. Presently another taxi stops and the unkempt driver shouts at her, demanding her destination.

“It’s your lucky day,” he says in response, a little more politely. “I’m going downtown anyway.” She climbs into the back of the car and sits next to another woman, also fully enveloped in a black chador.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Busting Geographical and Cultural Boundaries

Traditional Persian classical music enjoys an almost unassailable status in Iran – in contrast to the country's rather disreputable but creative underground scene. The "New Sounds of Iran" Festival shows how the two apparently conflictive genres can be combined. Amin Farnanefar reports on the event and new trends in Iranian music
by Amin Farzanefar, Qantara

A key concern in the ongoing German integration debate is a call to open cultural institutions such as museums and concert halls up to non-European culture - to bring the German public closer to its immigrant communities -, but also to get more members of migrant communities into the "hallowed halls".

If this goes according to plan, as it has done for example for a while now in at the Cologne Philharmonic, then as well as Smetana, Grieg and Beethoven audiences also get to hear works by regional icons such as Mohammad Reza Shadjarian, Sezen Aksu and Anwar Brahim. A series of events at the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg and the Cologne Philharmonic makes it visibly and audibly plain to what extent the concept of "high culture" is being influenced and changed by migration and globalization.

"New Sounds of Iran", initiated by the new Cologne-based "Academy of the Arts of the World" and its "Diwan" association is probably the largest festival of Iranian music to take place in Europe. Its primary achievement is to afford a passage through the latest developments in Iranian music – and it shows that traditions are also in flux there, in a productive tussle between various trends from East and West, North and South.

Global melancholy

The virtual map in use here, the "music of the imaginary Iran" – to use a title coined by music ethnologist Martin Greve for a book originally on Turkey – not only spans the Iranian homeland, but also naturally the vibrant exiled community and its Diaspora. Many representatives of the Iranian musical avant-garde live in Europe, Canada or the US: The gruelling authorisation process for concerts or CDs through the puritanical Ershad Ministry drives many bands and musicians out of the country sooner or later.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Theatrical revival stirs in Iran with “Funny Nightmares”

 by le mag, Euronews

A black, mordant, sarcastic sense of humour is part of the Iranian psyche, and as war once again stalks the length and breadth of the Muslim world, one of Iran’s most famous playwrights Mohammad Charmshir and director Reza Haddad have been pulling in the crowds in Tehran with “Funny nightmares by day and some by night”, their fourth success in a row.

It is a resolutely futuristic theatre – performance art hybrid which has blossomed throughout August and September 2013 in a theatre hall in the heart of the Iranian capital.

Seven actresses have been cast to depict the nightmare of war and all its catastrophes, with extravagant costumes, dance, and music that at turns beguiles and throbs like artillery fire.

“We are living in a world which has lots of anxiety about war. We are all worried about having another war in our country and it is horrible for us. We live in a world in which dictators have encouraged resentment, it is a nightmare that doesn’t leave us. In this performance I tried to show these fears and nightmares. I try also to talk about them to the audience. In this world, not just in my homeland but, I think, around the world the big fear and anxiety is war. War and ruin. War in which children are the first victims. These are my concerns in this performance,” says Haddad.

Over the past three decades most Iranians have endured the pressures of revolution, war, politics and isolation. Even a small new coda in such a relentless symphony can influence Iranians’ daily lives, so this is probably the main reason why many Iranian artists choose political and social content for their works of art. “ Funny Nightmares” is one such example.

My Wicked Persian Carpet

Taymour Grahne Gallery to Present Reza Derakshani's ‘My Wicked Persian Carpet’, 10/29-12/3   

by Visual Arts News Desk, Broadway World

Following its much-touted launch in September 2013, Taymour Grahne Gallery presents new works by Iranian painter, musician and performance artist Reza Derakshani. Expanding on previous investigations of ornamentation and abstraction, "My Wicked Persian Carpet" incorporates the artist's newfound experimentation with materials such as glitter to consider ongoing themes of life and death, faith and fear, love and revulsion, beauty and viciousness, light and darkness. Flat colorfields and a lack of perspective, always a signature component of Derakshani's compositions, meld tradition and political references into highly textured, jewel-like paintings. The series derives its raw strength from an uncomfortable contrast-deceptively beautiful, almost hedonistic decorative qualities cut with bleak, apocalyptic manifestations of death-a result that is hypnotically and universally unsettling.

Born in the rustic countryside of Sangsar, Iran, Derakshani's detailed observation of the natural world is apparent in his work, as is his inspiration from Persian art and folkloric traditions; the imagery of gardens, epics, and miniatures is a critical part of his visual narrative. After leaving Iran in the aftermath of the revolution, Derakshani incorporated influences of Western modernist painting and Persian motifs to develop a visual language of his own, which richly and often piercingly addresses the challenges of calling multiple places home, and the complexity and trauma of modern Iranian cultural history.

This latest series was motivated by Derakshani's return to his native country, where, disappointed by what he saw after decades living overseas, a commentary on the state of Iran today has manifested itself in "My Wicked Persian Carpet." However, as Scott Indrisek writes in his essay accompanying the exhibition catalog: "Defining Derakshani as a political painter would be reductive-shrinking his oeuvre into little more than an extended, anguished salvo against a regime-and it's more interesting to note the unavoidable ways that such concrete realities are instead ingested, and transformed, by the artist."

Monday, 16 September 2013

Iranians turn to art as a weapon for survival

A photo of the Rain series, by Abbas Kiarostami. Courtesy of the artist.

by Salman Siddiqui, Gulf times

Despite strict censorship and a regime considered oppressive by the Western world, internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami believes that art and culture is flourishing in his part of the world.

The filmmaker is in town as part of an invitation extended by the Doha Film Institute, which is presenting a  programme of Kiarostami’s early works, documentaries and award-winning feature films including Taste of Cherry (1997) and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) at the Museum of Islamic Art from  September 13 to 21.

In an interview with Gulf Times yesterday, Kiarostami said that “people [in Iran] are all turning to art as a shelter; as a weapon for survival. This is the only choice that they have in order to be able to undergo and overcome the social and political pressures.”

He said that if one looked at the history of Iran, one would observe that whenever there had been political repression, art production gained strength and quality. “This is what you can see in Iran today also. These days everybody takes calligraphic and painting classes.”

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Written On The Body/ Politics Of Poetry: Iranian Artists & The Power Of Script

Pt 2, Mixed Bag Mag

Curator Sanaz Mazinani’s show The Third Space is wrapping up this weekend at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Mixed Bag Mag caught up with this busy and multi-talented woman whose career as an artist, educator and curator has her bifurcating herself between Toronto and San Francisco. In the second part (read Part 1 here) of Mixed Bag Mag’s look into the work of contemporary Iranian art Sanaz offers historical background to the contemporary foreground of some of the work included The Third Space and the symbolic and visual power of script.

Avestaaee Script

The History of Calligraphy in Persia

Persian Calligraphy has had a significant effect on the enhancement of Persian arts and culture. The various Iranian Calligraphic styles, such as Taliq, Nastaliq, Naskh, Thulth, Reqa, Towqi, Shekasteh, and Kufic each carry with them an emblem of an era of history. These decorative scripts allow the reader to visually enjoy the composition of the word, in a wholly new way, providing the viewer with multiple levels of engagement with the work of art.

Artist Gita Hashemi‘s Book of Illuminations.

Contemporary use of calligraphy by Iranian artists

Sunday, 1 September 2013

SubRosa: The Language of Resistance

SubRosa: The Language of Resistance runs until December 7, 2013  at the USF Contemporary Art Museum.

Artists include Ai Weiwei (China), Ramón Esono Ebalé (Equatorial Guinea), Barbad Golshiri (Iran), Khaled Jarrar (Palestine), Zanele Muholi (South Africa), and José Toirac and Meira Marrero (Cuba). Curated by Noel Smith; Organized by USFCAM; Made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and supported by the USF Institute on Black Life and EG Justice.

The exhibition, curated by Noel Smith, examines the art and language of artists in response to social, political, and environmental repression. Although the political agency of art is regularly debated, there is a growing group of artists today who make work with political agency and relevancy in mind. Covering continents and cultures, these artists share a desire to question dominant political systems and the prevalent status quo, sometimes covertly and dangerously. More broadly, SubRosa, titled for the Latin phrase meaning secrecy, poses several questions about the role of art in political life.

You’re probably familiar with at least one of the artists who have work in the exhibition. But we wanted to share a bit about an artist you may not be immediately familiar with, Iranian artist Barbad Golshiri. Golshiri will soon have a solo exhibition entitled Curriculum Mortis at Thomas Erben Gallery in New York.

As Dad as Possible, as Dad as Beckett, Barbad Golshiri, 2000 – 2013, Iron, ashes, 200.3 x 100.2 x 28.3 cm. Courtesy USF CAM. 

Barbad Golshiri

Barbad Golshiri is a contemporary artist who was born in 1982 in Tehran, Iran. He continues to work and live in Tehran, even as his work is considered controversial in the place he calls home.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World

A Show of Strength by Middle Eastern Women Photographers

Nil Nil #19, Shadi Ghadirian, 2008, colour photograph. Ed. of 10, 76 x 115 cm; 29.9 x 45.3 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

by Kerri MacDonald, Lens, New York Times

Despite the cultural limitations many have faced, women have been at the forefront of photography in Iran and the Arab world. In societies dominated by men, female photographers are using images to raise questions and explore issues of identity. They’re telling stories — often their own.

“I was raised with people trying to tell me what to do and think,” said Newsha Tavakolian, who shoots for The New York Times from Iran. “Now I want those looking at my work to have their own opinions. I don’t want to enforce any ideas or views upon them. They are free.”

Ms. Tavakolian‘s work is included in “She Who Tells a Story,” an exhibition showcasing 12 photographers from the Arab world, all women. She was encouraged to tell her story “in a different way” when she lost her permit to work as a photojournalist in Iran in 2009. Her photography, she said last week via e-mail, has been shaped by limitations.

But, she said: “The obstacles I have faced are not so special, nor have they been overall specific to me: my sisters, my friends and even my mother and grandmother all have to deal with limitations written up in laws or demanded by culture.”

“She Who Tells a Story” opened at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this week. Four of the artists included are Iranian; three — Ms. Tavakolian, Gohar Dashti and Shadi Ghadirian — live and work in Iran today. The exhibit also highlights work by Jananne Al-AniBoushra Almutawakel, Rana El Nemr, Lalla EssaydiTanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Nermine HammamRania Matar and Shirin Neshat, the fourth Iranian artist, who lives in New York.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Persian literature convention in Sarajevo

ASPS 2013 Conference: Program


by Ari Siletz, Iranian

This September the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina will host the 6th biennial convention of the Association for The Study of Persianate Societies (ASPS). The association publishes research on societies significantly influenced by Persian culture wherever in the world they may be, which is why the gathering is in Sarajevo this year. Under Ottoman rule until 1878, Bosnians still carry the Ottoman high regard for Persian literature and still have institutions dedicated to the study of Persian. Over the centuries, this Eastern European city has produced several poets who wrote in Persian.

This year novelist Mahmoud Dowlatabadi will attend the convention to receive a tribute from ASPS for his lifelong contribution to Persian literature. His monumental novel Kelidar  has been widely read in Iran since the first of ten volumes was published in 1977, but one of his novels written during the early 1980s is still at the censor’s office waiting for an approval that may never come. The Colonel is available in German, English, Italian and Hebrew, but not in the original Persian. The reason is that Dowlatabadi has declined to make the revisions required by the censor’s office.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Waiting for the Sun

‘Day and night I tore myself to shreds so the sun would come – it didn’t come’

L-R: Alfredo Caceres, Hamed Nikpay, Hussain Jiffry & Farzin Farzad. Photo courtesy Javad Nikpour and REORIENT.

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT

For three hot, sticky, and otherwise unbearable summer days in July, a motley crew of Iranians from around the globe descended on Toronto’s sleepy Harbourfront Centre to put the ‘Tehran’ back into Tehranto. For its third edition, the Tirgan festival gathered together artists, musicians, performers, scholars, and myriad other pundits from various disciplines for what has now become the world’s largest celebration of Iranian arts & culture outside Iran. Kicking off this year’s theme of ‘hope’ – which some may have regarded as a reflection of the dire state of Iranian international relations, or of a spirit of optimism regarding Iran’s political future – was Siavash Shabanpour’s operatic rendition of Arash the Archer, based on the late Siavash Kasraii’s poetic retelling of the ancient Iranian myth. To the clash of symbols and the occasional clack of a beer can cutting through the thick veil of humidity that summer’s eve, a colourful crowd of awestruck, sweat-drenched onlookers witnessed the timeless trial of one of Iran’s most noble sons against the warriors of Turan, which brought forth a renewed spirit of nationalism, pride, and, true to the festival’s adopted theme, hope; and thus, with a bang (literally), the kabab-infused festivities began.

Gutted at having missed Paris-based Shahrokh Moshkin-Ghalam’s dance interpretation of a selection of love stories from the Shahnameh (the Persian ‘Book of Kings’ epic) for the second time due to the bane of typical Toronto traffic – which the influx of Iranians did nothing to assuage whatsoever – I arrived at Harbourfront a good three hours before a concert by Hamed Nikpay, consoling myself with the fact that I’d have plenty of time to explore the communal delights the festival had to offer. After picking up a bit of Persian swag at the pop-up bazaar on the green (sans bargains, alas), and a spanking-new copy of Hamid Rahmanian’s new version of the Shahnameh, I caught a lecture on classical Iranian music by the eccentric Lloyd Miller, a somewhat familiar name in the jazz lexicon. Although captivated at first by the 70-something’s colourful anecdotes about performing in pre-Revolution Iran and his remarks about identifying as an Iranian (though he lamented not having ‘the cool hair or the cool skin’), he later lost me with some dubious remarks about the origins of Persian music and misplaced praise for various figures in Iranian history. The juvenile spirit of my university days still flowing strong within me, I slipped out as inconspicuously as possible (having only had to walk past a camera or two) back into the heat, ticket in hand, in pursuit of Agha Hamed.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Deitch Takes Another Look at ‘Calligraffiti’ for New York Gallery

Leila Pazooki, This Is Not Green, 2009,  Illuminated neon tubes,  19.29 x 78.74 in / 49 x 200 cm. Courtesy Leila Heller Gallery.

by Carol Kino, The ArtsBeat, New York Times

Last month Jeffrey Deitch resigned as the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Although he won’t step down immediately, the art world is abuzz with rumors about what he’ll do next. Perhaps a clue to his future interests may be found  in “Calligraffiti: 1984-2013,” an upcoming show at the Leila Heller Gallery in Chelsea opening Sept. 5.

It will explore the relationship between graffiti and calligraphy with the work of nearly 50 artists, from Jackson Pollock and Jean-Michel Basquiat to Keith Haring and his protégé “LA II” (as Angel Ortiz is known). Many of the artists are Middle Eastern, including Shirin Neshat and Hossein Zenderoudi, and several are street artists, like the French-Tunisian star eL Seed.

The show essentially updates “Calligraffiti,” an exhibition that he and Ms. Heller collaborated on in 1984, back when he was a Citibank art adviser with a passion for street art, and she was an Upper East Side dealer specializing in art from the Middle East, primarily Iran.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Iran Modern

Video: 57 Images of Amazing Pre-Revolution Iranian Art in 28 Seconds

by Tahiat Mahboob, Asia Society

On September 6, Asia Society Museum unveils a landmark exhibition, Iran Modern, featuring artwork from painters, photographers, designers, and sculptors created during the three decades leading up to the 1979 revolution.

Together, these unique and extraordinary pieces offer a fresh look at 20th-century Iranian cultural history — a period when Iranian artists engaged with the world through the Tehran Biennial in Iran and overseas exhibitions. Institutions both in Iran and around the world collected their works.

Enjoy an advance look at this groundbreaking exhibition in the video above.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art, On Display and In Demand

Masters of Persian, Reza Derakshani (2008). Mixed media on canvas.  Courtesy Muftah.

by Nima Shirazi, Muftah

An upcoming exhibition at the Asia Society in New York City will highlight over 100 pieces of pre-revolution Iranian art – paintings, photography, drawing and sculpture – created by “the most noteworthy Iranian artists of the 1950s to 1970s” compiled to “shed light on a period when Iranian artists were engaged with the world through the Tehran Biennial in Iran as well as exhibitions overseas, and when their work was collected by institutions inside and outside of Iran.”

The landmark loan exhibition, entitled Iran Modern and running from September 6, 2013 to January 5, 2013, “maps the genesis of Iranian modernism in order to argue that the development of modernist art is inherently more globally interconnected than previously understood” and “provides a dynamic perspective on Iran’s rich culture and history for the public.”

Meanwhile, a recent article in Art Radar Asia, an online magazine that tracks contemporary art trends, calls Iran “one of the most prolific and productive countries for contemporary art” in the Middle East and identifies eight innovative, influential and internationally-renowned Iranian artists of the past 35 years.

Included in Art Radar‘s list and accompanied by concise and illuminating blurbs about their work are photographer Abbas Kowsari, abstract calligrapher Golnaz Fathi, and painters Afshin Pirhashemi, Alireza Adambakan, and Babak Roshaninejad.

Here is an excerpt: