Thursday, 21 March 2013

The tragic endings of Iranian cinema

Iranian cinema has effectively undergone a "brain drain" due to the policies of the Islamic republic.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi, among many others, has been banned from filmmaking in Iran. Courtesy Reuters and Al Jazeera

by Hamid Dabashi, Al Jazeera

They say choose your enemies carefully, for you will end up most resembling them. The trap is particularly treacherous for artists living under political tyranny. One can now see the wisdom of why the leading Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has so carefully skirted politics, even in the direst circumstances, and thus safeguarded his cinema from falling victim to that overriding wisdom. One hundred years from now, the best of Kiarostami's cinema will still mesmerise, baffle, and reward, when many other politically potent filmmakers will scarce be remembered.

Kiarostami's longtime protege Jafar Panahi, however, has not heeded that wisdom, or the logic of his own mentor, and thus now seems like one of the most precious victims of the brutal theocracy he has valiantly opposed and to whose trap, alas, his cinema is falling head first.

Jafar Panahi's most recent film, Parde/Closed Curtain (2013) "has won the top prize for best screenplay at the 63rd Berlin film festival". Co-directed by Kamboziya Partovi, and in defiance of a 20-year ban on filmmaking, "the winner of the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Panahi has been held under house arrest since December 2010 for allegedly making antigovernment propaganda".

Needless to say, the custodians of the Islamic republic weren't very happy with the events in Berlin: An Iranian filmmaker that was banned from making any films went ahead and made a film that won a top prize at a major European film festival.

According to reports, "Iran has protested against the awarding of a Silver Bear to Jafar Panahi for his film Closed Curtain (Parde) at the 63rd Berlin film festival, the ISNA news agency reported."

What would become of a filmmaker when his work of art is so crowdedly fused with the politics of his time?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Art Dubai 2013: A diverse affair

Galleries from 30 nations converge on the city for Art Dubai 2013. Raising awareness is top priority

The letter that never arrived, 2013, by Bita Ghezelayagh. Courtesy Gulf News

by Jyoti Kalsi, Gulf News

A spotlight on West African art, an open-air sculpture gallery by the sea, and an in-depth look at MENA (Middle East Nervous Anxiety) — these are some of the highlights of Art Dubai 2013, to be held at Madinat Jumeirah from March 20 to March 23. The seventh edition of the art fair, which is presented in partnership with the Abraaj Group and sponsored by Cartier, will feature 75 galleries from 30 countries, showcasing latest works by more than 500 artists. Among the booths to look out for is Arndt Gallery’s (Berlin) recreation of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s recent exhibition of Gothic sculptures at the Louvre in Paris; London gallery Victoria Miro’s solo show by legendary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama; and a group exhibition of kinetic art by Edwin’s Gallery, Jakarta.

“The fact that we have galleries from 30 countries makes us the most global art fair. But we are also proud to be the largest showcase for artists from the Arab world,” Fair Director Antonia Carver says.

This year, the fair’s Marker section is focused on West Africa and features galleries from Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Ghana and Senegal. The theme of these concept stands, curated by Lagos-based curator Bisi Silva, is the rapidly evolving nature of West African cities and the impact of these changes on urban society. “Marker exemplifies our aim of making Art Dubai a place of discovery and cross-cultural exchange. Last year, our focus on Indonesia led to the start of many long-term exchanges between Indonesia and the Gulf region, including a section on the Arab art world at the Biennial in Yogyakarta. This year we chose to look at West Africa because we have seen that there are extraordinary artists and art centres there. We want to create awareness about art from that region and encourage cultural interactions and greater synergies that build on the historic and present links between Africa and the Middle East,” Carver says.

Although it is a commercial event, Art Dubai has also played an important role in creating awareness and understanding about contemporary art and engaging the local community with art through its extensive non-commercial programme of curatorial and educational projects. These include free public seminars and talks, art workshops and tours, and various commissioned projects. New curatorial elements added this year are a mobile art gallery located in a truck that will visit different areas of the city; and Sculpture on the Beach — an exhibition of large-scale artworks located on the Mina A’Salam beach. The artworks selected by curator Chus Martinez range from Iranian artist Bitta Fayyazi’s quirky figures, made from pipes and broken porcelain, to Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri’s steel creations. “This picturesque location gives our galleries the freedom to think beyond the confines of their booths and to display large-scale artworks,” Carver says.

MoCA Los Angeles acquires taste for Iranian art

A painting by young Iranian artist Ali Banisadr has made it into MoCA’s permanent collection, while contemporary art from Iran continues to impress internationally.

Gifted to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Los Angeles in 2012, Ali Banisadr’s painting It’s in the Air (2012) was part of the exhibition “A Selection of Recent Acquisitions” (10 February to 11 March 2013), which included some of the 117 works collected by the art institution over the past two years.
Ali Banisadr, 'It's in the Air', 2012, oil on linen, 82 x 120 inches. Image courtesy Ali Banisadr and MoCA, Los Angeles

by Art Radar Asia

Ali Banisadr: the art of war

Originally from Tehran, Ali Banisadr relocated to the United States at the age of twelve during the Iran-Iraq war. Although he is now based in New York, these childhood experiences of war and displacement continue to inform Banisadr’s work, as he explained in a 2011 interview with Asian Art Newspaper,
I decided I was going to make these charcoal drawings based on the sound of explosions that I used to hear at night…. This work prompted me to ask questions like, ‘Why the war happened?’ ‘Who was involved?’ ‘Who was behind it?’, etc. These questions opened a whole flood gate for me to think about world politics in general and world history. Thinking about the experiences in Iran has had a huge impact on the work I do now.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Shahnameh, Re-Imagined: A Colorful New Vision of Old Iranian Folklore

Filmmaker Hamid Rahmanian's forthcoming illustrated tome will bring new, vivid life to the epic tales of the ancient Persian kings.

Courtesy Quantuck Lane Press and The Atlantic

by Steven Heller, The Atlantic

The ancient mythology of Iran is laden with heroic adventures of superhuman champions, magical creatures, heart-wrenching love stories, and centuries-long battles. Ferdowsi's 10th-century text Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), which at 60,000 verses weighs in as the longest epic poems ever written, is a foundation for this mythology, comparable to The Odyssey, Nibelungenlied, and Ramayana.

There has been a long tradition of depicting the stories of Shahnameh, even before Ferdowsi put them into verse. But that tradition reached its zenith in the 17th century and died out in the middle of the 19th. So, for more than 100 years, there has not been an illustrated Shahnameh, except for an occasional drawing of a story here and there.

That will change in May, though, with Quantuck Lane Press's publication of Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings, which was produced, designed, and obsessively illustrated over the course of three years by the filmmaker Hamid Rahmanian. The colorful and painstakingly produced tome aims in part to make Persian culture's oldest stories accessible to the Western world—especially to the children of immigrants, for whom these stories may be new.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Muslima: Muslim Women's Art and Voices Featured at IMOW Exhibition

by Samina Ali, The Huffington Post

As the curator for the International Museum of Women’s new global exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices, the one question I’m repeatedly asked is, “What common trait do Muslim women artists and leaders around the world share that strikes you?”

My answer: their courage.

The sad reality is that many of us have grown accustomed to –and comfortable with –seeing Muslim women portrayed as victims.

Yet brave women around the world undertake heroic acts every day. Many do so without anyone bearing witness.

From Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian's series "Nil, Nil," included in the International Museum of Women’s online exhibition at Courtesy Shadi Ghadiria and The Huffington Post

To even out that ledger, I want to share the heroic stories of three women I interviewed for Muslima. It’s just a small glimpse of what you’ll see in the upcoming exhibition, which just launched.

Dr. Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. For more than 40 years, Dr. Ebadi has worked to improve the lives of women and children in Iran.

Whispers of Love

One man’s quest to translate the great poetry of Persia.

Hafez, Iran’s ubiquitous poet, as depicted in 16th Century painting by Sultan Muhammad. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum Of Art/President And Fellows Of Harvard College and The Daily Beast

by Brad Gooch, The Daily Beast

When Dick Davis, the preeminent translator of Persian poetry of our time, was a boy in Portsmouth, England, in the 1950s, he found on his parents’ bookshelf a copy of Edward FitzGerald’s swooning Victorian translations of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Its presence was not so unusual, as those verses (“A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou”) had set off a minor craze. If an English middle-class family owned just three books, along with the Bible and Shakespeare would be FitzGerald. “It was a kind of universal badge of culture,” Davis jokes. Yet he absorbed so much of what he later described as “the candied death-wish of FitzGerald” that he knew most by heart. Instead of anxiety of influence, he experienced an opiated hit of influence.

Teleport forward 60 years, and Dick Davis, white-haired, spectacled professor emeritus of Persian at the Ohio State University and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, is still adding tile by colored tile to a busy mosaic of translation that former National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia insists is the “most remarkable poetic translation project in the last 20 years.” He began with epics the equal of The Iliad in Persian civilization—the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, and The Conference of the Birds, Attar’s flight of Sufi fancy about various birds in search of the eternally elusive Bird of Birds. Now Davis has succeeded at the enigmatic 14th-century poet Hafez, along with his contemporaries female poet Jahan Malek Khatun and dirty-minded Obayd, in Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. Hafez is so beloved in Iran that cabdrivers recite his lyrics by heart and families at holidays tell fortunes by opening to random lines of his poems—attesting to both their seductive beauty and their Sphinx-like ambiguity. Davis reminds us by folding in these two other court poets that Shiraz in Hafez’s lifetime was a poetry genius cluster.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

When Censorship Turns Against Itself: The Story of Artistic Residence in Iran

by , Foreign Policy Blogs

Last Days of Cafe Prague. Courtesy Amir Darafsheh and FPB

Strict censorship of arts and culture in Iran emerged shortly after the victory of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Through various tactics, rules and regulations the Islamic Republic managed to successfully instill fear and control mainstream arts and culture in an attempt to “purify” the society of westernization and bring back Islamic and revolutionary values into the Iranian life. Decades later, despite its expansive and forceful tactics, the Islamic Republic still struggles to control Iranian contemporary arts and culture.

In the past 34 years of the Islamic Republic, despite the fluctuation and magnitude and severity of censorship in different political eras, the fundamental nature of control and suppression has impacted the lives and works of many Iranian artists, writers and journalists. The detention and trial of artists and journalists in Iran come in waves. Just recently, in a new wave of crackdowns and arrests that began in January 2013, 18 journalists have been detained and sent to the Evin Prison. While a few of them have been let go on bail, the rest remain under arrest. Calling them spies, mobs and affiliates of Western networks, the authorities have vowed to continue these arrests and crackdowns. As Iran gets closer to the June presidential elections, censorship and repression will reach yet another climax aimed at controlling the country’s political atmosphere during these sensitive times.

Crackdowns against freedom of expression have become a part of life in today’s Iran. Censorship is often employed to restrain arts and any form of self-expression that challenge the central power. Ironically, however, the very censorship and repression aimed at maintaining a homogeneous and closed society often result in the mastery of intricacy, subtlety, creativity and innovation in the arts and self-expression at large. Moreover, the kind of expansive and invasive censorship and repression that we see in today’s Iran move into people’s private and daily lives so much so that living an ordinary life becomes a form of art in its own rights.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Exiled From Iran, A Singer Makes The Case For Beauty

Strict laws made it impossible for the Iranian singer Hani to pursue her dream in her home country. Courtesy of the artist

by Roxana Saberi, NPR

A petite woman prances across the stage at Kurdistan TV in Erbil, northern Iraq, with her long, brown hair bouncing behind her.

A band begins to play, the studio audience falls quiet, and the woman starts to sing. Her voice is powerful and her message is personal: It's about fleeing to a foreign land to find freedom.

"Hani," as she calls herself, grew up in next-door Iran, where she learned to sing traditional Iranian music. Eventually, she formed a group with other Iranian women and they started singing in shows. Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance allowed them to perform, but only if no men were in the audience.

"Every time we did our work, it was only for women," Hani says. "We didn't even have permission to take pictures, to take photos to keep for ourselves."

One Small Suitcase, Many Big Dreams

In the Islamic Republic, a woman is typically not allowed to sing solos in public unless she performs for an all-female audience and is accompanied by an all-female band. Strict rules are in place for women singing to mixed-gender audiences. The reason, some conservative Muslims say, is that a woman's voice can arouse improper sexual thoughts in men.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Behind Closed Doors

Iran's International Fajr Festival
Smog covers the Milad telecommunications tower as it appears behind traffic lights in northwestern Tehran. Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images and Qantara.

The organizers at this year's Fajr Festival appear to have been chiefly concerned with issuing the mandatory conclusion that in view of the countless protest movements, the West is at the end of its tether. But even at this state-sponsored cultural event, Iran's very own crisis is tangible.

by Amin Farzanefar,

The Iranian capital Tehran is one of the most polluted cities in the world. At an altitude of 1,500 metres, the thinning air is exacerbated by the fact that due to fuel supplies limited by sanctions, three-and-a-half million cars run on home-brewed diesel. On good days, you can just about make out the Milad Tower – the film festival took place on the ground floor of the 6th tallest tower in the world in the world – through the haze of smog. But even here, Iran's crisis is tangible.

For a while, it was touch and go whether the festival would take place at all, due to concerns that there was barely enough celluloid material to make the film copies. Organisation was more chaotic than usual: The catalogue wasn't ready until three days after the festival had had begun, few of the films had been subtitled, and simultaneous interpretation for foreign correspondents and curators, of which there only appeared to be a handful on this occasion, also came to an end at some point.

There were nevertheless a few choice films for local audiences: Michael Haneke's "Amour", Volker Schlöndorff's French resistance film "The Morning Sea" and Roman Polanski's biting comedy "God of Carnage".

Discussing Islamophobia and Iranophobia in Tehran

A conference held on the sidelines of the festival – the "Third International Conference on Hollywood and Cinema" – attracted considerably more international guests than the event itself.