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:

Friday, 9 August 2013


by Molly Brodak, Guernica

Leeuwenhoek was a draper with soft brown hair cut in two sloping planes like collie ears.

Close up he saw threads and then worldthreads and what was inside of that?

He held a rod of soda glass in flame until it pulled apart into whiskers.

The whisker tips tinked off into mini orbs, eyes and eyes upon his eye.

He saw kind rich men walking through the dark as if through a city.

Their silk ties lifting in wind. And tender underneath.

Phone wires bowing like sails. Skin smell and mush smell of roses.

A radio helplessly beaming horror whistles from Jupiter.

A girl holding a hair-threaded needle.  

Imagine what must be very far away, he thought,

very very far away!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Sincere Art

In Memory of Sadegh Tirafkan, Iranian artist and photographer

Sadegh Tirafkan, Iranian Man, 2000, digital photo, edition 5 of 6, 64×48 cm. Courtesy AB Gallery Luzern & Zürich and ArtAsiaPacific.

by Mehran Mohajer, ArtAsiaPacific

This past May, the Iranian art community mourned the loss of Sadegh Tirafkan, one of the country’s “new art movement” pioneers, to brain cancer at the age of 47. Known for his innovative blending of photography with other artistic media, Tirafkan was an early proponent of photo-based art in Iran and a prominent international representative of Iranian contemporary art.

Born in Karbala, Iraq, to Iranian parents in 1965, Tirafkan spent his childhood and adolescence in Ahwaz, southern Iran, where he volunteered to join the Iranian army during the war between Iran and Iraq (1980–1988). His early experiments in theater and filmmaking as a teenager led him to apply for a degree in photography at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Tehran on leaving the army. After graduating in 1990, Tirafkan remained committed to developing his own visual idiom, and it was this that set him apart from the many artists whose practices were informed by official narratives, or who were pursuing the dominant current of war-oriented documentary photography.

Though Tirafkan’s early works may ostensibly appear to be documentary in nature, the level of dramatic expression betrays a subconscious tendency toward staging, which can be attributed to his cinematic eye. Tirafkan adopted a method of “constructed photography,” combining the photographic image with hints of painting, a practice developed in tandem with his experiments in new media. His friendship with the painter Parvaneh Etemadi also had a strong impact on his work.

While the exploration and use of traditional Iranian imagery is perhaps common among Iranian artists today, Tirafkan should be credited as one of this style’s originators. Choosing historic sites like Persepolis and Susa as his settings and referencing Iranian post-Islamic history—the Ashura ceremony, Iranian ritual champion wrestling, miniature painting and carpet motifs—Tirafkan introduced themes such as the traditional identity versus the modern identity, notions of the self and the problematizing of male psyche.