Friday, 28 June 2013


Iranian photographer breaks down borders to win Royal Academy Rose Award

 Mitra Tabrizian wins praise for an image that captures “the crisis of contemporary culture” in both East and West.
Mitra Tabrizian, ‘The Long Wait’, 2005. Image courtesy the artist,Wapping Project, Bankside, and Art Radar Asia.

by Art Radar Asia

On 3 June 2013, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, announced Tehran-born, London-based photographer Mitra Tabrizian as winner of the Rose Award for Photography. The Long Wait brings together ideas of East and West in its exploration of migration, belonging and contemporary culture.  

Mitra Tabrizians The Long Wait, from the 2005-2006 series “Border”, was named the winner of the annual Rose Award and awarded a GBP1000 prize. The work will show at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition from 10 June until 18 August 2013 in London.

The Long Wait is a portrait of a female Iranian exile who is anonymous and whose story remains unknown to the public.

Breaking down “Borders” with photography

In an interview with curator Rose Issa cited on the artist’s website, Tabrizian explained that the “Border” series, photographed in London and Tehran, concentrates on “the fantasy” of Iranians in exile. The artist said that the subjects photographed in London present “a sense of displacement, solitude, creating a mise-en-scene which is unsettling”. The photographs shot in Tehran are panoramic views of crowds in what Tabrizian calls “a familiar environment, yet the image still connotes a sense of seclusion, stressing the alienation felt by Iranians today.”

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Azin Seraj's Unsettling Art Vehemently Criticizes US Sanctions on Iran 

The artist presents a politically pointed exhibition about the effects of American economic policy on the people of her native Iran. 
Azin Seraj, "Infant Formula", Digital Print, Framed, 30" x 20", 2013. Courtesy Martina }{ Johnston Gallery.

by Alex BigmanEast Bay Express

Sublunar, Azin Seraj's debut solo exhibition now at Martina } { Johnston Gallery, is one of the more overtly political exhibitions you will find in Berkeley presently. The artist, who holds citizenship in Iran and Canada, presents a vehement counter-narrative to the Obama administration's rhetoric around placing escalating economic sanctions on Iran. At the same time, Seraj sees her work as, above all, "synthesizing personal experiences and meaning" in the contexts in which she operates. Her pieces often drift askew of hard politics toward a more expansive, even mystical aesthetic terrain. The result is illuminating.

Although exhibited in the gallery's back screening room, Sublunar's frontispiece is "Lullaby," a video in which hazy and unsettling imagery — rows of ice cubes dyed to resemble the Iranian flag slowly dripping, plumes of likewise colored smoke curling up into a burnt-orange cloud — accompanies an audio track of Obama triumphantly announcing the tightening of economic sanctions on Iran in condemnation of the country's nuclear program. "We are sending a clear message that we stand with the Iranian people as they seek to exercise their universal rights," he concludes. Text then appears on screen before a moonlit nocturnal scene, effectively replacing the suggestive opacity of the previous visuals with a clear position: the sanctions, although couched by the American president in a rhetoric of humanitarianism, have in fact resulted in serious shortages of food and medicine for Iranians. Obama's waxing on universal rights hence rings with "no validity or justification amongst Iranians across the world."

Monday, 24 June 2013

Love and Pomegranates: Artists and Wayfarers on Iran

by Meghan Nuttall Sayres, The Huffington Post

My last post was entitled "Media Washed Middle East," in which I wrote about my experiences traveling and writing about the Middle East. Those sojourns abroad culminated in an anthology that was just published this spring by Nortia Press entitled Love and Pomegranates: Artists and Wayfarers on Iran. It is a collection of essays, poetry, interviews and blog posts written by ordinary people who have found friendships, mentors and muses in Iran. The anthology aims to challenge stereotypes about Iran and its people currently perpetuated in the Western media. Below is the introduction to the book...

Prior to my first trip to Iran in March 2005, when I was invited to speak at the country's First International Children's Book Festival, I had looked for a book to help relieve doubts about my decision to go. At first, I found none. Then a friend gave me a copy of Alison Wearing's Honeymoon in Purdah. Wearing's account of her travels in Iran during the summer of 2000 helped me to deconstruct the myth that Iran is a haven of sequestered women and armed masked martyrs. Her book -- infused with humor -- showed me that I, too, would be welcomed there.

Love and Pomegranates: Artists and Wayfarers on Iran came about because my friends, colleagues and I have developed a profound appreciation of Iranian culture and an abundance of stories about the friendships we made and the generosity we received in Iran. On our journeys we found another Iran, one that lies in stark contrast to the ominous picture of their culture painted by the American and other Western mainstream media, which has repeatedly tainted our collective perspective on Iran. A recent study discovered that half of Americans view Iran as a threat and opinions of that country have worsened in recent years; yet, two thirds of us have never met an Iranian. Perhaps the study suggests that the media's focus on our nation's foreign policies and on the idea of national security prevents us from considering the richness of Persian history and culture, which reflects a long-held tradition of peace and hospitality.

Perhaps the bias against Iranians is bound up in a bias against Muslims. After the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 polls revealed that the perceived threat from Muslims living in the United States and abroad increased significantly. While many Iranians in the U.S. and Iran are Muslim, they are also secular, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Bahai, or follow other spiritual paths. An Iranian acquaintance of mine living in Tehran attends her father's mosque and her mother's Catholic church. Dr. Carl Ernst, a professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill estimates that there are at least 300,000 Christians in Iran today. Historically, in Sasanian Iran, Christianity was a prominent religion and home to a number of Eastern churches that were considered heretical by the Byzantines.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

An Uphill Struggle All the Way

Musicians in Iran
Officials sweeping up CDs and DVDs in Iran. Photo Courtesy MEHR and Qantara.

by Bamdad Esmaili, Qantara

With heavy censorship and no copyright laws, being a musician in Iran is a thankless job. Bamdad Esmaili spoke to a number of Iranian musicians about the manifold challenges they face.

The presidential elections in Iran four years ago and the waves of protest they unleashed remain fresh in many people's minds, particularly now that the country went to the polls again on 14 June. In 2009, songs relating to the so-called "Green Movement" sprang up like mushrooms. Musicians inside and outside Iran released new material inspired by the political protest movement on the Internet on a daily basis.

Singer Arya Aramnejad from Babol in northern Iran was among them. His song "Ali Barkhiz", which he put out during the religious Ashura festival in 2009, proved his undoing. In the music video for the track, he sang, "What sin have the people committed? / We just want freedom", while showing scenes of bloody clashes between militia and demonstrators.Aramnejad went on to call upon the imam Ali, considered by many Muslims to be the very first imam, to rise up and do something. As a result of his song, the musician was repeatedly sent to prison, where he suffered many reprisals. He was only released again in early 2013.

Threats and repression at home and abroad 

Untitled 2013

Nasim Nasr on Her Exhibition "Untitled 2013" at Australia's Greenaway Art Gallery
Courtesy The Huffington Post

Interview by James ScarboroughThe Huffington Post

Nasim Nasr's artistic practice seeks to diagnose and interpret universal themes that resonate with all viewers, irrespective of cultural heritage. Her statement for her upcoming show at Australia's Greenaway Art Gallery, which includes new video, photographic and three-dimensional works, elaborates on this practice:

The repetitive chant of "I believe in love" manifests a non-denominational universalism in belief, both as announcement and affirmation, of a philosophy of compassion, harmony and goodness in a contemporary world of intolerance and indifference.
The words "I believe in love" symbolically and metaphorically fill the cupped hands, which are then passed over the speaker's face and head, much like in the act of washing or blessing, suggesting the essential nature or soul of the speaker in this universal hope for humanity. Living with and exercising a desire to believe in love can unify all differences.
Her work, however, is more complex and, thus, more interesting than the simple profession of "I believe in love." It has to acknowledge and assimilate cultures with different artistic and value systems, the least of which are her own. She was born in Iran and later immigrated to Australia. In fact, it's the struggle to express universal themes in a polarized world that gives the work its edge, its relevance, and its relentless interest.


FAD interviews Iranian artist: Afshin Naghouni

The Veil, 2012, mixed media, 150 x 190 cm. Courtesy FAD

After falling from the 6th floor of a building in Iran at the age of 24, fleeing to England three years later to seek refuge from wars and revolutions, to being left on his own permanently disabled in a wheelchair with only 350 pounds in his pocket. All of these trials and tribulations combined with his already embedded artistic talent has helped him to recieve a well deserved title as an established and highly acclaimed artist living in London

Playing it ‘safe’ for many years, Naghouni’s art now deals with thoughtful and provacative themes, where he questions how Muslim women are oppressed and exploited while western women are liberated, and vice versa. How we become what we wear and what we wear becomes even more important than the person who wears them. He thrives on continually reminding his viewer that there is a darker more sinister concept embedded within images which at first glance seem visually pleasing. He seeks to challenge them to discern what, if anything is real.

Brimming with a cool demeanour, a pure soul and a passion which is only ignited when the time is right to produce, Naghouni sits down with FAD at Go Figurative, where he just recently finished a solo exhibition, to answer some questions about his life challenges and artistic practice and how it is now ‘surreal’ for him to be exhibiting with artists like Banksy.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Art exhibition highlights Molla Nasreddin heritage

by Aynur Jafarova,  AzerNews

Azerbaijan's capital Baku will host the opening of an art exhibition devoted to the heritage of the Molla Nasreddin literary character inspired by 13th century Muslim cleric who was remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes, on June 21.

The exhibition, titled "The value of Molla Nasreddin heritage in the modern world", is being organized by Miras Social Organization in Support of Studying Cultural Heritage and takes place in Baku Art Gallery.

The exhibits at the show, which aims to show the value of Molla Nasreddin heritage in the present-day world, are devoted to the topics of the Molla Nasreddin satirical magazine, which was one of the most remarkable projects in the history of the Azerbaijani press.

The Baku exhibition features works by young painters such as Yaylagul Ramazanova, Emin Elishov, Shahin Guliyev, Matanat Aghazade, Aydan Aghazade, Kanan Mammadov, Anar Shamsiyev, Gurban Orujly, Vugar Gurbanov, Konul Mammadova, Vusala Talibova and others.

The eight-page Molla Nasreddin magazine, which was published in Azerbaijani and occasionally in the Russian language, represented a new stage in the development of national satire and cartoon art. The features and columns of the magazine were discussions, short witty pieces of writing, humorous poems, advertisement and telegrams, satirical stories, anecdotes, cartoons, caricatures, illustrations, etc.

Edinburgh Int’l Film Festival 2013: From Tehran to London

by Michael PattisonFront Row Reviews

At the present crossroads, the conditions under which Iran’s national cinema is being made (or not being made, as is often the case) are as worthy of analysis as the films themselves. Precisely because Iranian filmmakers are currently under threat of artistic censorship and/or legal restriction (such as house arrest or even a prison sentence), however, their output has enjoyed an unquestioned critical status, as if an artist working within and against such suppression is by default a genius. As Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film demonstrated last year, though, courage is not equable to insight. Condemnation of a political regime does not therefore preclude criticism of the art conditioned by it; for too long now, Iran’s more internationally celebrated filmmakers have, for numerous reasons, misplaced their focus and/or shirked the grander questions facing them.

In the case of Mania Akbari’s latest work From Tehran to London, it’s unlikely that anyone will see the film without prior knowledge that only half of it was completed. It opens with a dedication to “all the filmmakers in Iran, who have served a prison sentence and the ones who are still in prison”, and toward the end of its 45 minutes the director herself tells us in voice-over that production was stopped after crew members were arrested; to begin with, Akbari had never been granted permission from the Iranian government to make the film. While it’s important to draw attention to this continually criminal administration, the fear is that the film itself is consequently celebrated as an inherently perceptive work.

This is not the case. From Tehran to London, originally titled Women Do Not Have Breasts, unfolds as a series of conversational exchanges between a petty bourgeois couple Ava (Neda Amiri) and Ashkan (Bijan Daneshmand), living in their plush home on the outskirts of Tehran, and their housemaid Maryam (Elahe Hesari) and Ava’s sister, Roya (Akbari). The film’s single-take set-ups will be familiar to those who have seen Akbari’s notable debut 20 Fingers (2004), as will the kind of talky intellectualising and cerebral but tempestuous self-assessments with which its characters converse. Sourness is never too far away.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Persian Influences and Women in Architecture

Gisue Hariri (R) and Mojgan Hariri (L), sisters and co-founders of Hariri & Hariri. Photo Courtesy Asia Society (Karin Kohlberg). 

Interview by Clara Lambert, Asia Society

In the male-dominated field of architecture, Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri have been a complementary force for over 20 years, pushing the boundaries of modern and technically inspired design. The Iran-born sisters came to America and studied architecture at Cornell University in the 1970's. Together they established their New York firm Hariri & Hariri in 1986. They have expanded and redefined the standard definition of architecture by a holistic approach in designing, masterplans, buildings, interiors, furniture, products and, more recently, jewelry and accessories.

The Hariris are often cited as innovators of cutting-edge materials and digital technology that are integrated into futuristic yet organic designs, from luxury residences like the iconic Sagaponac House in Long Island, New York to large-scale multi-use projects like the Sternbrauerei in Salzburg, Austria, which is currently in construction. Their work has been shown at the MOMA, National Building Museum, and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, among other institutions. 

Here, Gisue shares with Asia Society their family experiences, Persian influences, meaningful inspirations and insight.

Before coming to the U.S. for college, you were born and raised in Iran. How did your family and upbringing affect who or where you are today? Was there a cumulative or specific turning point when you realized you wanted to pursue architecture and come to America?

My sister and I are one and a half years apart and grew up in a small Iranian town in the south, attending public schools early on as my father's profession required that we live far in the desert near the oil fields. The desert became both deeply isolating and nurturing. Isolation encouraged our imagination to run wild and develop ideas that a more conventional childhood would have found odd, and we often had to invent our own world, toys and games.

Monday, 17 June 2013


Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Marwan Sahmarani, Selma Gürbüz and Shahpour Pouyan 
19 June - 18 July 2013 

In the physical sense, traces can be visible marks left on a surface. There is also an historical and cultural sense. Our forthcoming exhibition Traces brings together the works of four artists, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Marwan Sahmarani, SelmaGürbüz and Shahpour Pouyan, highlighting their work on paper and explores how the intrinsic and associative qualities of the medium affects their work.

In today’s world when writing can be done on a keyboard and sketches made onscreen, paper can seem like an odd survival from an earlier age. The permanence of a mark of ink on paper sheet, which can only be written on once, seems to contradict the perceived fragility of the medium. Yet the very traits that make paper seem an anachronism in comparison to other media are also its strengths: they bequeath it a timeless and evocative quality. Once a trace is laid on to the paper, it can hardly be erased. Paper works cannot be over-worked or worked over. They tread a careful line between forward planning and spontaneous execution.

Paper is indelibly associated with books and the dissemination of knowledge. From its origins in China more than 2000 years ago, to its westward progression through Middle East and on to medieval Europe, through industrialization, up until the internet revolution of recent decades, paper was the primary medium of record.

In the Middle East until modern times paper was also a main medium for representation, with miniatures and diagrams, their strong graphic quality quite unlike easel painting on canvas. This abstract quality lends itself well to a contemporary context, as Marwan Sahramani’s paintings of comical militaristic figures on an almost translucent paper and Selma Gürbüz’s whimsical paintings on a coarser surface attest. Both recall miniatures but in quite different ways- Sahmarani with his finely wrought details embellishing gestural washes of colour, while Gürbüz works appear almost as illustrations emancipated from some giant apocryphal manuscript.

Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Baruther Strasse, an imprint on paper taken from the surface of a wall, is from her ongoing project that highlights historically or symbolically significant walls in Berlin and Tunis. Linking recent history to a more distant past, the wall in question is from a 19th century unplanned graveyard in Berlin which gradually developed into fully fledged cemetery when wealthier families began to build tombs and crypts, which eventually formed an imposing wall around the compound, which reminds Kaabi-Linke of how empty spaces around Berlin were occupied by squatters during the 1980s and 1990s.

The Rumi Festival

This summer the Beshara School at Chisholme is hosting the Rumi Festival, 2–4 August, a celebration of the incomparable life and legacy of Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, whose poetry of universal love and service has had a transformative effect throughout the Muslim world and beyond over the past 700 years.

The Rumi Festival is a unique gathering of artists, scholars, and lovers of truth, celebrating the life work and contemporary relevance of a giant of world spirituality and literature. Its programme is intended to reflect the wholeness and diversity of Rumi’s vision, at once challenging and generous, serious and playful, spiritually aspiring while being firmly planted on this earth.

The Festival Programme contains a rich mix of talks, participatory events, poetry, art and dance, kicking off with a solo concert from Kudsi Erguner, master of the Turkish Ney, on the Friday evening. The programme goes on to encompass talks and discussions about Rumi and his influence today with Roderick Grierson, Alan Williams, Emily Young and others; a Whirling Dervish Sema from Istanbul; installation art from Ismail Acar; theatre, dance and art inspired by Rumi's work and much more.

Details of speakers, performers and programming is still coming in – the below is just an initial taster of some things you can look forward to, more details will be posted soon.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Inspired by Islam

“22500 Pages” by Hadieh Shafie, which is made of tightly wound scrolls, resembles op art. Photo Courtesy San Antonio Express-News

by Elda Silva, San Antonio Express-News

Past and present come together seamlessly in Soody Sharifi's collages. Still, something seems off.

In “Fashion Week,” contemporary women who have been digitally dropped into an ancient Persian court scene strut a catwalk that leads to an empty throne. Modestly dressed in street clothes, the ersatz models' heads are covered by hijabs of varying lengths. Meanwhile, their precursors enjoy the show free of head scarves.

The piece by the Iranian-born, Houston-based Sharifi is one of 20 works featured in “The Jameel Prize: Art Inspired by Islamic Tradition.” The traveling exhibit organized by London's Victoria and Albert Museum is currently at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Inaugurated in 2009, the international biennial prize recognizes contemporary artists and designers who draw on Islamic traditions of art and craft. Some of the pieces in the exhibit, such as Sharifi's, touch on social and cultural issues.

The works in the exhibit are not, strictly speaking, “Islamic art,” says Tim Stanley, senior curator at the V&A.

“Visually, you sense things pulled from Islamic culture and reworked in a way that's relevant to the contemporary world,” Stanley says. “So I think it's really good because it allows you that very quick understanding that there is actually a relevance of Islamic tradition to contemporary art.”