Saturday, 20 July 2013

Chasing the Butterfly

7 September - 12 October 2013
Nicky Nodjoumi, Inspector's Scrutiny, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 85 x 130 in / 215.9 x 330.2 cm. Courtesy of Taymour Grahne Gallery.

This September, Taymour Grahne Gallery opens its doors with an inaugural exhibition by acclaimed Iranian painter Nicky Nodjoumi. Featuring large-scale oil paintings in the main gallery and works on paper in the lower gallery, Chasing the Butterfly and Other Recent Paintings explores Nodjoumi’s surreal hybridization of historic and contemporary imagery intercut with sharp political commentary.

Born 1942, in Kermanshah, Iran and based in New York since 1981, Nodjoumi uses his practice to explore the intersection of his personal history with the politics of alienation and dislocation.  Combining historic references, social realist critique and surrealist abstraction, his compositions feature multi-layered human figures engaged with bizarrely counter-poised animals, theatrically staged against indeterminate backdrops and barren landscapes.

Not unlike the work of the German Social Realist Neo Rauch, Nodjoumi’s paintings suggest the intention of a narrative reading, but are instead cryptic and open-ended.  In Inspector’s Scrutiny, 2012, warriors from traditional Persian miniatures join with anonymous suited men in the struggle to tether and subjugate a supine horse, creating a scene that is both politically charged and ambiguously unresolved. Nodjoumi’s figures are continually spliced and rejoined on fractured registers with mismatched proportions, a spatial discrepancy that heightens the work’s disjointed layering of history and identity. Underlining this jarring sense of removal from reality and providing material textuality to the work are the artist’s sketches and clippings, also on display.

This uneasy perspective is balanced by the artist’s humorous, yet bitter satire.  In Time to Pray, 2012, a family of apes grouped in a pose redolent of ritual worship are in fact engaged in coital activity, overseen by a supplicating mullah, who seems to vindicate the absurdity of adherence to religious stricture.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Beyond Politics, Iranians Share Their Rich Art and Culture

Toronto's Tirgan Festival is the largest of its kind in the world 

Vancouver Pars National Ballet. Courtesy Epoch Times.

by Madalina Hubert,

Legend has it that the land of Iran was expanded into a diverse nation when the Iranian archer Arash shot an arrow to end the dispute between the feuding kingdoms of Iran and Turan.

The understanding was that the place the arrow landed would mark the territory between the two countries.

The arrow flew for a long time—from dawn to noon—and significantly expanded Iran’s boundaries, encompassing in its path different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and traditions.

This legend inspired Tirgan, a traditional festivity honouring diversity, and today this celebration continues with a multi-day Toronto festival called Tirgan (Tir is a reference to arrow in Farsi).

“For thousands of years, Iranians have been celebrating diversity … and Tirgan is a celebration of diversity,” said Behrouz Amouzgar, the festival’s public relations director.

The Tirgan Festival, taking place July 18-21 at the Harbourfront Centre, is the largest celebration of Iranian art and culture in the world. With over 90 events and 150 Canadian and international artists of Iranian descent, the festival features artistic and cultural events of various genres, as well as a food and shopping bazaar.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Unpicking the Negatives

Images of Iran in the West

A German, an exiled Iranian and a Persian singer – at the "Bliss Festival", the clichés are roundly challenged and turned on their heads. If we look beyond the stereotypical images of Iran, we find a culture that has the power to touch our hearts.

by Marian Brehmer, Qantara

Here's Benedikt Fuhrmann, the spotlight trained on him, standing in lederhosen and woollen stockings, typical of Bavaria in southern Germany. But we're in Hamburg, in the North of Germany, and this is a festival of Iranian culture. How did this mishmash come about?

Benedikt Fuhrmann, a photographer and designer from Bavaria, travelled through Iran in 2006 and fell in love. "Fell in love," he says, with the effect that Iran had on him. The country had a firm hold on him, as did the hospitable and friendly Iranian people. So he stayed – ostensibly on his way to Vietnam – for a whole year, eventually expressing this affinity by way of a photo exhibition in 2012.

His collection of 24 empathic images and sound installations, aims to act as an antidote to the negative images of Iran so prevalent in the West.

Benedikt Fuhrmann spent a year in Iran and attempted to acquaint himself with the culture so often shrouded by negative images prevalent in the West. He aims to pass on his findings to a German audience in the form of an exhibition of photos and sound installations. Image courtesy of Qantara.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Asia Pacific's art market comes of age

Growing affluence in the region is leading art collectors and dealers to look closer to home

by Roxana Azimi and Florence de Changy, Guardian Weekly

This year the Hong Kong International Art Fair was held under the Art Basel brand name for the first time, sending an important message to the art world. After Basel and Miami, the leading western art show has invested in the former British colony. Art dealers, collectors and the merely curious enjoyed an artistic "fusion" in late May that mixed bankable western artists with Asian stars. But the east-west paradigm is not the only one at play in the contemporary art market; a pan-Asian shift is under way and local identities are being asserted.

The art market, as usually understood by the players in the art world, has moved to Hong Kong to meet Asia, and is being transformed in the process. Unnoticed by the west, the Asia-Pacific region has developed several artistic centres and is now determined to assert its own tastes and preferences, with no regard for what some would call western diktats.

This awakening of contemporary art in Asia is backed by abundant regional cash. According to a 2012 study by consultants Capgemini, there are more millionaires in Asia than in the United States. To lure them to the cause of art, quality art fairs have burgeoned since 2007 in Dubai, New Delhi, Hong Kong and Singapore, with the next one, the Sydney Contemporary, due in September. They share a common characteristic, which is that the Asian component dominates. The stars here are not British (Damien Hirst) or American (Jeff Koons and Richard Prince), but Chinese (Liu Wei), Iranian (Farhad Moshiri) and Indonesian (Eko Nugroho).

Working underground: the life of an Iranian tattoo artist

This tattoo features a line from a Persian poem: "If Iran no longer existed, I would no longer want to exist either."

In Iran, tattoos were long considered only fit for criminals. But in the past few years, they have become popular with the younger generation, which has abandoned the Persian word “khalkoobi” for the western term “tattoo”. However, Iran’s thriving tattoo scene remains underground.

While there is no specific law against tattoos, the Iranian authorities use Islamic law to denounce it, as they do with many other trends considered too “Western”. When they arrest criminals and parade them in public – a common practice in Iran – they sometimes show off men’s tattoos as “proof” of their guilt. Meanwhile, athletes are forced to hide theirs under band-aids during competitions.

All tattoo artists work underground, usually in the back rooms of beauty and tanning salons. Some have picked up their skills abroad, in the United Arab Emirates or in Iraqi Kurdistan, and returned to teach others. While their ranks are growing, some Iranians still prefer to go abroad to get more complicated tattoos.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Iran listens for Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, the lost voice of Ramadan

Traditional Persian recording of Rabana (Our Lord) has not been broadcast since artist spoke out against government in 2010

Iranian singer Mohammad-Reza Shajarian enjoys enormous popularity in Iran for his recording of a Ramadan prayer set to Persian melodies. Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP. Courtesy Guardian.

by , Guardian

At every Ramadan for more than 30 years, millions of Iranians have turned on the TV or the radio to listen to one particular prayer in the few moments just before Iftar, the evening meal when observers break their fast.

It is called Rabana (Our Lord), a breathtaking performance by Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, Iran's most celebrated singer and grand maestro, who has selected sections of four different Arabic verses of the Qur'an, each beginning with the phrase "Our Lord" and sung it as one combined prayer, based on traditional Persian melodies.

Many Iranian faithfuls regard it as the perfect way to express thanks to God and to ask for his mercy and forgiveness at the end of their day-long religious duty. For thousands of non-believers, too, Rabana is compulsory listening as Ramadan is as much an opportunity for big family gatherings as it is a religious festival.

"Our Lord, grant us mercy from thine own presence for thou art the grantor of bounties without measure," Shajarian sings in Rabana. "Our Lord, we believe; then do thou forgive us and have mercy upon us for thou art the best those who show mercy." A version of Shajarian's Rabana with English subtitles is posted on Youtube.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

How Artists Survive

Part 4 - Independence Day in Iran 

by Juri Koll, The Huffington Post

I got a compliment for my first "Survive" article (for Huff Post) yesterday, from Tehran. I was grateful, and as I began to explore this person's links, I found an accomplished conceptual artist whose work goes to the heart of what it means to be an artist, to be free, to express independently within an incredibly restrictive society.

We conversed on a famous social network that is forbidden in Iran, and so Hadi and I conversed through the early morning hours of Tehran via a proxy network. When I realized it was 4 a.m. there, he said "No problem, my sleep should wait when we are talking about art." Ironically, I'm sure that it's recorded somewhere on one of our NSA servers now.

His name is Hadi Fallahpisheh, and his most recent work is called US Prime, and was exhibited at the Maryam Harandi Gallery in Tehran in 2012. The title refers to us, as in both U.S. and Iran -- as people. And Prime, as in prime symbol, which is used to generate more names for things that are similar, according to Wikipedia. U.S. Prime as a work creates an understanding of the concept in several ways.

Hadi discovered some postcards from the late 1950s and early 1960s in which members of an Iranian family write home about the U.S., expressing their impressions of the U.S. from famous places like the Grand Canyon, San Francisco Bay Bridge at sunset, Chicago's skyline, and the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, and somewhat out of the way places such as a YMCA building in Des Moines, Iowa, and the Bull Shoals Dam in the Ozarks. The cards are blown up big, supplemented with the actual backs of the cards translated into English.

These often happy impressions are laced with longing for home and family. Hadi "bought them off an old woman who was selling her used furniture". She was the mother of the people listed in the postcards.