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.