Sunday, 30 March 2014

Iranian Americans unite, share culture for New Year celebration

Iranian New Year, Nowruz, celebrates spring and nature's rebirth, bringing L.A.'s Persian community together to share its tradition.

Dancers dressed in traditional Persian garments are surrounded by celebrants during an Iranian New Year celebration at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Christina House, For The Times / March 23, 2014). Courtesy Los Angeles Times.
by Los Angeles Times

Wearing a dark blue traditional Iranian garment, Roxanna Ameri followed the rhythm of the music as she marched with others outfitted in festive shades of red, green and purple.

Ameri, 18, was among hundreds of Iranians who flocked to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last weekend for the sixth annual Iranian New Year celebration, hosted by the Farhang Foundation, a nonprofit that celebrates Iranian art and culture in Southern California.

March 20 commemorates both the first day of spring and the Iranian holiday Nowruz, which translates to "new day." The holiday, which ends Sunday in the U.S. and on Tuesday in Iran, is a time for Iranians across the globe to gather with family and friends to celebrate spring and the rebirth of nature.

In Southern California, the holiday gives the Iranian community, one of the largest outside of Iran, an opportunity to celebrate together. The LACMA event included performances by traditional Iranian dancers as well as live music.

"I feel that there is a great sense of unity that comes with this holiday," said Ameri, a Stanford University freshman. "It is not affiliated with any religion or any one race. Instead, the ancient tradition is rooted in a set of universal ideas such as purity, health and cleansing."

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Pop Goes Persepolis

Interview With Manou Marzban

Courtesy Huffington Post

I visited Iranian-American artist, Manu Marzban at his home/studio, in the hills above Cannes and was delighted to see the interesting turns his art has taken since I first reviewed his work. I like the unpretentious and playful quality of his work and thought it was time that I let him explain the way his mind and his art work.

Me: I see that you have done many new things since the last time I visited. Tell me what you have been up to as far as you art goes since the last time I saw you? How has your art been received and what does it feel like to be known better?

Manou: These last twelve months have been quiet a ride, an eye opening experience in the art world. I have come to realize how hard it is for an artist to break through. I found the whole experience to be quiet educational. For my art, the key element was the reaction that my art drew from different audiences. That reaction made me want to cater more, in a more popular fashion, to a responsive audience.The reaction to the first works, 'Streaks', which did not include faces or narratives, was very positive -- but what bothered me was that people would look at them, seem to enjoy them, and just move on. I felt that I didn't' engage my audience enough. I realized then that I am a story teller and making decorative art was not enough for me, I needed to speak and provoke my audience. I had a 'eureka' moment when I was walking around Berlin, after an exposition, and was captivated by the street art. The street art in Berlin is full of energy and tells volumes. You literally go on a visual journey that works because the series of words and images are juxtaposed in such way that make you ponder stories rather than just be stimulated visually. It occurred to me, during one of my meditations on the walls of Berlin, that it is a shame that you cannot physically take the graffiti home with you. And that is what made me decide to do the 'Streets' and the 'Pop Collage' series. I wanted to make street art that you could take home with you and hang in your living room.

Me: What do you think made these paintings such a hit?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Rare Glimpses of Iran’s Lost Underworld

An untitled photograph from Mr. Golestan’s 1975-1977 series showing some of the prostitutes who were confined to Tehran’s red-light district  known as the Citadel of Shahr-e No (New City), before the 1979 revolution. Kaveh Golestan, Courtesy Kaveh Golestan and NY Times.

by Elaine Sciolino, The New York Times

Kaveh Golestan was 52 on the bright spring day he died. He was killed in a minefield in northern Iraq in 2003 while working as a cameraman with the BBC.

Many journalists who encountered Mr. Golestan over his long career (including me) knew him as a hard-news photographer and cameraman. He was one of the finest chroniclers of the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah of Iran, his native country; the nearly eight-year Iran-Iraq war; and Saddam Hussein’s gassing of the Kurds. His photographs of the revolution won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal.

What is less known is that in the years before the revolution, when Iran was still a Westernized monarchy, Mr. Golestan recorded in stark black-and-white the daily lives of Iran’s dispossessed. An exhibition of one of his most dramatic subjects — prostitutes confined to Tehran’s red-light district known as the Citadel of Shahr-e No (New City) — opens in the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam on Thursday and runs through May 4. The complete collection of 61 images will appear as part of a larger photographic, painting and film exhibition on Iran entitled “Unedited History: Iran 1960-2014,” at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris from May 16 to Aug. 24.

The Citadel was an old neighborhood of filthy alleyways in Tehran that was established in the 1920s as a red-light district to house scores of prostitutes. In the 1930s and 1940s, the neighborhood became a thriving sex quarter with rampant crime. Female prostitutes walked the streets seminaked. One of the side streets became famous for its young male prostitutes.

After the 1953 C.I.A.-led coup that reinstated the shah, the authorities walled off the area, turning it into a ghetto whose inhabitants were almost exclusively female prostitutes and their children; only men were allowed to access it through an iron gate.

By the 1970s, about 1,500 prostitutes worked, and most of them lived, in the Citadel. Their daughters often followed them into prostitution; their sons often turned to drugs. Sometimes men came for sex, sometimes to drink, do drugs, watch films or sightsee.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Rumi’s Norouz Greeting

Text from the facsimile edition of the oldest extant manuscript of the Masnavi, dated 577 AH/ 1278 AD, folio 281A, in the Konya Mavlānā Museum, published by the Turkish Ministry of Culture, 1993. Image courtesy of Alan Williams.

Now leave this, father, New Year’s Day is come,         
the creatures’ mouths are sweetened by our Maker.
Back to our river came the spirit’s water,                     
our King has come back to our neighbourhood.
Fortune parades herself and trails her skirts,                 
and beats the drum to break vows of repentance.
Once more the flood has swept away repentance,      
our chance has come now sleep has got the watchman.
The drinkers quaffed the wine and all got sloshed!    
Tonight we’re going to wager our possessions!
From ruby life-increasing spirit-wine                               
we’re ruby in a ruby in a ruby.
The place has come alive again – delightful!                
Go burn esfand against the evil eye!
I hear the noise of happy revellers!                               
Beloved, we must always be like this!...

Translated by Alan Williams from the Sixth book of Rumi’s Masnavi, ed. R.A. Nicholson vv. 939-946 (ed. M. Este‘lami 944-951).

Alan Williams is British Academy Wolfson Research Professor 2013-2016 and is also Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Manchester, England. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Poetry as Life, Life as Poetry

Fifty years ago, Forugh Farrokhzad’s 'Another Birth' modernized and scandalized Iranian poetry with its radical feminine voice.

Image via Wikimedia, courtesy Guernica.
by Shaj Mathew, Guernica

“Poetry is my God,” Forugh Farrokhzad once wrote in a letter to her father. “I am happy when my soul is content and poetry satisfies my soul, whereas if I have all these good things that people kill themselves for and am deprived of writing poetry, I will kill myself.” Farrokhzad encapsulates this life-or-death relationship to her art in “Another Birth,” the titular poem of a collection that by turns modernized and scandalized literary Tehran when it was published 50 years ago in the spring of 1964. Its first line—“My whole being is a dark chant”—affirms the Persian littératrice’s artistic credo: poetry as life, life as poetry.

This was a revolutionary stance for a woman living in mid-century Iran. After all, men dominate the entire Middle Eastern literary tradition, so much of which is organized around the tension between the active male lover and the passive female beloved. The paradigmatic example of this is of course the centuries-old story of Leyli and Majnun, a sort of proto-Romeo and Juliet that figures prominently in the history of Middle Eastern and South Asian art and literature. (Briefly: The two are forbidden to marry, leading Majnun, which literally means mad, to go crazy, move to the woods, and write poetry; in the end, Leyli dies, as does Majnun.) Originating in the verse of the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami, this legend of star-crossed lovers still permeates Middle Eastern literature. But many later interpretations of the story dwell on the point-of-view of the moon-struck Majnuns and never the Leylis with whom they are helplessly besotted.

Here’s where Farrokzhad offers a corrective: Another Birth, as well as her three earlier collections, The Captive, The Wall, and The Rebellion, inverts this patriarchal dynamic, privileging Farrokhzad’s own feminine voice above all others.

Many scholars take Farrokhzad to be the speaker of “Another Birth,” which begins by observing how poetry has the power to preserve the people who make a life so meaningful—and painful: “in this chant / I grafted you to the tree, / to the water, to the fire,” she writes, probably alluding to one Ebrahim Golestan, doubtless the “E.G.” to whom the volume is dedicated. That’s at least the interpretation of Michael Hillman, the professor of Persian whose excellent book, A Lonely Woman, is one of the few English-language treatments of Farrokhzad’s life and poetry.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat on art, politics and changing the world

Interview: Iran’s foremost female artist tells Art Radar how she uses art to explore fundamental human truths.

Shirin Neshat in her studio, 2014. Photo by Christine Lee. Courtesy Art Radar.

by Christine Lee, Art Radar

Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat and Christy MacLear, the Executive Director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, speak to Art Radar about the Foundation’s new One-to-One artist initiative, the current exhibition Our House is on Fire in New York City, and Neshat’s internationally acclaimed works on culture, gender and politics.

On 30 January 2014, New York visitors attended the opening of the exhibition Our House is on Firewhich showcased works by Shirin Neshat for the new One-to-One initiative. The project was created by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RRF) to “support contemporary artists as they create work in the service of advancing human rights, cultural understanding, and international peacekeeping.”

The foundation selected Neshat as their first artist for this initiative. Known for photography, video installations and films on Islamic culture, religion and politics Neshat chose to travel to Cairo and conceive a new series of photographs depicting “personal and national loss” by Egyptians after the failed revolution for the initiative. The exhibition runs until 1 March 2014.

Rauschenberg’s legacy and how art can change the world

Could you tell Art Radar about the history of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation? When was the Rauschenberg Project Space founded and for what purpose?

Christy MacLear [CM]: The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation was actually founded by Bob during his lifetime. The Foundation was one of many ways in which the artist was philanthropic – the others including grants he gave to artists in emergency needs, his advocacy for artist rights throughout his life, and his record of developing work to benefit causes such as the environment or social justice. After Bob’s death, the Foundation received the assets from his estate which expanded the role to now include: managing his artwork and legacy; fulfilling a larger philanthropic programme; and starting up a residency for artists of all disciplines on his estate in Captiva.

The Rauschenberg Project Space used to be a warehouse which stored artwork but sat largely under-utilised. We converted it from a warehouse into a project space in order to pilot a number of ideas, strategic directions, which the Foundation was considering as we were developing our programmatic plan for how to serve artists and our community best.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Parviz and a new way forward for Iranian cinema

Government restrictions compounded by pressure from the international market have eroded great Iranian filmmaking 
Levon Haftvan in Parviz. Courtesy Guardian.
by , Tehran Bureau, Guardian

For the past five years, Iranian cinema has been in a lull. Compared to the intense culture of experimentation that characterized the three decades following the 1979 revolution, the past half-decade has seen a retreat to safer and less compelling grounds. There are two main causes for this phenomenon: first, the limitations imposed on filmmaking by the government; second, the pressure of the international market. It should be no surprise if the two forces seem to push in opposite directions. Most of what happens in the so-called developing world happens at the confluence of these forces. For art to be more than entertainment, it must withstand both types of pressure.

On the one hand, censorship and barriers to production and distribution within Iran have become unbearably restrictive to many filmmakers. Some of the country’s most influential directors, such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Bahman Ghobadi, have moved abroad and now live in what is effectively artistic exile. In part due to this distance, their recent pictures have lost any sense of immediacy.

Ghobadi’s Rhino Season (2012), for example, is supposedly about the plight of Iranian Kurds, but it might as well take place on the moon – or a Hollywood set. Instead of acknowledging the exile status of its production, the film tries to re-create Iran, the way the western movie industry re-creates ancient Rome or Persia; as a result it looks flat, displaced, literally without a background. The lead role is played by Italy’s Monica Belluci, who struggles through her Farsi lines, and the storytelling puts pathos into overdrive, taking the viewer’s emotions for a ride. The two forces, oppression at home and the global market’s demands, are clearly at work here.

A less immediately obvious but more significant example comes from Iran itself: Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning A Separation (2011), which tries to walk the razor’s edge between social commentary and popular appeal. It was seen, simultaneously, as both an art film and a sound financial investment. It also managed to criticize Iranian society without attracting the wrath of the erratic, often venomous censors in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration.

A closer look shows how much Farhadi had to sacrifice for his success. To avoid the censors, it is basically unable to depict the reality of any of its subjects: it cannot show physical intimacy between a couple, or represent religion, the legal system, or the economy in any depth. But if it is possible to work around these obstacles through irony and guile, there is still Farhadi’s need to make a marketable film. He reduces a serious topic to who-done-it detective drama, withholding important information from the audience to create cheap suspense. The narrative’s central dilemma, the struggle between the rising middle class and the traditional working class, is resolved squarely in favor of the honest, hard-working middle-class family. If only those pesky poor people would let us get our divorces in peace! The film loses much of its power on a second viewing.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Shirin Neshat on Kaveh Golestan’s Humanistic Portraiture

A portrait from Kaveh Golestan’s series of photographs of prostitutes in Tehran’s Citadel, 1975-1977. Courtesy of the Kaveh Golestan Estate, and T Magazine.

by Carol Kino, T Magazine The New York Times

Since the late ’90s, Shirin Neshat has been lauded for photographs, films and videos that explore the lives of Iranian women. Her first video, “Turbulent” (1998), featured a face-off between a male and a female singer in Islamic Iran, while “Women Without Men,” her 2009 feature film, focuses on the problems experienced by four women during the 1953 coup that brought the last shah to power. More recently, her work has addressed other countries in the Arab Spring, as in “Our House Is on Fire” (at Chelsea’s Rauschenberg Project Space, closing March 1), a group of poignant portraits of ordinary men and women in Cairo, survivors of the Egyptian revolution. “I wanted to humanize the people we think of as the other,” Neshat says.

One of her most powerful influences has been the renowned Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan, who was killed in 2003 by land mines in northern Iraq while covering the war for the BBC. A veteran of conflicts from the Belfast Troubles to Saddam Hussein’s gassing of the Kurds, he won a Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1979 for his coverage of the Iranian revolution. He also pursued his own documentary projects, like the portraits of prostitutes he made from 1975 to 1977 in Tehran’s red-light district, a walled ghetto known as the Citadel of Shahr-e No. These 61 black-and-white prints show the women in every conceivable attitude, from confrontational and preening to dejected and cowering. They are among the few extant photographs of the Citadel, which was burned down by fundamentalists during the revolution, killing many of the women in Golestan’s pictures.

The series hasn’t been shown in public since 1978. But 45 images will soon go on view in “Kaveh Golestan: The Citadel” at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam from March 21 to May 4. The full group will appear in “Unedited History: Iran 1960-2014,” at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris from May 15 to Aug. 24.