Friday, 27 June 2014

Iranian Director Flouts Ban on Filming

For two decades, Jafar Panahi has offered a window into contemporary life in his native country despite pressure from the government
PET PROJECT: Iranian director Jafar Panahi's 'Closed Curtain' examines his country's ban on walking dogs in public.
by Tobias Grey, The Wall Street Journal

In Jafar Panahi's new movie, a writer in Iran smuggles his pet dog into his home inside a tote bag. The film, "Closed Curtain," addresses Iranian lawmakers' recent ban on dog-walking in public, part of an effort to curb perceived Western influences including keeping pets. For two decades, Mr. Panahi has captured such vagaries of life in his native country.

"Closed Curtain," which won the best screenplay award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, opens at New York City's Film Forum on July 9. It is Mr. Panahi's second film since December 2010, when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court banned him from making movies for 20 years. 

The 53-year-old director has flouted the prohibition and continued to expand a body of work that has earned him critical acclaim around the world—and scrutiny at home. He first piqued the ire of Iranian authorities with "The Circle" (2000), which assailed the treatment of women under the country's Islamist regime. Six years later in "Offside," he mocked a law prohibiting Iranian women from attending professional soccer games.

As jury president of the 2009 Montreal World Film Festival, Mr. Panahi persuaded fellow jury members to wear green scarves to support Iran's pro-democratic Green Movement.

More than three years ago, Mr. Panahi was accused of spreading propaganda and undermining national security. He was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison—time he hasn't yet served—and forbidden from traveling abroad or giving interviews. 

Mr. Panahi's previous project, the documentary "This Is Not a Film" (2011), was shot almost entirely in his Tehran apartment. "Closed Curtain," which blends fiction and autobiography, was shot exclusively in his beach house beside the Caspian Sea. While the director is free to move throughout Iran, he isn't allowed to make movies.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Arts renaissance in Iran, where criticism is expressed in metaphors

Art market took off under Ahmadinejad; and Rouhani has eased conditions 
The figure of Mohammad Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran who was overthrown by the CIA and MI6 in 1953, continues to haunt Iran, as in this painting by Farideh Lashai. Photograph: Nazanin Paykar-Ara. Courtesy The Irish Times

by , The Irish Times

A tall, ravishing brunette with a superior air, drenched in Chanel 5, greets visitors to a gallery opening in north Tehran. Women flaunt their long tresses, wear stilettos and show their legs. Men and women shake hands, even kiss one another in greeting.

One might find the same crowd in London, Paris or New York – all cities which hosted Iranian exhibitions this past year. The art is “threaded through with human drama and composed of work that is both cosmopolitan and like no other art”, the New York Times critic wrote.

Tehran’s flourishing arts scene is a reminder that many westernised, upper middle-class Iranians have stayed – or returned – through 35 years of Islamic revolution.

“Iranians love their country regardless of who is in power,” says Nazanin Paykar-Ara (34), a professional photographer of contemporary art. “I have a British passport, so I can live anywhere I want to, but I would rather stay here . . . These artists create because it’s difficult. This Islamic period is an amazing part of our history. I want to see what is going to happen.”

Safe art

Affluent Iranians flock to the vernissages every Friday afternoon. Most galleries show safe, decorative abstract art, still lifes or calligraphy. But close to one third of an estimated 150 galleries show socially and politically charged art, says Aria Kasaei, who designs a monthly guide.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Paris gives voice to Iranian cinema

Kami’s Party (Mehmouniye Kami), 2013, Dir. Ali Ahmadzadeh.
by euronews

The second edition of the Iranian film festival in Paris was a chance to find out more about the many faces of contemporary Iranian cinema.

Arthouse theatre Le Nouvel Odeon played host to the event, screening a wide variety of feature, documentary, animation and shorts films by Iranian directors.

“There is an ‘S’ on the word cinema in the title of the festival because from the beginning our main goal was to promote films both from within Iran by showing independent Iranian cinema, but also films produced abroad over the past decade. So the idea was to create a dialogue between cinema from within and without Iran,” said the festival’s director Bamchade Pourvali.

Young Iranian filmmakers were invited to come and show their works to the Paris audience. Among them was Ali Ahmadzadeh with his first feature film ‘Kami’s Party’, a road movie about Iranian youngsters wandering from one party to another – the kind of content which prevented the film from obtaining an official screening permit.

“For me, a film becomes underground when the director decides to shoot without applying for an authorization or when he tries in vain to get one. I mean when the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance doesn’t allow us to shoot using the script that we have submitted, the film goes underground,” explained the young film director.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

In Focus

Shiva Ahmadi Animates Tales of Violence and Beauty

Shiva Ahmadi, Pipes, 2013, Watercolor, ink and acrylic on Aquaboard, 40 x 60 in  101 x 152.4 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
by Sehba Muhammad, BlouinARTINFO

“Sugarcoating a grotesque mess age” is how Detroit-based Shiva Ahmadi, in her strong Farsi accent, describes her aesthetic trickery. Populated by folkloric creatures, the artist’s pastel-hued fantasyscapes in watercolor on Aquabord—a textured hardboard panel coated with clay—reveal dark undertones that assert themselves in washes of blood-red ink and carefully rendered grenades.

Ahmadi’s recent work addresses ideas she has been toying with for eight years: the selfish motives, masked in moral ideology, that drive armed conflict; the pervasive nature of corruption; and the political dynamics of social injustice. Lotus, 2013, portrays, on a wildly patterned pistachio ground, an enthroned leader, turbaned and faceless, his body dissolving into velvety maroon abstraction. His ornate throne, inscribed with Allah, sits on a bed of lotus flowers similar to those found in 18th-century Tibeto-Chinese Buddha statuettes. An array of underlings—horses, birds, and monkeys—surrounding him make offerings of ticking time bombs. The turmoil and fantastical use of animals in the three-panel work echo both the Garden of Earthly Delights of Hieronymus Bosch and the ancient Persian epic Hamzanama.

After completing Lotus, Ahmadi came to feel that transmission of her message—unchecked political power backed by dogma inevitably ends in social destruction—was restricted by the static quality of painting, so she decided to convert it into animation. The resulting 10-minute film, Lotus, 2014, is on view through August 3  at the Asia Society in New York. “I don’t consider myself a digital artist,” she declares, “but for the sake of my concepts, animation is the perfect medium.”

Ahmadi’s notions of violence and armed hostility, along with her stockpile of conflict imagery, are drawn from tumultuous life experiences. When she was four, the Islamic revolution ravaged Iran, culminating in the overthrow of the secular and corrupt Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Soon afterward, the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq broke out, marring her formative years. “It was as if a black funerary fabric covered the country. There were bombings all the time. Women were screaming, and people were struggling,” Ahmadi recalls. “When the war was over, I tried to put it behind me, but the post-traumatic stress stays with you. I don’t notice it until I’m in a creative space, then it pours out.”

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Fetish of Staring at Iran’s Women

A woman in colourful chador against the Eiffel Tower, photographed by Haleh Anvari. If the chador is the icon for Iran, let it meet the icons for some other nations. Chado- dadar became a live installation in every city it was photographed and ultimately revealed as much about the nature of the people it visited that it did about itself. Courtesy of the artist.

by Haleh Anvari, The New York Times

I took a series of photographs of myself in 2007 that show me sitting on the toilet, weighing myself, and shaving my legs in the bath. I shot them as an angry response to an encounter with a gallery owner in London’s artsy Brick Lane. I had offered him photos of colorful chadors — an attempt to question the black chador as the icon of Iran by showing the world that Iranian women were more than this piece of black cloth. The gallery owner wasn’t impressed. “Do you have any photos of Iranian women in their private moments?” he asked.

As an Iranian with a reinforced sense of the private-public divide we navigate daily in our country, I found his curiosity offensive. So I shot my “Private Moments” in a sardonic spirit, to show that Iranian women are like all women around the world if you get past the visual hurdle of the hijab. But I never shared those, not just because I would never get a permit to show them publicly in Iran, but also because I am prepared to go only so far to prove a point. Call me old-fashioned.

Ever since the hijab, a generic term for every Islamic modesty covering, became mandatory after the 1979 revolution, Iranian women have been used to represent the country visually. For the new Islamic republic, the all-covering cloak called a chador became a badge of honor, a trademark of fundamental change. To Western visitors, it dropped a pin on their travel maps, where the bodies of Iranian women became a stand-in for the character of Iranian society. When I worked with foreign journalists for six years, I helped produce reports that were illustrated invariably with a woman in a black chador. I once asked a photojournalist why. He said, “How else can we show where we are?”

How wonderful. We had become Iran’s Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Enchanted by the Myth of the Orient

Max von Oppenheim was an astute observer of the Near East. He was also captivated by its history, culture and way of life. In fact, Oppenheim's entire adult life is an illustration of how difficult it is to reconcile the captivating dream of the Orient with the sober political reality of the region – a difficulty that remains to this day. 
The German archaeologist and explorer Max von Oppenheim. Courtesy Qantara.
by Kersten Knipp, Qantara

In the days when Max von Oppenheim lived in Cairo, relics of past ages – carpets, wall hangings, old chests, vases and dishes – could be picked up quite easily in the bazaars of the Egyptian capital. Such charming works of art and craftsmanship, which were no longer used in the large cities of the Arab world at the close of the nineteenth century, were very popular with historians and explorers, who sought to answer the tantalising question as to what life must have been like in the Orient before the arrival of the Europeans; when life in Cairo, Beirut and Damascus moved to a completely different rhythm. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was very hard to imagine what things must have been like in that period.

In his book "From the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf", the archaeologist Max von Oppenheim (1860–1946) wrote that although there was no European theatre in Beirut, one could find "numerous café chantants, where guests could listen to balladeers, French chansonettes and Bohemian ladies bands."

Although he felt that all of this was undoubtedly pleasant and a sign of progressive modernisation, he knew that it was simply another time, a period of transition leading into a new epoch, an era in which the old one would be lost.

"It goes without saying, of course, that there is no lack of Oriental coffee houses where Arab music is played." Yet, things were not as they once had been. At the time he wrote the above lines, Arab music had become merely one form of entertainment among many. The residents and guests of Beirut had a choice and could freely decide what they want to hear. This meant, however, that the days when only Arab music was performed, were gone forever.