Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Taboos Become Toxic

An Interview with Mark Cousins

by Roland Elliott Brown, IranWire

Edinburgh-based filmmaker and film historian Mark Cousins is one of Iranian cinema’s most enthusiastic advocates. He drew attention to Iranians’ cinematic achievements in his 2004 book The Story of Film, and his 2011 documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey. He first traveled to Iran by road from Scotland in 2001. When he visited again in 2005 to make two documentaries, Cinema Iran and On the Road with Kiarostami, he met artist, actor, and director Mania Akbari, who was best known for her performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten, and for her own film, 20 Fingers. In 2011, Akbari fled to London after Iranian authorities arrested crew members working on her film Women Do Not Have Breasts. Last year, Cousins and Akbari began exchanging “cine-letters” about life, art, and the human body, which comprise their new film, Life May Be.

How did you become acquainted with Iranian cinema, and with Iran?

I saw Abbas Kiarostami's Where is the Friend's House in the late 1980s, and read about the Iranian films that the Locarno film festival was showing. In the early 1990s, when I was director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival,  I wrote to the Iranian government's film agency, asking if they would send me films.  A few months later, a shoebox arrived.  It contained videotapes of about 10 films, gems like Mohammad Ali Talebi's The Boot. The films were revelations, paradocumentaries, human, sincere, uncompromised by commerce. I fell in love.

Life May Be draws its title from Forough Farrokhsad’s poem Another Birth. What role has Farrokhsad’s poetry played in your friendship with Mania Akbari?

I first met Mania in Iran, and we went to Forough's grave together.  I loved Forough's courage, her sass, her beauty.  For me she was like Blondie meets Virginia Woolf.  As a non-Iranian, I didn't understand a lot of things about Forough, but Mania's passion for her has helped me understand more.  She's the third part of our triangle.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

From institution to Iranian revolution: Unedited History 1960-2014

A new exhibition in Rome charts the enduring artistic life of Iran over the turbulence of its past fifty years
MAXXI Rome, 11 December 2014 – 29 March 2015
Behdjat Sadr at work in her studio. Photograph: Courtesy of Sadr family and the Guardian
by Natasha Morris for Tehran Bureau, Guardian

For the exiled and disenchanted figures of Iran’s recent history, Rome has served as a place of refuge. Following the 1953 coup d’état that overthrew prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, the troubled sovereign Reza Shah Pahlavi took flight to the Italian capital. Within the same decade, his wife’s favourite artist, the notoriously irreverent painter-sculptor Bahman Mohasses, traded Tehran for Rome, where he lived in self-imposed seclusion for the next 50 years. His legacy presents him as a cigarette-puffing enfant terrible, who had a complex relationship with the authority of his royal Pahlavi patrons: he was once ordered to add underpants to his puckish Flute Player sculpture commissioned by the empress to stand outside the State Theatre in Tehran. The oeuvre from his years as an émigré in Rome forms the introductory sequence of the exhibition Iran: Unedited History, which opens from 11 December at the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in the Italian capital.

An impressive curatorial team is behind what is an extensive chronological survey, headed by Tate Modern’s Morad Montezzami. An ambitious feat by any measure, Iran: Unedited History showcases over 200 works by 20 artists, charting Iranian visual culture over the turbulence of the past half-century. The catalogue opens to a dazzling cross-section of modern Iranian art: Mohasses is here, as is his illustrator brother Ardeshir, minimalist contemporary Behjdat Sadr and new-wave film director Parviz Kimiavi.

What makes Unedited History so truly redolent of its time-span, however, is the inclusion of the peeling and scribbled paper spoils of popular culture and domestic life, from student-crafted agitprop posters to children’s drawings and a family photo album.