Friday, 18 December 2015

Farideh Lashai: Towards the Ineffable

Farideh Lashai Rocks the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art With Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly
Farideh Lashai, Untitled (1967). Image: Courtesy of the Collection of Centre Pompidou, Paris and artnet.
by Benjamin Genocchio, artnet news

A sensual Picasso painting of figures and an airbrushed portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeini are the first things you see inside the imposing storage vault buried beneath the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely pairing, the work of the greatest iconoclast of the 20th century next to the work of a man who imposed a medieval caliphate on what was then—and still is—the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated culture in the Middle East.

But then again Iran remains a frightening, if fascinating, bundle of contradictions.

We all know the Iran from the news: It's an ugly, belligerent Muslim state that locks up reporters, denounces the US and Israel, and yet educates and promotes women and is proud of its cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity. It's also a society closed to the outside world in which hospitality is an art form and visitors are graciously welcomed.

Iran is possibly the most bizarre and contradictory place on earth.

So to find an estimated $2 billion dollars worth of modern and postwar European and American art lining the racks at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, several feet below ground, seems strangely normal in this abnormal place. It was bought with public money during the 1970s under the patronage of the Shah, whose oppressive and ultimately illegitimate rule ended abruptly with the Islamic revolution in 1979.

I've seen bits and pieces of the collection before, four years ago while reporting on the Tehran contemporary art scene for the New York Times. To say it's impressive is an understatement. The depth and diversity of the holdings are nothing short of monumental—around 1400 words of classic European and American art.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Abbas Kiarostami on his fixation with doors, the still image and carpentry

The Iranian film-maker is showing a photographic series he’s worked on for 20 years at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum
Abbas Kiarostami. Photo: Janet Kimber/Aga Khan Museum. Courtesy The Art Newspaper. 
by David D'ArcyThe Art Newspaper

Doors Without Keys, by the Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami, is a maze-like installation of 50 photographs, all showing locked doors fr om buildings in Iran, Italy, France, and Morocco, printed life-size on canvas. The pictures, which have never been exhibited before, are now on view at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto until 27 March 2016. The show, which is expected to travel, is co-curated by  Peter Scarlet, the former director of the Tribeca and Abu Dhabi Film Festivals and Amirali Alibhai of the Aga Khan Museum. At the show’s opening in November, 76-year-old Kiraostami, one of Iran’s best-known artists, talked about the still photograph and the visual nuances of wood.

Did you take still photographs before you started making films?

It happened afterwards. I owe it to the 1979 Revolution, because it was very hard to make films. I had to go on producing images, so I started taking still pictures. It became a parallel activity to filmmaking. They interact. There’s a mutual influence.

In the contemporary art world, the moving image seems to be replacing everything. Why do you remain drawn to still photography?

I guess it’s a defense mechanism, but also kind of a protest against all this—in my view—unwelcome movement in images. Some of my latest works are experimental films that last four or five minutes. But each still image can last four or five minutes. If an image is worth seeing, it takes concentration and contemplation. The reason why there is so much movement is probably that nothing is worth being seen in what is actually shown. This is my way of protesting against that.

Look at how people relate to the pictures shown here. They choose the best position, and they stand still in front of it, and they stare at it. This is the kind of opportunity that is given less and less in contemporary art.

#NotACrime: A Global Street Art Project for Human Rights in Iran

Ron English painted a version of the three wise monkeys focused on the tools of journalism. Courtesy IranWire.
by Saleem Vaillancourt, IranWire

The #NotACrime campaign launched a global street art project this year with nearly a dozen murals across New York City to raise awareness of Iran’s human rights crisis.

The murals were painted ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly opening in September, and developed into the largest ever single-issue mural campaign in the city. Artists from Argentina, Brazil, and the United States kicked it off, with six murals focused especially on the Baha’i religious minority in Iran and the authorities’ repeated attack on their right to higher education. Five more were created to raise awareness of the threats to free expression and jailed journalists in Iran.

A series of murals across the world began later in the year as the New York project inspired new works in Brazil, South Africa and Australia.

Maziar Bahari, who founded IranWire, started the #NotACrime campaign to expose the Iranian government’s abuses of the rights of its own citizens – and in particular to engage a new audience with these issues. Bahari partnered with Street Art Anarchy, an arts production group in New York, to curate the September murals campaign.

The project is considered by the New York street art community to be the largest single-issue mural campaign ever brought to the city. Street Art Anarchy worked with prominent international artists – such as Ron English, Nicky Nodjoumi, Alexandre Keto, and several others – to produce artworks that would inspire conversations about human rights in Iran and the power of the arts to advocate for social issues.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Inside the studios of Iran's artists

Italian photographer Matteo Lonardi headed to Tehran to learn about the country away from the news headlines and through its artists

The studio of Bita Fayyazi, 53, is set in smoggy south Tehran, far from the affluence of the capital in the northern reaches. Her art is complex and theatrical, achieved by working with a range of material and people. From those interactions she draws her inspiration. For a recent project, she had a group of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds decorate the interior of a house. Photograph: Matteo Lonardi. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Matteo Lonardi for Tehran BureauThe Guardian

In secondary school in Italy I was taught art as a form of understanding our predecessors. Teachers compared the harmonious proportions of classical Greek statues to the social equilibrium achieved in Athens in the fourth century BC, and linked Picasso’s Guernica to the horrors of the Spanish civil war.

I was fascinated by the connection between art and history. A few years later, after moving to New York for college, this connection appeared to me not in history books but in the studios of Indian artists.

In the summer of 2010 I was an intern in New Delhi at The Little Magazine, an arts and culture publication. The editor asked me to make an archive of works the magazine was publishing. The first day she gave me a list of names and cab fare.

At each studio, I photographed a few works. Soon I started interviewing and photographing the artists in their work spaces as well. I realised the stories and the images together offered interesting insights into Indian society and politics.

Afterwards I continued the project in Italy, Morocco and New York. A few years later, at Columbia Journalism School, I applied as a team of fellow students for a grant to continue the project as multimedia.

We chose Iran as a place to look at through its artists. We felt that media’s relationship to Iran had been based on stereotypes and one-dimensional portrayals. The idea was to talk about Iran through art instead of politics. The project, called Reframe Iran, uses photo, video and virtual reality components.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Egyptomania, orientalism and modernism

Farhad Ahrarnia at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai

Lawrie Shabibi presents the first solo exhibition by the Iranian artist in the Middle East.

Running until 14 January 2016, “A Dish Fit for the Gods” features Farhad Ahrarnia’s unique works expressing the ambivalent engagement between West and East through a combination of sculpture, painting, photography and embroidery.
Farhad Ahrarnia, ‘The Delirium of Becoming, a Moment Caught Between Myth and History, No. 1′, 2015, digital print dyed onto cotton fabric, hand embroidered using silk, cotton and metallic thread, and needles, 147.5 x 113 x 2 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Lawrie Shabibi and Art Radar.
byC. A. Xuan Mai Ardia, Art Radar

A Dish Fit For the Gods” at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai marks the first time Iranian-born, UK-based artist Farhad Ahrarnia exhibits in the Middle Eastern region.

Ahrarnia’s diverse work typically draws from his upbringing in Iran and engages with inter-cultural cross-pollination and influences, media manipulation of reality and the constant power play between tradition and modernity.

His hometown Shiraz, where he was born in 1971, provides a constant reference and source of inspiration for his artistic practice, which utilises local, traditional techniques and crafts such as embroidery, metalwork and mosaic in combination with contemporary ones such as photography and digital printing on canvas.

On the opposite spectrum lies another major source of inspiration: western modernism. Kazimir Malevich, a key figure of Suprematism, is one of the artist’s major influences, while the modernist architecture that coexists with ancient ruins and historic buildings in Shiraz provides Ahrarnia with a heightened receptivity to and aesthetic sensibility combining East and West, tradition and modernity.

From the West, celebrity icons and images, Hollywood posters, beauty pageants, Time magazine covers or heroic war photography also contributed to animate Ahrarnia’s imaginative work, which juxtaposed such imagery with references to his cultural heritage and that of other areas of the Middle East.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Who is buying Iranian art?

A new generation of super rich gather in Dubai to collect modern and contemporary art from Iran

 Courtesy Reframe Iran

by Alexandra Glorioso, Nectarios Leonidas, Matteo Lonardi, João Inada, John Albert for Tehran BureauThe Guardian

Interest in modern Iranian art began to take off, first in the Middle East and then globally, after Christie’s held its first Dubai auction of Middle Eastern art in 2006. Sussan Babaie, art historian at the Courtald Institute of Art in London, told Tehran Bureau the surge of interest in Iranian art resulted from the amount of art the country had been producing while isolated from international buyers.

The boom in Iranian art lasted only until 2008, when just before the world recession, Christie’s Dubai auction sales peaked at about $29m for the year. Michael Jeha, Dubai managing director and head of sales of Christie’s, said widespread speculation in Iran’s art ended with the financial crisis and the onset of tighter international sanctions against Iran.

In 2009, sales at Christie’s in Dubai plummeted to $12m. And while Dubai had long been a hub for Iranian trade, sanctions against Iran after 2010 made sales even more difficult for Iran-based artists, who were unable to receive payment through many international banks and forced to resort to unreliable third parties. Dubai reluctantly implemented most sanctions by 2012 and became unwilling to process payments, even for non-sanctioned goods like art.

Times change. Dubai is now expected to benefit from the easing of sanctions in the coming year, and prices for Iranian art are already rising there. Christie’s Dubai sales will reach about $19m this year.

Demand for Iranian art is generally reflecting a global trend of rising interest in modern work, said Anders Petterson, founder of ArtTactic, the art market research company.

Collectors are crucial to sustaining demand for Iranian art after the years of boom and bust. So, what are they looking for? The Collectors, featured above, takes you behind the scenes.

This article is part of a multimedia project by ReframeIran, published in partnership with The Tehran Bureau

Via The Guardian

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Straight Shooter

A new documentary tells the story of a much-loved – and loathed – iconic Iranian automobile
Iman Safaei – Elahi Chap Konam (Oh God, May I Roll Over; courtesy the artist, Shirin Art Gallery and REORIENT)

By Nazli Ghassemi, REORIENT

Made against all odds in a tiny studio in the heart of Tehran, Iran’s Arrow – a 75-minute documentary written, directed, produced, and edited by Shahin Armin and Sohrab Daryabandari – is the story of a car called the ‘Paykan’. Meaning ‘arrow’ in Persian, the film chronicles the social impact of the car during its lifespan on Iranians and Iran itself, both before and after the Revolution. Through a collection of interviews, recovered archival footage, film clips, photographs, and data collected from various sources, Iran’s Arrow follows the Paykan’s tumultuous path in the hands of its Iranian consumers during the four decades in which it was produced.

The Paykan – a seemingly unremarkable car – became a key figure in propelling a nation into modernity upon its production in 1967, and was later radically transformed into a symbol of resistance and endurance following the 1979 Revolution. Afterwards, it was seen as a breadwinner in times of war and distress, and ultimately became a national relic when production came to a halt in 2005. A noble and humble servant, the Paykan is an emblem hacked in Iran’s collective memory; and, to find out more about both the car and the new documentary, I chatted with Shahin and Sohrab in their Tehran studio.

Friday, 11 December 2015

'Art Brief: Iranian Contemporary Los Angeles': Bridging communities, one pop-up at a time

Fariba Ameri, "River of Eden," mixed media on canvas. The artist was one of 12 to be featured in the Advocartsy exhibition, "Art Brief: Iranian Contemporary Los Angeles" at Arena 1 Gallery in Santa Monica. Courtesy Advocartsy and Los Angeles Times.
by Deborah VankinLos Angeles Times

Roshi Rahnama started the L.A.-based organization Advocartsy this year, which aims to connect artists, galleries and collectors and bring awareness to artists of Middle Eastern descent. It’s something that Rahnama, a former attorney who grew up in Tehran and immigrated to California with her family in 1979, had been thinking about for more than five years.

As an art collector and member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Art of the Middle East Contemporary council, she knew scores of talented artists, particularly from Iran. From her dealings with galleries, she was plugged into the fine art world. But she saw a disconnect, she says, between those two milieus. Rahnama hopes Advocartsy can provide exposure for under-represented artists through a series of pop-up exhibitions.

On Thursday evening, Advocartsy debuted its inaugural installation, “Art Brief: Iranian Contemporary Los Angeles,” a show featuring 12 local Iranian and Iranian American contemporary artists. The exhibition of painting, sculpture and photography, co-curated by Rahnama and art critic Peter Frank, consists of artists from a variety of backgrounds.

“But if there’s one idea that binds the work, it’s identity,” Rahnama says. “That just emerged, naturally.”

Friday, 4 December 2015

Why the history of maths is also the history of art

In her new book Mathematics and Art, historian Lyn Gamwell explores how artists have for thousands of years used mathematical concepts - such as infinity, number and form - in their work. Here she choses ten stunning images from her book that reveal connections between maths and art.
Karl Gerstner (Swiss, b. 1930), Color Spiral Icon x65b, 2008. Acrylic on aluminum, diameter 41 in. (104 cm). Collection of Esther Grether, Basel, Switzerland. Courtesy of the artist and the Guardian.
by Lynn Gamwell, The Guardian

When I was a graduate student in art history, I read many explanations of abstract art, but they were invariably inadequate and misleading. So after completing my PhD, I went on to learn the history of biology, physics, and astronomy, and to publish a book detailing how modern art is an expression of the scientific worldview.

Yet many artworks also express the mathematics and technology of their times. To research Math and Art I had to learn maths concepts like calculus, group theory and predicate logic. As a novice struggling to understand these ideas, I was struck with the poor quality and confusing content of illustrations in most educational books. So I vowed to create for my book a set of cogent math diagrams that are crystal-clear visualizations of the abstract concepts.

As a lecturer at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, I wrote this book for my students, such as Maria, who told me she was never good at history because she couldn’t remember dates, and for Jin Sug, who failed high school algebra because he couldn’t memorize formulae. I hope they will read this book and discover that history is a storybook and that math is about captivating ideas.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Shahnama in Contemporary Iranian Art

Sadegh Tirafkan (Iranian, 1965–2013). Multitude 10, 2008. Digital photo collage, lambda print; H. 29 1/8 in. (74 cm), W. 44 1/8 in. (112 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, 2011 NoRuz at the Met Benefit, 2013 (2013.258). Courtesy Met Museum.
by Courtney A. Stewart, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Though the vast majority of the Met's Islamic collection comprises historical artifacts, we have recently started collecting contemporary art from the regions represented in our galleries. Deciding what exactly is included in the field of contemporary Islamic art is an issue that has been heatedly debated in past years, including most recently at a conference, Contemporary Islamic Art, Design, and Architecture 2015, that I attended in Singapore just a few weeks ago. Scholars have differing opinions of how to define or label works from this category, and our department takes its own particular approach. For us, the collecting mandate is that modern and contemporary works must relate to the historical collection.

A popular theme for some contemporary Iranian artists is to use iconography that refers to the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings), originally composed by Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020). In the work above, Rustam Returns at Age 30 after Being Brought Up Abroad, Iranian artist Siamak Filizadeh uses new media and popular culture to reference the hero Rustam. This same character appears in illustrations found in various manuscripts of the Shahnama, including the famous sixteenth-century version created for Shah Tahmasp.

Identifiable by his leopard-skin helmet in both the historical and the contemporary depictions, artists have usually portrayed Rustam in a manner that highlights his bravery and strength. In Filizadeh's work, he represents Rustam the hero as a muscular bodybuilder, with the letter "R" covering a red-and-yellow Superman logo on his bare chest. Here, he holds a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with a small decal of the film character Rambo and wears a Dolce and Gabbana belt. Contemporary Rustam appears with a tiled Safavid-style arch and rocks akin to those found in Persian miniature painting, as well as the Shahyad monument (Burj-i Azadi) built in 1971, considered to be the quintessential symbol of and gateway to modern Tehran. The work is a whimsical creation of an immediately identifiable character and uses visual cues to bridge chronology between historical and contemporary Islamic art.

Meanwhile, in Sadegh Tirafkan's Multitude 10, the artist creates a digital photo collage of young Iranian girls performing exercises in a gym class.


Shadi Ghadirian’s Evocative Photos of Iranian Women in Lyon
Too Loud a Solitude | 2015, Copyright Shadi Ghadirian. Courtesy Silk Road Gallery and BLOUIN ARTINFO.

by Nicholas Forrest, BLOUIN ARTINFO

Shadi Ghadirian: Retrospective” at the Lyon Municipal Library (La Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon) is a major exhibition celebrating the work of influential Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian. Presented in association with the Silk Road Gallery in Teheran, the exhibition surveys Ghadirian’s entire photographic oeuvre from 1998 to the present day and includes a new video work titled “Too Loud a Solitude” which the artist describes as “a slice of instants, similar to photography, in which the subjects move.”

Since graduating from Azad University in Tehran with a B.A. degree in Photography, Ghadirian has established herself as one of Iran’s leading creative talents. She is best known for her evocative staged portraits which address a wide range of issues including female identity, censorship, and gender roles. Drawing inspiration from her own life experiences, Ghadirian uses humour and parody as the points of departure for poignant investigations into the paradoxes of women’s lives in Iran.

According to Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, associate curator of the exhibition and Director of the Silk Road Gallery, in the late 1990s Ghadirian became one of the first Iranian photographers to change people’s perceptions of Iranian art and contemporary society. “Using a unique style of expression, she began contradicting the harsh and brutal images commonly seen and associated with Iran, challenged Eastern social dilemmas and how the world saw Iran, through the language of art.”

Friday, 16 October 2015

Upturned Ziggurat

 Study of an Upturned Ziggurat, Shaqayeq Arabi’s first solo exhibition in New York.
3 — 30 Oct 2015 at Department of Signs and Symbols
Shaqayeq Arabi, Study of an Upturned Ziggurat. Photo Credit: The Department of Signs and Symbols. Courtesy of the artist and artnet.
by Amanda Thomas, artnet

"A lot of my work is about entering into dialogue with a particular city," Iranian artist Shaqayeq Arabi told artnet News in an email.

Although she has shown her work extensively in the Middle East and in Europe, this is her first solo-show in New York. Her exhibition Study of an Upturned Ziggurat is currently on view at the Department of Signs and Symbols in Brooklyn.

The space was originally a studio but its function has expanded in recent years. It has just enough room to squeeze in pieces for an intimate viewing. Co-founder and curator Mitra Khorasheh explained to artnet News in an email, "What we do here is not just 'selecting artworks', its more commissioning an artist to create something in situ and developing ideas and concepts together."

The large site-specific piece is made of abandoned picture frames and tree branches that Arabi found on nearby Brooklyn streets. The structure is lashed together with cloth and string, and light bulbs underneath cast shadows on nearby walls. The dimly lit room and the frames offer a skeletal shape of a tower, creating an immersive and meditative experience for viewers. Arabi said to artnet News in an email, "What interests me in site-specific work like this is the way in which it can engage all the senses."

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Letter from Tehran

Yashar Salahi, Humanity’s Attire, 2014. Ink on cardboard, 121/2 × inches. © Yashar Salahi. Courtesy the artist, Dastan’s Basement and The Brooklyn Rail.

by Yasaman Alipour, The Brooklyn Rail

To my dearest Sheyda,
the soul of my Tehran,
the land of vanishing dreams.

Tehran is a paradox. The airplane begins its descent and the flight attendant announces, “Alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited and Islamic attire is mandatory.” Somewhere in the sky of Tehran, the silent protest of normality ends; wearing jeans and t-shirts, women give in, get up, and put their hijab on. “Welcome to the Imam Khomeini Airport.” You are officially in Iran.

Here, the art mimics life. Tehran’s history is known to Westerners through the news: political turmoil, dictatorships, demonstrations, revolutions, and then dictatorships again. Expectations of the art are set accordingly. Setting foot inside Tehran means moving beyond the stereotypes and facing real complexities. Even under extreme circumstances, in this city—pressed between the traditional, impoverished downtown and the self-negating high-rises of the wealthy uptown—life and art have found fresh paths. What remains is a question as old as this metropolis: Can a city born out of hopes for modernity still find an identity that accepts its history and culture while allowing for progress?

Friday afternoons are designated for gallery-hopping. Tehran’s youth have developed a weekly ritual of meeting in its galleries, resulting in the rapid expansion of galleries in the past decade, while raising excited curators and enthusiastic collectors, and creating opportunities for young artists. As the heat thickens and grownups doze off, weekend boredom rules. Children of this city’s revolution, now in their twenties and thirties, put on their most outrageous clothes, grab their cigarettes and car keys, and hit the road. In a city without bars and clubs, these gallery visits are a chance to see familiar faces, meet new people, name drop, brag about newly gained knowledge, flirt, have tea, smoke cigarettes, and communicate. In each corner, a piece of theater is enacted. A tall woman with long, half-shaved hair showing off her body in skinny jeans and a Pink Floyd shirt and—mocking the failure of the beige robe and bright red scarf to cover her—announces, “Tehran has no contemporary art.” The round, bearded man wearing a South Park T-shirt and yellow jeans is completely captivated. Relying on his higher education, he gloats, “Well actually, it depends whether we mean contemporary with a capital or small C.” Proud of their sophisticated moment, both sip on their tea. For this crowd, consisting of about three to four hundred repeating characters, utterly middle-class and desperately overeducated, the Friday march is, most importantly, a chance to perform normality and briefly forget the oddity of the situation. Hiding behind the glamour of these packed receptions is art that stems from the anxiety of this lifestyle.

Cautiously, Iranians Reclaim Public Spaces and Liberties Long Suppressed

Iranian girls selling sunglasses at a charity event. Activism addressing a range of issues has become more accepted in the country since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013.  Credit Newsha Tavakolian for The New York Times. Courtesy NY Times.
by Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times

As the music ended and the crowd rose in a standing ovation, several women in the audience could be seen with heads bared, the obligatory head scarves draped around their necks.

This was no underground concert by an indie band in North Tehran, though. Rather, it was a recital by a classical lute player in Vahdat Hall. As the opera house emptied, the women casually slipped the scarves back on and walked out. No one seemed to care, or even to notice.

Far from a protest or a political gesture, this was a fleeting illustration of a newfound self-confidence, visible across the capital — what Iranians are calling the “lifestyle movement.”

“Nobody batted an eye, because in practice most people are far ahead of the norms set by the government,” said Haleh Anvari, an essayist based in Tehran who was at the concert. “In cars, cinemas and concerts, ordinary people are increasingly taking their space.”

Iranians have always enjoyed rich private lives, some following Western trends and fashions, but behind closed doors. The state tolerated that, but insisted that people adhere to the strict laws on appearance and behavior in public spaces that were laid down after the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Putting on the Iranian film festival is a labour of love

Iranian Film Festival Australia co-founders Armin Miladi, far right, and Anne Demy-Geroe, second right. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen Source: News Corp Australia, courtesy The Australian.
by Justin Burke, The Australian

“Film festivals are a bit like share houses,” says Anne Demy-Geroe, co-founder of the Iranian Film Festival Australia.

In fact, when The Australian first spoke to Demy-Geroe in February to document a year in the life of the IFFA, the festival and her house were for all intents and purposes the same thing.

“We all meet at my place at 7pm each Monday, two of the other people live next door, one of them used to work with me at Brisbane International Film Festival, and one of them is my student — it’s all very incestuous in that regard,” says the former artistic director of BIFF, now a teacher at Brisbane’s Griffith Film School.

“There’s a lot of healthy argument, and occasionally people get grumpy when people didn’t do the tasks they were supposed to do; there’s either green tea or red wine for that.

“It’s got to be fun, or else why do it?”

Indeed, fun aside, why anyone would take on the daunting challenges of presenting a foreign film festival is a good question. The financial rewards are often slim. The administrative and logistic challenges — from programming and catering to newsletters and social media — are onerous.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Unfamiliar territory: artists navigate the complexities of the refugee crisis

From Shahpour Pouyan’s creative reappraisal of Persian miniatures to Bissane al Charif’s exploration of the memories of Syrian refugees, artists are using their work to highlight the human dimension of the refugee crisis
Making history … Shahpour Pouyan’s reworking of a 16th-century Persian miniature entitled God Sets the Course for the Ship, and Not the Captain. Photograph: Shahpour Pouyan/Lawrie Shabibi/Copperfield Gallery, courtesy the Guardian.

by Dale Berning SawaThe Guardian

Earlier this month, as the words “migrant crisis” permeated daily conversation, and migrants became refugees became people fleeing for their lives, the image of a small, ancient ship landed in my inbox. A sailing boat, really, thin wooden masts and white sails rolled up, the hull hovering against a darkened sea. Framed demurely by gold thread and two boxed-out captions, it was a quietly arresting thing. In between stories of fraught Mediterranean crossings and lives lost in terrifying circumstances, it lodged itself in my mind.

This diminutive work is one of a series of revisited Persian miniatures that the Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan is currently showing at London’s Copperfield Gallery in an exhibition entitled History Travels at Different Speeds. Of the 16 miniatures in the show, the boat – entitled God Sets the Course for the Ship and Not the Captain – is the one that stops you in your tracks. Pouyan sees a bleak metaphor for the refugees’ plight in the piece’s colours. “Silver was used to paint water,” he says. “But the destiny of silver is to oxidise, to blacken. People are putting their lives into the hands of traffickers, who put the boats on autopilot and jump ship. The ships travel west with no captain or crew, but packed full of believers, literally entrusting their destiny to God.”

Sunday, 4 October 2015

In ‘Taxi,’ a Filmmaker Pushes Against Iranian Censorship From Behind the Wheel

Jafar Panahi in his recent documentary “Taxi." Credit Kino Lorber. Courtesy The New York Times.
by A. O. SCOTT, New York Times

A section of “Taxi” is devoted to an encounter between two Iranian filmmakers. One of them is Jafar Panahi, the director of this movie and one of the most internationally celebrated figures in contemporary Iranian cinema. The other is his niece Hana, a sharp-tongued tween who must make a short movie as part of a school assignment. The teacher has handed out a set of guidelines that are more or less consistent with the government’s censorship rules.

Mr. Panahi is a longstanding expert in such matters, with extensive firsthand knowledge of how Iranian authorities deal with filmmakers who displease them. In 2010, he was officially barred from pursuing his profession, and “Taxi” is the third feature he has made in defiance of — and also, cleverly, in compliance with — that prohibition.

The first, shot largely on a mobile-phone camera when Mr. Panahi was under intense legal pressure from the government in 2011, was “This Is Not a Film,” a meditation on cinema and freedom as nuanced as its title is blunt. It was followed by “Closed Curtain” (2014), a through-the-looking-glass hybrid of documentary and melodrama that explores the porous boundary between cinema and reality.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Art Doc of the Week: Fifi Howls from Happiness

The late Iranian artist Bahman Mohassess didn’t care about offering succor or touchy-feely platitudes to anyone. That was part of his greatness.

Bahman Mohassess, Requiem Omnibus (Death of Martin Luther King) Piper, 1968, Mixed Media on Canvas, 100×150 cm. Courtesy CraveOnline.
by Ernest Hardy, CraveOnline

We’ve become so inundated with insipid TED-talk presentations (and by speakers who’ve taken their presentation cues from that template even when not speaking at actual TED events) that conversations on art and politics, particularly where the two intersect, have become exercises in facile uplift and affirmation. Artists who traffic in grittier, darker, more nuanced work or perspectives, those who don’t think the role of art is to be sure the consumer (because that’s what we’re reduced to in those settings) leaves the experience feeling good about themselves are hamstrung by current dictates on the roles and responsibilities of the artist.

What makes Mitra Farahani’s documentary Fifi Howls from Happiness so refreshing (on top of being simply a fantastic documentary) is that the film’s subject, the great, under-recognized Iranian visual artist Bahman Mohasses, truly does not give a fuck about offering succor or touchy-feely platitudes to anyone. He’s gruff, biting, cynical and utterly without faith in humanity. He’s also wickedly funny in his raspy garrulousness. His work – paintings, sculptures, theater design – was tough-minded, beautiful, and confrontational. It challenged those in power, but also took citizenry to task for their complacency, their “boot-licking” when resistance is what is called for.

Having fled Iran after the American-backed coup of 1953 overthrew the democratically elected government, the openly gay Mohasses settled in Italy. (His comments on contemporary gay culture are absolutely withering.) He’d return home some years later and start to divide his time between his birthplace and his second home. Eventually, disgusted by what has become of Iran, he returned to Italy permanently. By the time Farahani finds and films him in 2010, when he’s nearly eighty, few people outside art students and the most well-versed art collectors even know his name anymore, and most of them assume he is dead.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Staging Shakespeare's Tragedies in Tehran

An Interview with Iranian Director Mohammad Aghebati

Courtesy VICE.

by Jessica Rizzo, VICE

Most young Americans would be hard-pressed to name a major artist or performer working in the Middle East today. In fact, the most visible recent "performances" staged in the Middle East have beenthe gruesome beheadings captured on video by ISIS. Individuals in the region who lack the megalomaniacal tendencies of the Islamic State are rarely heard by the Western press. Meanwhile, true cultural exchange is increasingly difficult; art and artists, already low on the US government's list of priorities, seem to be considered trinkets we can't afford to trifle with when faced with the kind of brutality we now see in the region.

Iranian theater director Mohammad Aghebati feels differently. Born in 1975, his childhood coincided with the Islamic Revolution and the eight-year long Iran-Iraq War that followed. He now splits his time between Tehran and New York, making theater in an attempt to work through the traumas of the Middle East's particularly grisly recent history. International touring is a standard part of most major theater artists' careers, but it's not so easy for those from countries formerly designated as part of the so-called "axis of evil." For Aghebati to share his work with the US, the country that perhaps needs to see it most given our ongoing deleterious involvement in the region, he faces a set of obstacles many artists would find insurmountable. VICE spoke with Aghebati recently to talk sanctions, censorship, and what it means for an artist to be a "rescue dog."

VICE: What can you tell me about the new project you're working on in Tehran?

Mohammad Aghebati: I'm working on a production of Richard II in collaboration with Mohammad Charmshir and Afshin Hashemi. It's a free adaptation of Shakespeare's play in the form of a monologue, and it's inspired by current events in the Middle East. The Middle East today conjures up images of inadequate leaders, bloody power struggles, sectarianism, extremism, and the destruction of countries in the flame of war. These are the images we are working with as we reinterpret Shakespeare's tragedy. This is a different and very difficult project for our group, but we hope that by the end of this year we'll be able to take it to New York.

Monday, 8 June 2015


Yari Ostovany at Stanford Art Spaces
Chelleneshin #21, oil on canvas, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy The Huffington Post.
Interview by John SeedThe Huffington Post

The paintings of Yari Ostovany, now on view at Stanford University's Paul G. Allen building, are stylistically related to works by second-generation American Abstract Expressionists -- for example Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski -- but as curator DeWitt Cheng notes, they also are inspired by and refer to the artist's Iranian cultural background. For example, the title of Ostovany's painting Chelleneshin refers to a period of solitude:
Chelleneshin is a compound word in Persian consisting of the words Chelleh; which describes a period of forty days; and Neshin, which literally means sitting. It refers to a seeker going into solitude for a period of forty days and forty nights to pray and meditate. In several mystical traditions, The Cycle of Forty is a common duration needed for spiritual metamorphosis and transitions to another, transcendent dimension.

Ostovany's interest in and ability to reference culture strikes DeWitt Cheng, who organized the exhibition, as admirable:

"I find his seriousness about spirituality and his cultural heritage interesting and inspiring. I wish that more artists today took it upon themselves to attain a modicum of cultural literacy both inside and outside of their disciplines/professions. And Yari makes beautiful, gutsy paintings too."

I recently interviewed Yari Ostovany and asked him both about his background and his art.

What can you tell me about growing up in Iran? Were you always artistic?

My father's love of music (both western classical and Persian classical music) meant that music was always filing the air in our house when I was growing up.

My first love was poetry, modern Persian poetry to be precise. When I was 14 a friend of mine who had started taking painting classes encouraged me to do so as well saying that she thought it wold suit my temperament perfectly.

My first art class was a Tehran University extension class while I was still in high school (my sophomore year). I was hooked. Gallery hoping in Tehran became my favorite pastime and the newly built Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art my hangout.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Art and Protest

Sheida Soleimani, “Lachrymatory Agent” (2014). Archival Pigment Print, 24 × 17 ̋.  Courtesy The Brooklyn Rail.
by Matthew Biro, The Brooklyn Rail

Can art today be a form of protest? And, if so, what subjects, what issues, what transgressions or injustices, does it most vitally and persuasively critique? In many ways, the obvious answer to this question is “yes.” As critics and historians remind us, many of the founding acts of modern art were based in the criticism and negation of the status quo, as artists and writers attacked conventional ways of seeing, doing, being, and understanding the world. And even after the rise of postmodernism, with its rejection of so many of high modernism’s primary ideals or values, modern art’s foundation in negation remained a bedrock for the continuing production and understanding of contemporary art.

At the same time, in today’s art world, many forms of critique seem worn out and hollow. Mega-artists like Christopher Wool and Jeff Koons appear to criticize the commodification of experience, the ways in which we as individuals begin to think, feel, and dream in stereotypes. Their works, according to their proponents, can easily be read as protests against the growth of hierarchy, inequality, commodification, and the spectacle. Despite this, however, their irony and attacks on artistic subjectivity create ambiguity and distance the spectator in ways that equally affirm both left- and right-wing ideals. At their core, the artworks of Koons and Wool suggest that all values are relative, and they support even the most extreme capitalist, free-market ideologies. Protest can perhaps still be genuine and viable in art today, but it can also clearly function as an attitude or pose, just another way of doing business.

For this reason, the question that I directed at different writers and artists in mid-April was, “Can art still be critical?” Their generous responses prove that it can be; although, to be sure, criticism can also be a clichéd attitude, espoused by even the most conservative artists. The separation of critique from affirmation, we are shown, always lies in the details, in the presence—or lack—of a significant crossing of content with form. Protest, we discover, arises from the tensed interaction of a certain imagination with a specific here and now, or in the unconventional conjunction of real historical events with particular techniques and strategies. And although it takes a variety of forms in art today, the presence of protest needs to be noted; for if art eschews criticism, it runs the danger of becoming mere entertainment, just another commodity that supports the status quo.

There are many ways to keep protest alive in art today. Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of following a number of artists under 30, whose works powerfully and convincingly embrace the task of critique. Their examples provide me with a sense that art can still be critical; and furthermore they suggest that dissent is once again changing, that it is becoming less cool and didactic. Instead, as these newcomers demonstrate, critique and social activism in art today are messier, more material and ambiguous, and increasingly imaginary and fantastic. A different sensibility, a kind of “libidinal politics,” seems to be growing, an attitude that blends political critique with reflection on the media and the body.

American born Sheida Soleimani makes photographs of an Iran she has never visited in person. The child of refugees who fled persecution in the Islamic Republic, she updates the strategy of photomontage, creating broken representations of a country where violence intermixes with desire. To make her photographs, Soleimani prints out images sourced from the Internet—politicians, religious figures, soldiers, prisoners, executioners, and ordinary people, as well as oriental rugs and other patterned forms—that she then combines with three-dimensional objects. The resulting dioramas, in which appropriated images are mixed with raw and processed foods, toys, pebbles, plants, hair, leaves, wigs, sugar cubes, and fabrics, are carefully lit and then re-photographed with a high resolution medium format digital camera. And the images that result, whose constituent parts signify Iran in a variety of different ways, suggest twisted propaganda posters or surreal product displays.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Street Fighting Man

Ali Ettehad on performance art in Iran and his struggle to bring it to the public
Ali Ettehad – Purdahs of Silence II. Courtesy REORIENT.
by Joobin BekhradREORIENT 

When it comes to contemporary art in Iran, one often hears about the country’s bustling gallery scene, its innumerable painters, photographers, and sculptors, and the prices set by local artists in auctions both at home and abroad. What one rarely hears about, however, is performance art, a medium with a relatively shorter history in Iran, and one that has been given far less attention by artists and audiences alike. While it is difficult to talk in terms of a proper ‘scene’ in the country, there are, nonetheless, artists who are devoting themselves to their performances, and fighting against the odds to perform and introduce everyday audiences on the city’s streets to the medium. Nobody said it would be easy; but then again, nobody said it would be impossible, either.

Based in Tehran, Ali Ettehad is an artist and curator. Along with his wife, Nikoo Tarkhani (an artist as well), he has been at the forefront of performance art in Iran, and is also one of the better-known names in the country’s contemporary art scene in general. Together, this artist power-couple performs in Tehran, curates exhibitions and performance art series, hosts seminars, and produces films, among other things. I recently spoke with Ali – one half of his and Nikoo’s Anahita Art Studio – to find out about what he’s been up to since I caught up with him last in Tehran in 2013, as well as the current state of performance art there. Although he does like to keep secrets, Ali was generous enough to share a few of his with me.

Unlike other forms of art in Iran – e.g. visual art, cinema, music, etc. – performance art has a relatively shorter history. What were the origins of performance art in Iran, and why do you think it has received little attention in comparison to other art forms?

You of course have to remember that performance art, vis-à-vis other artistic mediums, is new all around the world in general; that’s why it’s taken much longer for it to be recognised in Iran, and for Iranian performance art to receive outside attention. The short history and newness of performance art aside, however, I do agree with you. As a medium, it has often been neglected, and has not received due attention. Performance art was seen for the first time in Iran in the 70s, and took shape on the fringes of the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of Arts (earlier performances may have existed, but there are no known historical records of them), although following the Revolution in 1979, it became largely forgotten. Activity picked up again after 2000, however, and in the early years of the 21st century, much interest was shown in contemporary artistic mediums. Beginning in 2005, there was a surge of investment in the domestic art market (particularly from abroad), and Iranian art began to perform particularly well in Middle Eastern art auctions.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Tehran auction shifts millions of pounds worth of art in spite of sanctions

Sale of Iranian art generates nearly double what was predicted, taking in more than £4m and setting the record for most expensive painting sold in Iran
Piece by Iranian painter Aydin Aghdashloo on display at the auction in Tehran’s Grand Azadi hotel. Photograph: Hemmat Khahi, courtesy the Guardian
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan,  Iran correspondent, The Guardian

In Tehran’s luxurious Grand Azadi hotel, a row of women dressed in black with red headscarves hold the lines open to bidders as the auctioneer tries to conjure up increasingly large sums with his hammer. As artworks are displayed, prices in the tens of billions of Iranian rials – hundreds of thousands of pounds – light up the large Samsung screen on the wall. In the crowd are some familiar faces including actors, politicians and the retired Iranian football star Ali Daei.

The auction of modern and contemporary Iranian art, which is jockeying to be among the big auctions in the Middle East, is an annual event and was being held for the fourth time. But this year was different: the prices that were bid were astonishing for a country still struggling with international sanctions. And the auction, held on Friday, made nearly double what had been predicted, totalling £4.3m.

A tree trunk painting by celebrated Iranian poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri sold for around 28bn rials (£560,000), becoming the most expensive painting ever sold in Iran. Other works that attracted large sums include those of the New York-based artist Manoucher Yektai and sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, as well as pieces by Bahman Mohassess and Aydin Aghdashloo.

“It exceeded our expectations,” a Tehran auction spokeswoman told the Guardian. “We sold almost 180% ... [of] what we had estimated. We had buyers both from inside and outside Iran. Out of 126 works that had been presented, 125 of them were sold.”

Due to sanctions, Iran’s banking system is cut off from the outside world but that did not stop international bidders participating in the auction. “Foreigners had an intermediary paying on their behalf in Tehran,” the spokeswoman said. The event was sponsored by Samsung’s Iran branch, among other companies.

Shiva Balaghi, a cultural historian of the Middle East at Brown University, said the auction showed art purchases were increasing in Iran. “The growing art market in Iran is significant and is sustained by a new generation of local collectors,” she said. “The recent Tehran auctions have been showing consistently strong prices. There has been notable interest in Iranian modern masters like Sohrab Sepehri, Marcos Grigorian and Parviz Tanavoli.”

Interest in Iranian art from the 1950s through the 1970s is also strong on the international front among private collectors and museums, Balaghi said. “Though prices for these works are rising, they are still fairly modest compared to their western counterparts,” she said. “For relatively smaller sums, one can build a significant collection of modern and contemporary Iranian art. So for Iranians, art is a smart financial investment as well as a way to tap into one’s cultural heritage.”

Monday, 18 May 2015

Iran goes back to the future at Venice Biennale

Exhibitions explore The Great Game’s rivalry over Central Asia and thrust the contested geographies of the 19th century into the language of contemporary art

‘I’m Sorry’ (2008) by Iraqi-born artist Abdel Abidin Photograph: Courtesy Lawrie Shabibi gallery and Adel Abidin and The Guardian.

Natasha Morris for Tehran Bureau, The Guardian

“All The World’s Futures” might be the overarching leitmotif of the 56th Venice Biennale, but Iran’s national pavilion, its largest ever at the prestigious contemporary art event, has chosen to frame its future through its past.

The first exhibition, entitled The Great Game, takes its inspiration from a 19th century tug-o-war over the lands of Central Asia. The second, entitled Iranian Highlights, offers a select mix of four Iranian contemporary artists who have forged very varied careers on the international stage over the past 50 years.

The two are intended to work in harmony, creating a substantial whole united under Iran’s roof. They meld together to an extent that it is difficult to notice where one ends and the other begins.

This is all part of the plan, says Tandis Tanavoli, project manager for the Faiznia Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that is organizing the pavilion along with the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. “The beauty of this exhibit is that the works chosen create a story – one story,” she says.

The Iran pavilion stands sentinel in a former ship-building factory between two canals at the very northernmost tip of the city, along the Calle San Giovanni deep in Venice’s Cannaregio district. The atmosphere is industrial, with paintings mounted on makeshift walls erected from sheets of white canvas and sculptures perched on the bare concrete floor.

The pavilion’s open interior creates a seamless transition as visitors move between the two displays. Here, Iran has showcased 40 artists. Many are part of the larger of the shows, The Great Game, which brings together the work of artists from Iran and her neighboring Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Kurdistan.

Curators Marco Meneguzzo and Mazdak Faiznia developed the concept behind The Great Game. The pair explained that it thrusts the contested and still pertinent geographies of the 19th century into the language of contemporary art. The theme might be more familiar to international audiences through Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, or Peter Hopkirk’s eponymous study of the geo-political tussle between the British and the Soviets for the lands of Central Asia from 1813 to 1907. Iran was portrayed as the playfellow in satirical magazine prints of the time: the diminutive Persian cat to the burly British lion and Russian bear.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

It’s written all over their faces

Still from “Munis,” 2008. Single-channel color video installation. Courtesy Shirin Neshat, Gladstone Gallery and Washington Post.

by Philip KennicottWashington Post

The first Hirshhorn Museum exhibition organized under the watch of its recently appointed director, Melissa Chiu, is structured around three turning points in Iranian history. “Shirin Neshat: Facing History” contextualizes the artist’s work around the 1953 ouster of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and the abortive Green Movement of 2009, which raised and dashed hopes of more democratic, secular-leaning governance.

A history lesson is never unwelcome, especially now, with the United States attempting to forge a new relationship with the regional powerhouse. Americans with a simplistic or monolithic view of Iran as a dangerous theocracy are generally oblivious of the role played by the United States, and the CIA, in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mosaddeq and the decades of misguided support for the brutal, corrupt and ridiculous regime of the Shah. The Iranian government is horribly oppressive, of course, but Iranian society is vibrant and artistically rich, with women representing well more than half of the student population at the university level.

Unfortunately, the historical focus of the show doesn’t always serve Neshat’s work well. Historical photographs and even a newsreel give visitors a sense of these epochal events, but Neshat’s work isn’t particularly documentary in its focus. At its best, it is a kind of poetic descant to history, reimagining it in a lyrical and reflective mode. The exhibition’s approach also threatens to make Neshat into a conduit, or worse, a martyr, of the tragedies of Iranian history, inviting us to indulge the superficial and aggrandizing view of the artist as someone who suffers on behalf of her people. Finally, the historical organization also emphasizes an uncomfortable aspect of Neshat’s career: Her recent work is not nearly as powerful as the work she was doing two decades ago.

Framing the show as an ambulation through history, however, does accomplish a few curatorial ends. Most of this work is already familiar to art lovers who have been paying attention to the trends of the past 20 years. Almost everything in the Hirshhorn exhibition, including the seminal videos made in the late 1990s, was also seen less than three years ago in a Neshat exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts. So how to reframe it? How to make it new?

An Iranian-American Artist Uses Tools to Question Social Structures

“Man is a tool-making animal,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1778. Philosophers and scientists from Marx to Darwin have elaborated on the definition, and this weekend at NADA New York, the Iranian-American artist Sarah Rahbar explores the theme in a contemporary context.
Trespassers, by Sara Rahbar, 2013. From the series 206 Bones Collected vintage wooden tools, rifles, cross and cruxifix, and bullets 45 × 41 1/2 × 9 in 114.3 × 104.1 × 22.9 cm. Courtesy Carbon 12, Dubai, and Artsy.
by Bridget GleesonArtsy Editorial

Rahbar’s sculptures, composed of vintage tools and objects including pieces of wood, scraps of bronze, wheels, batons, shoe forms, and rifle stocks, are at once familiar and mildly disorienting. One piece in particular, Trespassers (2013), bears a striking resemblance to a standard wall-mounted rack taken from a garage or a tool shed—save for a crucifix planted in the middle. Other sculptures, like The Comfort of Feeling Safe (2015), employ similar materials, but the pieces are arranged in a way that’s illogical, even bewildering. And the title provokes further questions; after all, the concept of “feeling safe” is not typically associated with a range of objects, like axes, saws, and rifles, that could be used as weapons. Unless, of course, those same objects are used to protect you, or to tame and beautify the wild world around you.

Indeed, Rahbar’s works conjure up childhood memories—and intriguing questions about the relationship between child and parent, the vulnerable and the protected, the natural world and the ways we’ve invented to control it. Memory, and basic human needs, are themes that the artist has arrived at partly due to personal circumstance. Rahbar was born in Tehran; amid the turmoil following the Iranian revolution, her family fled the country. Years later, she pieced together Iranian and American flags for her evocative “Flag” textile series. “Years and years of memories, experiences and attachments and what is the work but a direct reflection of my life? What I’m focusing on, and what is boiling, twisting and turning inside of me,” she has said of these collages.

Rahbar’s current exhibition, featured at NADA New York by the Dubai gallery Carbon 12, is a satisfying thematic extension of both the “Flag” series and her later “War” series of sculptures and installations built with military paraphernalia. “In the end we are all just visiting and we all come to this world alone and we leave alone,” she writes in her artist’s statement. “But while we are here we try so desperately to belong to something, to someone and to somewhere.” Life is a battle, Rahbar suggests—but only some of the battlefields are easily recognizable.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Music Never Stopped

MTV viewers get a dose of Iranian politics

Documentary highlights plight of musicians, including one who fled Iran after being labelled a ‘devil worshipper’ and flogged
 Iranian heavy metal band Masters of Persia. Photograph: Andi Brooke Photography for Rebel Music/ MTV World. Courtesy  The Guardian.
by Peyvand Khorsandi for Tehran Bureau, The Guardian

Imagine if you were a rock or hip hop musician and had to seek a green light for your art from an institution called the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Welcome to Iran, where some music is technically illegal.

“Don’t bother,” the guidance is likely to be. “It’s not really worth your trouble. And as for performing in public, there is more chance of a Boyzone concert in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-un executing another subordinate with anti-aircraft fire as a warm-up act.”

No Coachella or Glastonbury equivalent any time soon.

Heavy metal and socio-political hip hop are among the banned music in Iran and musicians can only gig in underground pop-up venues that run the risk of being invaded by the so-called moral police. Organisers and performers face serious consequences if they are caught.

For that reason, many musicians quit the country. MTV catches up with a few in Rebel Music: Iran, The Music Never Stopped, its second six-part series on music in countries where terms such as gangsta, thug life, and criminals are, to varying degrees, more apt descriptions of the authorities rather than the artists.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Balancing humour and gravity

A small woman with a brilliant smile, photographer Gohar Dashti is among Iran’s established talents, conjuring art from a culture run ragged by years of war, internal tensions and conflict between traditional beliefs and the modern world.

Untitled work from Gohar Dashti’s series Today’s Life and War (2008), part of the exhibition Iran at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney. © Gohar Dashti. Courtesy the artist and ACP.
by Rosalie Higson, The Australian

During the past decade Dashti’s surrealist photo-fictions have been shown in solo exhibitions in Tehran, the US, France, Italy and Britain, and in many group shows from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro.

In Sydney at the Australian Centre for Photography selections from two of Dashti’s series, Today’s Life and War and Iran, ­Untitled, are on show under the title Iran, part of the centre’s examination of dialogue between East and West in the year of the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign during World War I.

Dashti was never interested in straight documentary photography. Instead, she makes a kind of absurdist theatre, set against a dreary yet threatening desert landscape, balancing humour and gravity. “My work is about social issues and also about historical social issues, and also about myself and my experience of the world,” Dashti says. “My work reflects my face, what I feel about life, what’s my experience. I think all artists trust themselves so they can express something. Not particularly as a woman — it doesn’t matter. Just as an artist.”

War was constantly in the background for the first eight years of Dashti’s life. She was born in 1980, the year after the Islamic Revolution, just when Iran and Iraq went to war. She grew up with three brothers in Ahvaz, a small city on the border between Iran and Iraq: “And that’s exactly where the war happened. My father was from there, and so we stayed there, and we grew up in the wartime.

“It was just part of life. We had good and bad memories — the birthday parties, shopping, going to school — everything like normal. And we grew up in this kind of life. One of the normal games for us, after the red alarm (all clear siren) we went to the roof and took the bullets and ‘Who has more?’ At the time I really enjoyed it, but now thinking about it — oh. But it was a game for children.”

Gimme Some Truth

Living the high life and telling it like it is: Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar
Once Upon a Time, There Was Saddam (from the A Reason to Fight series). Courtesy REORIENT.

What interest could a stylish, twenty-something artist-cum-businessman living it up in the French Riviera and Monaco have in a tiny village in central Iran? In a tribe supposed to be as old as time itself? In a war he never experienced, fought for, or at the time understood? Quite a bit, apparently.

Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, in the early 80s, Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar has a lot to be happy about. Despite having been dubbed the ‘new kid on the block’ (among other things) by some, he has, in a very short time, seen his work shown in solo exhibitions in London, major charity galas, international art fairs, and on prestigious online platforms; not bad at all, one could well say. Although he comes from a business background and is known for his entrepreneurial flair and drive, it isn’t money that’s driving Sassan’s artistic practice, but rather a simple love for his homeland, and a journey through the many facets of his identity. Combining traditional Persian motifs with black-and-white photography, fashion aesthetics, and archival material, Sassan strives to reveal through his work not only his own true self, but also that of Iran.

Who is Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar? What does he believe in? Who is this ‘man on a mission’ everyone’s been talking about recently?

I have often been called a self-styled purveyor of the truth by different major organisations and players in the contemporary art world during the past two years, which is due to the nature of my work – from my portraiture and art films, to installations and photographs such as those of the A Reason to Fight and The Real Me series – as well as my background. As an artist, one of my objectives is to show the world what the true nature of my country – Iran – and its culture, heritage, and people is. It has been too long that the majority of international media outlets have portrayed my fellow nationals, country, and heritage as something that is clearly false, and I think it is long overdue to start showing the truth and factual realities of Iran instead of all this negative propaganda circulating everywhere.

Today, I am using my practice to better educate the masses on a global level about Iran and everything that it involves, and my biggest satisfaction is when I see audiences of various ages and races understanding the message behind my work all in the same way. My work deals with a potent blend of nostalgia, history, and national cultural identity.

All about me nicknamed Crown Giver

Contemporary Iranian Photography 
The Silk Road Art Gallery based in Tehran, presents its new solo exhibition by Tahmineh Monzavi titled "All about me nicknamed Crown Giver" until May 18th, 2015.
All about me nicknamed Crown Giver, 2014 © Tahmineh Monzavi. Courtesy The Eye of Photography.
by La RédactionThe Eye of Photography

In a dusty decadence, forgotten and rusty crowned people portrait the lacklustre nightmare of a damp house for me. I search for a familiar sign in the strangeness of the faces. They want to get far away. Like these very same old brass crowns, they want to be a remote sign of what they have once been. The houses in Grape Garden Alley, the houses of dust. The aristocratic houses are dust covered memories, and suspicious looking.

Miss Beauties run to prove their merits and their unsuccessful effort is to win the lost rank of beauty and vanity. Life becomes a chair, it becomes a stare, it becomes staring at their whirling, and a sneer and a chortle that there is always one chair short for the best ones. There is always someone who fails in occupying the chair, and she falls apart.

In the real world, Miss Beauties appear on the stage to display their best in a predefined framework, in an imposed space, with a beaming smile, with a doll-like face devoid of inner feelings. Individuality of these girls is castrated and the portrayal of the appearance is the sole element of their attraction.

The way Miss Beauties are chosen seems somehow similar to our childhood game. Whoever sits on the chair faster deserves the loftiest status. Regarding the hidden capabilities of every woman in the society to be a chosen one, and disregarding looks, culture, and even social class, meritorious Iranian girls and women can be seen easily on the city’s pavements and squares.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Suddenly, Tehran’s Mayor Becomes a Patron of the Arts

Tehran Becomes Giant Open-Air Art Gallery

Billboard in Tehran shows The Son of Man by the Belgian surrealist René Magritte next to a painting by famous Iranian artist Sohrab Sepehri. Photograph: Hamed Khorshidi/ Courtesy The Guardian.
by Thomas ErdbrinkNew York Times

The mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, is well known in Iran as a former Revolutionary Guards commander, retired pilot and the loser of two presidential elections. This week he added one more title — patron of the arts — as he directed all of the city’s 1,500 billboards fitted out with copies of famous works of art, including many by prominent Western artists.

Almost overnight nearly all of Tehran’s billboards, which are owned by the city and are a prime source of income, stopped showcasing South Korean dishwashers and the latest bank interest rates (now 22 percent) and sported still lifes by Rembrandt and images by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Residents of Tehran, who spend hours a day on congested roads, often protecting their mouths from the continuous blanket of smog, rubbed their eyes at the sight of works by such artists as Rothko (Nos. 3, 10 and 13) and Munch (“The Scream,” of course), along with pieces by prominent Iranian artists.

“My usual morning route has become a big adventure for me,” said Hamid Hamraz, 58, as he navigated his yellow Peugeot taxi through traffic on the Hemmat highway. “Now, in my taxi we discuss paintings and artworks.”

Such discussions are exactly what the project aims for, said Mojtaba Mousavi, a counselor to the Organization of Beautification of Tehran, a municipal group in charge of decorating walls, parks and other public spaces, including billboards.

“Our people are too busy to go to museums and galleries,” he said. “So we decided to turn the entire city into a huge gallery.”