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.