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.|
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.