Friday, 30 December 2016

Creative License: Paterson’s Golshifteh Farahani Talks Jarmusch and Breaking Through Iranian Self-Censorship

Courtesy of Amazon Studios, Bleecker Street and MovieMaker.
by Ryan VaziriMovieMaker

We all long for lives filled with extraordinary moments, signs that our individual experiences are different from everyone else’s. Yet reality is characterized by repetition and boredom and frustration, routine and shapeless.

Jim Jarmusch’s cinema has always reflected on what can be called, loosely and grandly, the meaning of life. His latest film, Paterson, tells the story of a bus driver (Adam Driver) who writes poetry on the side and dearly loves his wife (Golshifteh Farahani). They live in Paterson, New Jersey, made famous as the subject and hometown (respectively) for American poetry greats William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg; otherwise it’s a relatively humdrum slice of small-town America. The characters’ lives are packed with routine: The bus-driving poet (also named Paterson) goes to work, gets in a couple of verses, drops by the local bar, while his artistic wife Laura stays in home and occupies herself with baking and learning guitar. On the whole, though, they’re happy.

Jarmusch’s whimsical, solemn film would’ve been impossible to pull off without the help of great performances by Driver and Farahani. Farahani, an Iranian actress now based in France, brings to life an effervescent, energetic woman, whose self-absorption and flightiness is balanced with a great deal of charm. Farahani’s successful career in Iran, including frequent work with auteur Asghar Farhadi (she starred in his acclaimed About Elly in 2009), was put on hold when officials banned her from the country following a nude photoshoot in French magazine Madame Figaro. She has since worked with a range of international moviemakers, from Mia Hansen-Løve to Ridley Scott to Jon Stewart. With her courage, versatility and immense talent, her future certainly seems to be very bright.

A Tale Of Two Shows

A review of two shows in London reveals the intimacy of works on paper as well as the artist’s self-portrait
Bahman Mohasses. Untitled (Three Figures). 1957. Lithograph. Funded by Maryam and Edward Eisler. Image courtesy of British Museum, the Estate of Bahman Mohassess and Harper's BAZAAR Arabia.
by Roxane Zand, Harper's BAZAAR Arabia

There are those who say that all works of art are in some way a portrait of the artist. While as a topic this would invite much debate, it is fair to say that all artists address the self and its preoccupations in the process of creativity and expression. Two recent shows – in very different and seemingly unconnected ways – draw our attention to the self-scrutiny of portraits and the artistic process. They are two shows that inspire and excite in equal measure, in disparate ways but for quite similar reasons.

The first of these is a gem of a small show at the British Museum – Iranian Voices: Recent Acquisitions of Works on Paper, curated by Dr Venetia Porter. Thanks to the museum's Contemporary and Modern Middle East Art Patron group, and other generous donors such as Maryam and Edward Eisler, the Museum now has a growing collection of over 200 established and emerging artists from across the region. This particular group of works on view just behind the Addis Gallery brings together thoughtfully juxtaposed pieces by such well-known names as Bahman Mohassess, Parviz Tanavoli, Parastou Fourouhar, Ali Akbar Sadeghi, Shahpour Pouyan, Tarlan Rafiee and Yashar Samimi Mofakham, Fereydoun Ave, Bahman Jalali, and Ali Banisadr. With the thoughtfulness and historicity characteristic of British Museum exhibitions, this show unfolds a series of unexpected connections and a contextualisation that makes it an eye-opening experience. For one thing, it is fascinating to see works on paper by artists some of whom are better known as painters. The viewer gets to witness the artist's process, smaller experimentations, sketches of more complex compositions, as well as stylistic departures.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

An Iranian Artist Living in L.A. Reflects on the Effects of War in Unlikely Ways

Courtesy Gelare Khoshgozaran, Human Resources and LA Weekly.
by Eva Recinos, LA Weekly

Even as a toddler, Gelare Khoshgozaran could tell something was wrong. She fumed as she hid under the stairs with her parents, wondering why they laughed and told jokes while jets flew overhead.

“I would look at my brother’s face and he was terrified,” says Khoshgozaran. “And I knew that although this was kind of fun — hiding under the staircase with your parents in the dark — this was really serious. … I remember the feeling of rage toward my parents that they were not capable of understanding the amount of danger and the scale and severity of how vulnerable we were.”

They did understand, of course. And Khoshgozaran would later come to realize that this was the only way they knew to comfort her during some of the most traumatizing moments of their lives. Little did Khoshgozaran know that the Iran-Iraq war would affect multiple parts of her life, even after she moved to the United States in 2009.

“Rocket Rain,” the artist’s solo show at Human Resources in Chinatown, explores both her personal story and the collective history and symbols of communities affected by the war. Envisioning the show was only half the battle: Khoshgozaran asked for the help of friends and family to gather materials and share their own stories of how their lives were affected by the war. Khoshgozaran’s mother was pregnant with her during the war, something that always stuck with the artist.

Conversations about the past, present and future

The series ‘Visual Dialogues’ continues with a showcase of works by two artists who explore their mutual interest in material, abstraction and the found object
Gallery view of the works of Fereydoun Ave and Shaqayeq Arabi. Courtesy Gulf News.

by Jyoti Kalsi, Gulf News

Total Art at the Courtyard continues its series “Visual Dialogues” with an exhibition of recent works by well-known Iranian artists Fereydoun Ave and Shaqayeq Arabi. The show sets up a conversation between Arabi’s three-dimensional works and Ave’s two-dimensional pieces, exploring their mutual interest in material, abstraction and the found object. Both artists work with objects available to them in their surroundings, turning them into a poetic stream of consciousness, telling stories about the past, the present and the future.

Arabi is a compulsive collector of found materials, which she uses to create her work. In her latest series, she has used pieces from a broken classic chair, fly nets, palm fronds, bells, a cycle pump, a pair of crutches and spatulas from a pizzeria — all found on the streets of Dubai — to create aesthetic and thought-provoking assemblages that express her feelings, emotions and memories, and speak about the fine balance between our built environment and nature. “I work spontaneously, but the one conscious decision I make is to always include some organic materials in my compositions,” she says.

Ave has been an influential personality in the Iranian theatre, film and arts scene. Besides being an internationally recognised artist and curator, he is also a collector of art and antiques, and a mentor to the next generation of Iranian artists. He has lived and worked in Europe, America and Iran, and was a close friend of legendary American artist Cy Twombly. His new cycle of works “Shah Abbas and his Page Boy” comprises a series of textile-based mixed-media pieces that combine his roles as artist, collector and mentor, and reflect his deep understanding of both Western and Eastern art.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Tehran’s Ab-Anbar Gallery Links the Diaspora and Global Art

Drawings by the Scottish artist David Batchelor, who will have a solo exhibition at the Ab-Anbar gallery in January. Courtesy David Batchelor and NY Times.
by Ginanne Brownell, New York Times

Reza Aramesh had received offers before. Over the years the London-based artist, who was born in Iran, was approached by various Tehran galleries asking if he would like to have his works exhibited. But for a variety of reasons it never felt suitable.

“I always wanted to show in Iran, but it was never really the right situation or gallery at the time,” said Mr. Aramesh, 42, whose works scrutinize oppression and violence in a global context through mediums including photography, installations and sculpture. “I did not show in Iran just for the sake of it because even in London I never did that. With any gallery, it has to make sense.”

But a few years ago when the newly founded Ab-Anbar gallery in Tehran approached the artist, who has been featured in shows in countries including South Africa, Israel, China and Argentina, he was intrigued. “For one, it was a gut feeling,” said Mr. Aramesh, who has a solo show at the Dubai outpost of the Leila Heller Gallery (until Jan. 4) and is featured in a group show “Uncertain States: Artistic Strategies in States of Emergency” (until Jan. 15) at Berlin’s Akademie Der Künste.

“Another was that I met Salman Matinfar a number of years ago and was impressed with him and his knowledge of my work. But also what interests me is that as a gallerist I like his ambition.”

Mr. Matinfar, the founder and director of Ab-Anbar (“water reserve” in Farsi), plans for his gallery to be international in scope, not only in its focus to bring Iranian diaspora artists’ work back to Tehran (Mr. Aramesh’s second show with the gallery, “At 11:57 am Wednesday 23 October 2013,” closed in early October) but also to have international contemporary artists exhibited in the gallery, in the downtown district of the capital.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Iran art exhibition uses culture to bridge Middle East divides

Courtesy The Iran Project.
Najmeh BozorgmehrFinancial Times | Via The Iran Project

The Land of the Solidities, an abstract oil painting of a fully veiled Arab woman by Mounirah Mosly, a Saudi artist, hangs near an untiled piece by the late Sohrab Sepehri, one of Iran’s best known poets and painters.

The fact that the works are displayed at the same exhibition in Tehran provides a rare show of bonhomie in a region blighted by conflict and bitter rivalries. For Iran the event is unique — it is the first time that the predominantly Persian state has hosted such a public display of Arab art.

The organisers touted it as an opportunity to use culture to bridge some of the regional divides, and it is notable that two works from Saudi Arabia — Iran’s regional foe — are on the display.

Karim Sultan, curator at the Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation that put on The Sea Suspended exhibition, says the exhibition is about “continuing the conversation with the Arab world.”

Ehsan Rasoulof, the director of Mohsen Gallery, one of Iran’s avant-garde art galleries, concurs, saying art should transcend the Middle East’s problems.

“In this crisis-hit region where we live, an art dialogue is the responsibility of artists, despite all the tensions between us and our neighbours,” Mr Rasoulof says.

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic in January after its embassy in Tehran was ransacked by Iranian hardliners protesting against the Saudi government’s execution of a dissident Shia cleric. Iran and Saudi Arabia — the region’s dominant Shia and Sunni powers respectively — back rival sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen as they fight proxy wars, and are blamed for stoking sectarian tensions across the Arab world.

Friday, 11 November 2016

From Iran to Guatemala: How Women Are Driving Music’s Political Revolution

Courtesy Noisey.
by Emma GarlandNoisey

Whether its navigating a warzone, or becoming a public figure in a violent patriarchal society, these artists are using their music to become important voices of the times we live in.
A young girl is pictured counting rosary beads in a church. A male voiceover crackles: "Some of you may become somewhat uncomfortable as parts of this film unfold". A Presbyter, visible only from the neck down, uses a perfectly manicured hand to give the girl a small pink pill as a communion offering. In comes the music: a thumping electronic beat reminiscent of both Scissor Sisters and Le Tigre, before a woman's voice cuts in shouting, "Does your vagina have a brand? Let your vagina start a band!"

This is how a recent music video from now notorious activists Pussy Riot begins. Titled "Straight Outta Vagina​", it is intended as both a celebration of all that is female-presenting, and a confrontational riposte to Donald Trump's "grab them by the pussy" remarks. The name "Pussy Riot" is now internationally recognised, their brightly-coloured balaclavas a symbol of opposition, feminism, and LGBTQ+ rights. It can be easy to forget that Tolokonnikova and fellow founding member Maria Alyokhina spent 16 months in Mordovia penal colonies on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

Where nothing is allowed, yet anything is possible

Ramita Navai: ″City of lies. Love, sex, death and the search for truth in Tehran″

Survival in Tehran is a matter of lying and bending the rules. In the Iranian theocracy, real life is conducted in secret. Nadja Schluter reports on what else we can learn from the wonderful book on Iran, "City of Lies
Young Iranian women in front of a shopping mall in Tehran′s northwest (photo: Getty Images/AFP/ B. Mehri. Courtesy Qantara.
by Nadja

This book is populated by an army of standardised noses. They are slender and dainty and well-formed – because almost all of them were operated on by a cosmetic surgeon. But now and again, a natural and characterful nose appears and stands out from the crowd. The one belonging to Ana, for example, a single woman in her late 20s: "She was one of the few Iranian women with an imperfect nose, the one she was born with, a noble, sharply angular nose, which had become the proud hallmark of her strength and individuality." And this, although relatives, friends and even strangers on the street have urged Ana "to have her nose altered to a more acceptable, marriage-friendly size."

The noses are just one of the wonderfully observed details in the literary reportage volume ″City of lies. Love, sex, death and the search for truth in Tehran″. In eight portraits, the British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai observes the lives of the citizens of Tehran, forced to subjugate themselves to the strictest of regulatory regimes – as imposed by their country and their religion – and exposed to so much social pressure to conform, that a perfectly normal nose can have so much symbolic clout. That young people dancing on the street equates to a mass rebellion. That a picnic on the side of a four-lane highway signifies freedom.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Iranian-American Tackles Big Brother with Performance Art

Amy Khoshbin, Gold Lady: Terror Level Five, Eyes Open, Photo by Corbin Ordel. Courtesy the artist and The Creators Project.
by Kara Weisenstein, The Creators Project

Advocacy, coupled with an interrogation of her cultural heritage, is at the soul of Iranian-American artist Amy Khoshbin's video and performance art. She’s currently in residence at Mana Contemporary, as part of Mana BSMT, the museum’s collaborative hub supporting emerging artists, where her performative installation The Myth of Layla is on view through November 12.

The artist grew up hearing stories of Iran from her dad that today sound like fairytales. In his youth, the country was a bohemian idyll. “When my dad was living there, it was like Paris. There were artists going there all the time. Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, and all these people... It was a really cool time to be in Iran,” Khoshbin tells The Creators Project.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Finding freedom in the catacombs

Roxanne Varzi's novel "Last Scene Underground"

"Last Scene Underground: an ethnographic novel of Iran" by Roxanne Varzi, an American associate professor of anthropology, tells the story of a group of students in Tehran who want to stage an illegal play underground. Marian Brehmer read the book

Theatre performance in Tehran (photo: Mehr). Courtesy Qantara.

by Marian

Cultural anthropology is one of several academic disciplines where researchers maintain close links to real people in society, while at the same time – guided by their curiosity – building a bridge between the academic world and the realities of human life.

It is quite possible that this is exactly what Roxanne Varzi sets out to achieve. Varzi, an associate professor of Anthropology and Film and Media Studies at the University of California, was born in Iran and moved to the United States with her family soon after the Islamic Revolution. Unlike many American-Iranians, Varzi did not cut ties with the country of her birth and even moved back to Tehran in 1994 for four years to conduct research. Since then, she has regularly travelled to Iran to research youth culture in the Islamic Republic.

"I love the inquisitive and experimental spirit that I have encountered in Iran and wanted to channel this power of expression into my own work," she says. Varzi's documentary films and sound installations have been displayed in museums the world over. Now, she has presented the results of her research in a way that is rather unusual in academic circles, namely as fiction in the novel “Last Scene Underground: an ethnographic novel of Iran”, which tells the story of a group of students in Tehran who want to stage an illegal play underground.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Tehran's towers: how the Iranian capital embraced bold architecture

Despite its rich history of boundary-pushing designs, Tehran’s architecture scene had lain largely dormant since the 1979 revolution – until now
The Orsi Khaneh project, by Keivani Architects, in Tehran’s affluent Gisha district. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali DehghanThe Guardian

From its iconic Azadi (freedom) tower, which has ridden out a revolution, an eight-year war and innumerable protest rallies, to the elegant museum of contemporary art or the city theatre, Tehran has long been home to a brand of wacky, yet distinctively Iranian, contemporary buildings.

In the few decades leading up to the 1979 Islamic revolution, architects such as Houshang Seyhoun, Kamran Diba and Hossein Amanat pushed the boundaries of traditional Persian architecture by using traditional elements in modern designs; Amanat’s freedom tower epitomises those efforts.

After the revolution, however, the Iranian capital’s architectural scene suffered a serious blow as the country was consumed first by war then by postwar reconstruction. But more recently, with young architects educating themselves in worldwide trends, and the relative stability of the country compared to its post-revolutionary upheaval, a new generation are following in the footsteps of the veterans. The city has embraced a bold, experimental architecture.

Tehran in 2016 “is in a constant mood of reconstructing and rebuilding itself,” according to Mehran Gharleghi, director at London’s Studio Integrate, who has previously worked in Tehran for the prominent architecture firm Mirmiran. “The municipalities accommodate new designs, at least compared to Europe, and there’s a big appetite for new buildings.”

“Tehran has a unique structure,” he adds. “It is more dynamic than any European capital, and at the same time it’s not a typical Middle Eastern city. Its urban scene is quite chaotic at the first glance. But, similarly to cities like Tokyo, this means Tehran is constantly able to renew its visual identity.”

Tehran’s mayors are also influential. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one. And the incumbent, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who has run eye-catching projects such as installing Picasso and Matisse billboards on the city’s streets, has presidential ambitions himself – leading, says Ghaleghi, to “the motivation of Tehran’s mayor to commission ambitious projects and improve the urban set-up”.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Street artists use anonymity to accentuate the message

In their latest task the Index on Censorship youth advisory board look at anonymous art around the world

by Josie Timms, Index on Censorship

In the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine, The Unnamed: Does anonymity need to be defended?, Index’s contributing editor for Turkey, Kaya Genç, explores anonymous artists in Turkey. In the piece the artists discuss how vital anonymity is in allowing them to complete their more controversial work. The Index on Censorship youth advisory board have taken inspiration from this piece for their latest task, in which they investigate anonymous art around the world.

Keizer by Constantin Eckner

Prior to the January 25 Revolution political street art was anything but common in Egypt, yet it has proliferated in public spaces in the aftermath of the revolution. One of the most productive street artists in Cairo is Keizer, who has gained popularity and notoriety in recent years. Like Banksy and other street artists, he uses the well-known stencil technique to empower his fellow countrymen, and people in general, with his thought-provoking work. He likens people to ants, which are featured in most of his graffiti. Keizer explains on his Facebook account that the ant “symbolises the forgotten ones, the silenced, the nameless, those marginalised by capitalism. They are the working class, the common people, the colony that struggles and sacrifices blindly for the queen ant and her monarchy.”

Ants feature in Keizer’s work to sybolise “the forgotten ones, the silenced, the nameless, those marginalised by capitalism”. Image: Keizer. Courtesy Index on Censorship.

Asked about the reason for protecting his identity, Keizer said: “I am very concerned over my safety and the repercussions of street art which I’ve already had a taste of, especially with this current regime. Including death threats,

my twitter account was hacked twice. In the past five years of working on the street I’ve been caught once. I came out of it with a few bumps and bruises, nothing major. I consider myself lucky that I came out one day later.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Sima Bina: a life devoted to Iranian folk music

by euronews

Banned from performing in public in her home country, like every other female singer, legendary Iranian folk musician Sima Bina was recently on stage in the German city of Cologne.

As a specialist of Iranian folk music, she says she seeks inspiration in every corner of Iran. However, the ban on women performing solo in her homeland means she has performed all over the world except there.

“It is disappointing that I cannot sing in Iran, because the music I have collected belongs to the people and I yearn to go on tour and deliver to the people what I have learned from them. But I know it is not possible and this disappointment is sometimes reflected in my songs,” she says.

Starting at the age of nine on a children’s programme on national radio, Sima soon had her own show dedicated to folk music and has devoted her career to reviving forgotten folk songs and melodies. Her work covers the whole spectrum of folk music from across Iran and further afield.

According to Euronews’ Mohammad Mohammadi: “Sima Bina has not limited her art to the folk music of Iran. Half of her recent concert in Cologne was made up of Afghan music performed with Afghan artists.”

“Our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan are part of our nation. We speak the same language. The borders are defined by politics, but the people are close and this togetherness can be strengthened by music,” says Sima Bina.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Open letter from the Board of Directors of the Association of Iranian Painters

An open letter from the Board of Directors of the Association of Iranian Painters, to the Artistic Deputy of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, à propos the concerns, doubts, and questions as regards the dispatch of the collection of objects of art to an exhibition tour abroad.

In the Name of God 
September 13, 2016
Mr. Ali Morad-Khani, Eminent Artistic Deputy of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance:

In view of the fact that the supervision and responsibilities of the presentation of the national treasure of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts outside the country has been officially delegated to you, we formally recognize you as the person to act in response to our enquiries. This is because Mr. Majid Mulla-Nowruzi, the Director of the Museum is not responding to our questions on this matter, claiming that he has already made everything clear. He has formally asserted, “there is no need for us to discuss all matters with all individuals; but if we make any mistakes then at that time they may comment on the issue.” (ILNA Press, September 6, 2016.)

The Iranian Art Society is deeply concerned about the fate of the country’s national heritage; it is concerned that the national treasure is to be sent outside the country, according to an international contract; the very national treasure which, on September 7, 2016, in an interview with the Persian Deutsche Welle website, Herman Partsinger, the Director of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation refers to as “the most valuable twentieth century art collection beyond the borders of Europe and North America.” All these concerns are because the senior directors of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance have not clarified the nature of the contract, or they have kept silent and have obviously avoided giving clear answers. Even the report on the Persian Deutsche Welle website of September 7, 2016, entitled, “The German Capital City to Host the First Tehran National Treasure Exhibition” has inreased the current obscurities.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

On Iranian Art

artnet Asks: Omid Tehrani on Iranian Art
Iman Afsarian, Car Showroom, Mirror Hall (2010). Courtesy of Assar Art Gallery and artnet.
by artnet Galleries Teamartnet

As one of Iran’s major art world figures, Omid Tehrani is dedicated to advancing and promoting the best of Iranian Modern and contemporary art to both a national and international audience. As the founder, co-owner, and director of Tehran’s Assar Art Gallery, he is also a specialized dealer who has assisted many new collectors in entering the exciting Iranian art market. During his 20-year career, Mr. Tehrani has collected and presented some of the country’s most important artists and archives in a variety of major private and public institutions.

Under his direction, Assar Art Gallery mounts unforgettable exhibitions by some of the country’s most exciting established and emerging artists. Be sure not to miss the upcoming solo presentation of Iman Afsarian, one of Iran’s most celebrated still-life painters, opening on September 23.

Tell us about your background in art and what led you here.

I was raised in a family of collectors and began collecting myself at the age of 17. At the time, I was also painting and studying painting and thought of selling my own work, but gradually I realized I am a much better dealer than an artist. I was very much encouraged and inspired by one of Iran’s legendary gallerists and a dealer for over 50 years, the late Mrs. Seyhoun, and began working for a private gallery in Tehran. Later opened my own gallery.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

How to combat Islamophobic harassment

Artist creates illustrated guide to fighting harassment

Maeril hopes her comic can "help someone being harassed while making sure any violence escalation remains unlikely."  Courtesy CNN.
Story highlights: 
  • Artist Maeril created a comic strip guide to fight anti-Muslim harassment
  • Maeril wanted to share "useful, clear steps" to help someone being harassed
  • The comic guide was widely shared on social media

Alison Daye, CNN

If you saw someone being harassed in a public space, you tell yourself you'd intervene on behalf of the victim, or report it.

In practice, that doesn't always happen. But Marie Shirine Yener wants to help.

Yener is a 22-year-old artist who lives in Paris. Under the pseudonym "Maeril," she has created a comic-strip guide offering step-by-step instructions on how to assist Muslims facing harassment in public spaces. The guide's four simple illustrations show how to create a safe and calm environment for the harassed person while ignoring the aggressor.

Maeril was moved to create the comic strip through her own connection to Muslim friends and her family's link to the Muslim diaspora. She posted the guide on her Facebook page, where it has been widely shared and translated into English.

Her illustrated message comes amid a rash of anti-Muslim sentiment in France, where dozens of beach towns recently banned the wearing of "burkinis" -- head-to-toe swimwear -- favored by some Muslim women (the ban was later overturned by the French courts).

Thursday, 1 September 2016

“Peace and Paper”

Iran Contemporary Art Biennale 2016

Biennale in Iran invites cross-cultural connection through fragile medium. 

The second edition of the Iran Contemporary Art Biennale brings together paintings, photographs, installations and video art highlighting peace, not war. 
Shadi Ghadirian, ‘Nil’ from the “Nil” series, 2008, 76 x 76 cm. Image courtesy the artist, ICA Biennale and Art Radar.
by Lisa Pollman, Art Radar

The Iran Contemporary Art Biennale (ICA Biennale) successfully concluded its second edition “Peace on Paper” on 31 July at the Niavaran Cultural Center (NCC) in Tehran, with the second leg of the Biennale opening on 20 September 2016 at the Abadan Museum of Contemporary art.

Originally, the Biennale was slated to open in Istanbul, with paper chosen as the primary medium due to the ease in which the material could be transported. After the terrorist bombing of the Istanbul Ataturk Airport in early July 2016, the Biennale was moved back to Tehran, with an even more urgent message towards cultivating peace.

Founded by Majid Abbas Farahani, the organisation originally known as the Culture of Peace Biennale (CP Biennale), the Iranian Contemporary Art Biennale aims to provide an international platform for exchange through the “language” of contemporary art, as noted in the event’s press release:
The Iran Contemporary Art Biennale is an independent and non-profit organization and has been dedicated to the advancement of discourse on peace in the field of contemporary art in Iran. It provides a context for the production and exhibition of Iranian as well as international contemporary art and related cultural practices.
The “ICA Biennale” began as a venture to showcase Iranian contemporary art by providing an international platform for innovative contemporary Iranian artists; alongside established international artists so as to create a space for cultural and social appreciation and exchange.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

On Metamorphosis and Transformation: The Blind Owl Meets the Hunger Artist

A creative playground by Aphrodite Désirée Navab

From the series: The Blind Owl Meets the Hunger Artist. Courtesy Studio 26 Gallery.
by Anna Savoy, NY Arts Magazine

East Village’s popular Studio 26 Gallery which is located in the Eastvillager building on East 3rd St. between Avenues A and B, hosted an interesting artistic exploration by Aphrodite Désirée Navab–an ink drawing series, When Madness Meets Hunger, curated by Marika Maiorova. This conceptual project represents an imaginary encounter between the protagonist of Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat’s novella, The Blind Owl, and the protagonist of Czech writer Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Hunger Artist,” integrated by Navab.

Aphrodite Désirée Navab invited the audience to examine the similarities and differences that she found between all three artists and writers in the room, herself included. In answer to a question from the audience: “What if Kafka and Hedayat were alive and here in this room right now?” Navab answered, “I hope that they would not be horrified by my elementary level dialogue.” An artist and a writer herself, Navab’s response was both humble and modest. Her artistic work is anything but elementary—rather, quite sophisticated and eloquent. She earned her doctorate in Art Education at Columbia University in 2004 and received her BA magna cum laude in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard College in 1993. “This work comes from the place of incredible admiration,” Navab confides, something palpable to her audience.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The life and career of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami

by David Walsh, WSWS

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami died in Paris on July 4 from gastrointestinal cancer. He had traveled to France in June for medical treatment. There have been questions raised in some quarters about the treatment he received in Iran. His death has sparked expressions of genuine sorrow from many figures in the film world.

Kiarostami directed a number of striking short films and features before the Iranian revolution of 1979, but he will be best remembered and long honored for the series of feature films, including documentaries, that he made between 1987 and 1997: Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), Homework (1989), Close-Up (1990), Life, And Nothing More … (1992), Through the Olive Trees (1994) and Taste of Cherry (1997). He was perhaps the most important filmmaker in the world during those years.

At a time of general intellectual renunciationism and movement to the right within global “left” artistic circles, Kiarostami was one of the few filmmakers who maintained a concern for the problems of the young, the poor and the oppressed and, moreover, addressed those problems in an artistically fresh and innovative fashion. He was a member of a significant trend in Iranian cinema, inspired by the mass revolutionary potential of the 1979 events.

Born in 1940 in Tehran, Kiarostami won a painting competition at the age of 18 and left home to attend Tehran University's Faculty of Fine Arts, a program he eventually failed. He passed at another art school and became a commercial artist. During the early and mid-1960s, Kiarostami made more than 150 television advertisements. In 1969, he helped set up a filmmaking department at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as Kanun), an organization founded by the Shah's wife. Although Kiarostami never spoke of it, his various artistic and intellectual endeavors would have brought him into contact in Tehran with left-wing figures, past and present.

Friday, 3 June 2016

'Islamic' Chair Cover Gets Iranian Activist In Trouble

Shai Sadr sits on the "Islamic" couch with a wine glass. Courtesy RFE/RL.

by Golnaz EsfandiariPersian LettersRFE/RL

A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer and women's rights activist has created a controversy by posting a picture on social media that shows her sitting on a chair with Islamic motifs while holding a glass of wine.

The chair in the photo of Shadi Sadr is covered with a material used in Iran for events marking the Ashura, the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It is a work by Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar, whose parents were among intellectuals and political activists killed in the late 1990s by Intelligence Ministry agents.

Hard-line conservative Iranian media, including state-controlled television and the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), accused Sadr of insulting Islamic sanctities and disrespecting Islamic values.

Sadr, one of many activists and intellectuals who had to flee Iran to escape imprisonment in a crackdown after the 2009 presidential elections, told RFE/RL that the photo was not insulting and that she posted the photo to highlight the plight of nonbelievers in Iran.

"Shadi Sadr, the fugitive feminist and a so-called journalist who supports women's rights, has entered her pro-Western orientation into a new phase: insulting values and the holiest of the holy symbols of the Iranian nation; the symbol of the mourning for [Imam Hossein]," a state television report said.

Fars called Sadr's picture "an excuse to insult religious sanctity," while accusing her of questioning Islamic principles for years.

The news agency posted a statement by "a group of professors and law experts" calling for Sadr's extradition, trial, and punishment over what it said was her "antireligious" move.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

In Iran, an Actress, a Bared Arm and a ‘Woman Power’ Tattoo

A photograph of the actress Taraneh Alidoosti at a news conference in Tehran on Monday suggests that she has a tattoo of the symbol for women’s power. Credit Sadegh Chenari.  Courtesy NY Times.
by Thomas ErdbrinkNew York Times

A popular Iranian actress whose latest movie won two awards at the recent Cannes Film Festival threw her native country into an uproar on Tuesday after images emerged suggesting that she had a feminist tattoo on her arm.

At a news conference on Monday celebrating the return of the cast of the movie, “The Salesman,” to Tehran, cameras captured what appeared to be a tattoo of the “woman power” symbol of a raised fist sticking out from under the sleeve of the lead actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, 32, known by some as the Natalie Portman of Iran.

On Iran’s vibrant social media scene, hard-liners were quick to criticize Ms. Alidoosti, who is married and has a daughter, saying the symbol meant she supported abortion rights and was against the family.

Her many fans came to her defense on Twitter. “Now that I think about it, I have been feminist from the very beginning,” wrote one woman. Other Twitter users were less flattering. “You are advertising foreigners,” said one.

Ms. Alidoosti and her fellow actors had been in Cannes, France, to promote “The Salesman,” the latest movie by Asghar Farhadi, an Oscar-winning Iranian director. During the festival in May, Mr. Farhadi won an award for best screenplay, and Ms. Alidoosti’s co-star, Shahab Hosseini, was given the award for best actor.

For most of the day Tuesday, social media outlets were captivated by two questions: whether Ms. Alidoosti had such a tattoo, and whether it meant that she was a feminist.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Asghar Farhadi in Cannes: ‘Terrorists feel they have good reason to be violent'

The Oscar-winner has said he is embarrassed by the insulting mistreatment of intellectuals in Iran, and described how his new film shows how deep-seated traditionalism can turn progressive people to extreme violence
‘Terrorists feel they have good reason to be violent’ … Asghar Farhadi in Cannes. Photograph: Laurent Emmanuel/AFP/Getty Images. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Catherine ShoardThe Guardian

Asghar Farhadi, who became the first Iranian to win an Oscar, with 2011’s A Separation, has spoken out about his country’s treatment of those who could criticise the government through their art.

Speaking in Cannes after the first screenings of A Salesman, in which a teacher and actor tries to track down the man who has assaulted his wife, Farhadi said: “Intellectuals have been so insulted and mistreated in my country. It embarrasses me no end. I’m very proud of [Abbas] Kiarostami and our poets and writers,” he continued, emphasising their resilience in the face of potential censorship and maltreatment. “They’re not bogged down in any way, that’s erroneous propaganda.”

The film shows the gradual escalating of the anger felt by Emad (Shahab Hosseini) after his wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), is attacked while showering by a man who may have been a client of the prostitute who previously rented their flat. Farhadi said he was interested in exploring what people felt to be proportionate vengeance.

“I’m not talking about uncontrolled violence, but pre-meditated. Sometimes you are convinced that a violent act you are going to do is justified,” he said. “Like terrorists; they feel they have good reason to be violent. Sometimes you can believe you are entitled to be violent and build up a whole body of reasons which lead up to the act. A responsible and kind man can turn into a potentially violent being.”

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Phobophobia – A Reflection

by Dr Aida Foroutan

If you have seen any of Hamed Sahihi’s previous works, then seeing this exhibition of videos and framed drawings might feel like you are having a déjà vu experience, or recognising an old friend again after a long time. Phobophobia is a new work in a new season, but it is also a continuation of Sahihi’s previous work, and to some extent it is a key to understanding what he was expressing in his previous works. As always, this artist is playful, and thought-provoking, menacing and safe, all at the same time. Hamed Sahihi has entitled this new series as a manifesto to his fears, and to all our fear. The structure of the work is simplicity itself. There are 15 frame boxes, each with a screen displaying a short video; each lasts just a minute or so, but within that minute the sequence loops on itself every 6-10 seconds. Fears repeat themselves and are in essence simple, and each video is an instance of a type of fear. Also, in antique frames the artist has picked up somewhere, there is a series of drawings, on which the videos are based, individually labelled in Persian and English, with the Greek name of the particular phobia referred to in the drawing, and a comment, for example:

‘Metathesiophobia: Change: I fear the change of things I am used to.’

But it is not just a collection of ‘fears’ in sequence – it is a presentation that has a hidden depth, with many layers to it: it confronts the viewer with fears and simultaneously challenges the idea of fear itself by turning it back on itself. ‘Phobophobia’ means ‘Fear of Fear’. In the first place, by giving classical Greek names to his personal fears he objectifies them and shows them for what they are, namely universals, which everyone can suffer from. By putting them into boxes he contains them, and perhaps even tames them. To take two examples of videos, randomly chosen (4, 7):

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

How Persian shadow theater is bringing an Iranian epic to life

Inspired by German animation and an American puppeteer, Hamid Rahmanian has turned an ancient Iranian epic into a live show. Credit: Cristoforo Magliozzi. Courtesy PRI.
by Daniel A. GrossPRI

One day last summer, Hamid Rahmanian was in his graphic design studio in New York, thinking about how to adapt a classic Persian story to the stage. Shahnameh, or “The Book of Kings,” is one of the world's longest epic poems. Rahmanian, who grew up in the Iranian capital of Tehran, had already adapted it into an intricate illustrated book. Now he wanted audiences to see it live.

“In my studio, I had a projector,” says Rahmanian. He turned it on and walked around, watching his shadow dance across the screen. He suddenly thought to himself: “This is it!” Rahmanian was already interested in shadow puppetry — and in that moment, he realized he could retell an ancient story with the modern twist of colorful, computer-designed backgrounds.

“I have a graphic design and a filmmaking background — and they can meet behind the screen, in the form of shadows,” Rahmanian remembers thinking.

With help from a team of actors and animators, including the puppeteer Larry Reed, Rahmanian ultimately designed 156 shadow puppets and 138 backgrounds. Now the show, which he calls “Feathers of Fire,” is on a tour of the United States. It's been performed in Brooklyn, Boston, and San Francisco. The next stop, on May 15, is New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art; two weeks after that, it will go up in the Freud Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

In from the cold: Iran x Cuba – review

Playful seriousness abounds in this exhibition at New York’s Rogue Space gallery
Old furniture, recycled clothes, found objects, fiber stuffing (machine and hand-stitched), 222x116x118 cm. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and  the Guardian.
by Dan Geist for Tehran BureauThe Guardian

Holy Cow. The title of Allahyar Najafi’s painting captures the playful seriousness that abounds in IRAN X CUBA: Beyond the Headline. The show features work by 19 artists from two countries whose revolutions denied them the tender affections of a certain global hegemon for decades on end; now, as if love might actually trump hate in time, they have come together at New York’s Rogue Space gallery.

In Najafi’s piece, the titular bovine, sacred not only in Hinduism – the artist resided in India for several years – but in Iran’s own Zoroastrianism, weeps amid an array of other hallowed beasts. Through the ether swim a pod of Caspian seals, seemingly a personal totem for the artist, who now lives in Rasht, not far from the sea (one takes center stage in Pusa Caspica, after the animal’s Latin name). From a crook in the cow’s form stares a bald eagle, once-secular American iconography now as sanctified as the almighty dollar.

Like the two other paintings by Najafi on view, it’s a menagerie of both subject and media – thick oils encompass a flock of lenticular images, the multilayered graphics that appear to shift along with one’s viewing angle; the primary visual effect Najafi employs is stereoscopic (“two and a half dimensional,” in his nice description). Some lenticulars, of small human faces and abstract forms, peek out from the plastic sheet below the paint, while others may have been added later. There is much for the mind to play with in this work, both in meaning and in process.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Iranian Theatre remade for Australia

 'Vis And Ramin' is an ancient Persian tale of love, rebellion and political revolution remade for the modern theatre. Courtesy ABC Radio National


Presented by Michael Cathcart and Sarah KanowskiABC Radio National

Nasim Khosrav began her career staging clandestine feminist street theatre on the streets of Tehran.

She migrated to Australia in 2009 and has formed a theatre company with a group of fellow Iranian-Australians.

Their first production, Vis and Ramin, re-imagines an ancient Persian tale of forbidden love and political rebellion.

Vis and Ramin is on at Metro Arts in Brisbane from 10 to 14 May.

Nasim Khosravi: Director of Vis and Ramin; Artistic Director of Baran Theatre Company.
Roja Gholamhoseini: Actor

Sarah Kanowski

Via Books and ArtsABC Radio National

Saturday, 7 May 2016

What life looks like amid the Iranian diaspora in 'Tehranto'

Iranian refugee families enjoy a Sunday picnic at Toronto Humber Bay Park. From the left: Sarvenaz Fahimi with her daughter and Behzad Abdolahi with his dog. Hana Khanjani taking a selfie with his father Nosrat Khanjani. Arash Tavakoli and Arezoo Victor talking together. Credit: Javad Parsa. Courtesy PRI.
by Javad Parsa, PRI

I started getting into photography when I was 18 and bought my first camera with money I earned waiting tables in a restaurant in Sari, in northern Iran.

In 2005, I began taking pictures for the Fars News Agency in Iran, after I met its picture editor by chance. I came to realize though that I was born in a country where real democracy does not exist. I never imagined myself as one of the thousands of Iranians that would flee their homeland, but I had to get out of Iran in 2009. The government had issued an arrest warrant for me, after my images of the Iranian uprising that year were published abroad.

In my new life outside of Iran, I have met with many other Iranians, and developed a project to document their lives. They all have different reasons for leaving their mother country. But everyone I have spoken to hopes that one day, they can return to Iran — but to an Iran where they are allowed to vote in truly democratic elections, to speak freely, to dress the way they want and to freely practice their religion and beliefs.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Love Is Something Heavy

An interview with mixed media artist Sara Rahbar
Photograph by Arash Yaghmaian. Courtesy Autre Magazine.

Intro text by Keely Shinners; Interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper, Autre Magazine

Sara Rahbar is an artist who bravely transverses borders and permeates boundaries. Though often labeled an “Iranian American artist” (her family fled Iran in 1982 during the beginning of the Revolution), she prefers to relocate herself in a collective humanity. Transcending genre, her work ranges from photography and paint to textiles and sculpture. Rahbar’s work reflects this permeability, combining seemingly antithetical ideas – American flags sewn together with traditional Middle Eastern fabrics, hearts made out of military backpacks – in a beautiful and generative juxtaposition.

At the same time that Rahbar moves fluidly between varying geographies and ideations, she maintains immovable strength in herself and her work. She says, “I love strong things.” Here, she’s talking about working with bronze in sculpture. But this statement speaks to the artist’s attitude towards art, selfhood, and humanity at large. In a world where pervasive pain and violence can feel crippling, Rahbar is able to find peace – by going vegan, by thinking critically, and namely, by concretizing our anxieties through art.

Sara Rahbar will be showing new work from now until May 6th at NADA in New York City for Carbon 12 Dubai Gallery. We got to talk to the artist before the opening about exploring identity, documenting history through art, and communicating emotion in the age of superficiality.

OLIVER KUPPER: Your work deals a lot with conflict and identity loss. This sense of tumult has really seeped into your upbringing. Do you have really clear memories of leaving Iran during the revolution?

SARA RAHBAR: No, I really don’t. I have blacked out a lot. I left Iran when I was like four and a half or five. And I can barely remember anything from that whole time period. In the beginning people just assumed that my work was about identity because my first body of work was the flag series, but I wasn’t thinking about identity  at all when I made them, it was always about so much more than that for me.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Poster Arts of May Day: International Worker’s Day in Revolutionary Iran

May Day poster distributed by the Democratic Student’s Organization. Asheville, NC, Flood Gallery Fine Art Center Collection, “In Search of Lost Causes– Fragmented Allegories of an Iranian Revolution.” —Hamid Dabashi, PhD, The Black Mountain Press, 2013 (Photo: Carlos Steward, Flood Gallery Fine Art Center). Courtesy Ajam Media Collective.
by Rustin ZarkarAjam Media Collective

On the first of May, 1979, hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured out into the streets to celebrate International Worker’s Day. As a public festival created by the Second International to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket riots in Chicago, May Day became a holiday that was adopted by leftist organizations all over the globe.

Iranian left-wing groups began celebrating International Worker’s Day as early as the 1920s. Uninhibited after the departure of Reza Shah in 1941, many extant labor unions came together to form the Central Council of United Trade Unions (Shura-ye Motahedeh-ye Markazi) in 1944. In subsequent years, the labor movement continued to grow and May Day processions displayed the increasing power of a unified working class. During the height of Tudeh influence in the late 1940’s, May Day festivities in Tehran were attended by more than 80,000 people. However, the dominance of the labor movement was short-lived; following the coup d’état of 1953, trade unionism was virtually annihilated through bans and mass arrests. May Day processions would not be permitted until the final years of the Pahlavi era.

Free from the state repression of the Pahlavi era and well before the solidification of power under Khomeinist forces, the revolutionary period from 1979-1981 saw massive mobilization of the general populace. International Worker’s Day became an ideological battleground as competing political organizations—secular and religious—organized their constituents and articulated their interpretation of worker’s solidarity. Visual ephemera related to May Day– posters, more specifically– are testaments to the pluralistic nature of the early years of the Revolution. By looking at various posters disseminated by organizations of the time, one can see how various political factions used similar visual motifs and iconography.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

“But Still Tomorrow Builds into My Face”: exploring history, conflict and identity

at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai

A group exhibition revisits the disappearance and loss of cultural and other types of heritage in the Middle East.

Eight artists from Europe, the United States, North Africa and the Middle East engage with notions of collecting, power, history, conflict and identity, while exploring the ongoing disappearance and erasure of cultural as well as other types of heritage, especially taking place now in the conflictual territories of the Middle East.
Taus Makhacheva, ‘Tightrope’, 2015, 4K video, duration: 73:03 min. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi, the artist and Art Radar.

by C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia, Art Radar

But Still Tomorrow Builds into My Face” runs until 19 May 2016 at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai. The exhibition is curated by independent critic and curator Nat Muller and includes the work of eight artists hailing from different parts of the world, and united in one purpose: exploring the “timely topic” of the disappearance and loss of cultural and other types of heritage. As the press release writes,
The works explore the relationship between collecting, power, history, conflict and identity. By snatching away subjects from the jaws of time and permanent loss, and by fixing them in memory, the works become poetic and political acts of preservation.
Talking to Art Radar, Nat Muller explains about the significance of holding an exhibition on such a topic now, located in the Middle East, where in recent years especially, there has been an ongoing destruction of cultural and historical heritage:
Much of the world, but especially the Middle East, seems to find itself at a crossroad. What the show does in a forceful way is query who controls history and the artifacts of time. History is an incredible geo-political resource of power: who controls time, controls history and the future. It is very much an exhibition about identity too: by what and how will we be remembered?
Nat Muller goes on to explain that, although the issue of cultural loss and destruction of heritage is a timely topic, the exhibition is not meant to be a tool for creating awareness:
I am in general not really interested in the “functionality” of art. Art, and the perception of it, operates on many levels, so reducing it to a mere tool that is instrumentalised is reductive. In other words, this is not an awareness-raising campaign. It is true that the show addresses a timely topic, but that is only part of the story. It makes a much more layered and universal argument about loss, memory and history, but does so through beautifully poetic works. This confusion of the political with the poetic is intentional. In addition, the show is very much about the challenging position of art and the artist in the face of adversity and how they can offer resistance and resilience, but also how this position is very much at risk. As such, many of the works incorporate something ephemerality.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Wim Delvoye unveils plans for museum in historic Iranian city

Belgian artist restores palatial buildings in Kashan and creates works with Isfahan metalworkers
The complex of buildings that Wim Delvoye is restoring in Kashan. Courtesy The Art Newspaper.
by Tim CornwellThe Art Newspaper

The Belgian artist Wim Delvoye is carefully restoring five desert mansions in Iran’s historic oasis city of Kashan. He plans to open a 900 sq. m gallery in one of them to show his art alongside changing exhibitions of work by Iranian and international artists.

Delvoye is also planning to move his art-making operation to Iran, he tells us. “All the things I do in Europe, I will do here,” he says. He has already employed traditional Isfahan metalworkers to work on new sculptures for his solo show at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art (until 13 May). He is committed to another, smaller show at the Isfahan Museum of Contemporary Art, he says.

In Kashan, which is a three-hour drive south of the capital, Tehran (halfway to the historic city of Isfahan), Delvoye is employing more than 20 people, including traditional Iranian craftsmen and Iranian and European architects. The project could see him open a Belgian restaurant serving vegetarian cuisine.

Delvoye compares this project with Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in London, or the German sculptor Thomas Schütte’s planned museum for his work in the town of Hombroich, near Düsseldorf. Others have compared Delvoye’s plans with the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Pinning our hopes...

....on a murderer″

A report by Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar
Parastou Forouhar came to Germany from Iran to study art. Her world fell apart as she learnt of the death of her parents, political activists Daryoush Forouhar und Parvaneh Eskandari. It took ten years for her to get her own life back. Yet traces of the terrible events that unfolded in her homeland at the end of the nineties can still be found today in her art and in her actions. Courtesy Qantara.

When the news of repeated break-ins at her parents′ house reached Parastou Forouhar in January, the artist, who lives in Germany, travelled to Iran to deal with the situation in person. The house that had belonged to her parents, political activists Daryoush Forouhar and Parvaneh Eskandari, before they were murdered by the secret service, had been completely vandalised. 

by Parastou Forouhar,

There was a huge padlock on the front gate, put there just recently by my aunt to prevent the house from being broken into again. The gate was damaged. The chipped paint showed where the burglars had struck it with a hammer.

"When we came here after the break-in, a lot of things were lying around in the garden," my aunt told me. "Clothes, bags, a radio and the rug with your mother′s bloodstains on it – which they had thrown into the corner of the flower bed." The house had obviously been looted. The emptiness left by stolen objects leapt out at me.

″You have to feel the hardness of the fist to really understand where you live″

An old party comrade of my parents told me an anecdote as he carefully gathered up papers from the floor. In the 70s he went to visit Gholam-Hossein Saedi – a gifted writer and courageous regime opponent – in hospital. Saedi, who had been attacked and beaten by an "unknown" gang of thugs, said: "Sometimes you have to feel the hardness of the fist to really understand where you live." These words stayed with me throughout my stay in Tehran.

When I opened the house to visitors on Thursday afternoon, as usual, the atmosphere was emotional, heated. "They′ve stolen the people from this place, as well as the objects," said a friend.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Iran TV series set in 1950s draws big audiences with echoes in politics today

With its depiction of Iran under late shah’s despotic rule comes Shahrzad, an independent online drama with parallels in current events
A scene from Shahrzad. The series has viewers glued to their screens in a country where independent online series are a new departure. Photograph: Amirhossein Shojaee/ Courtesy the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent, The Guardian

Footsteps resonate on cobblestones, snooker clubs are open, women and men go partying together, cabarets are full, the alcohol flows, chapeaux are fashionable, the national theatre is showing Othello and, in the small cinemas along Lalehzar – old Tehran’s Champs-Élysées, Casablanca is showing.

This is Iran 1950s-style, brought back to life in the online TV series Shahrzad, the most expensive production of its kind in the country. Once a week, when a new episode is released, the show has the whole nation glued to their screens.

Netflix may not have yet infiltrated Iranian households, but its style of gripping filmmaking has. Shahrzad is drawing huge audiences in a country where independent online series, produced privately, are becoming increasingly popular as people turn their backs on tightly controlled state television for online substitutes or illegal satellite channels.

Like most films made in Iran, Shahrzad has already been approved by the censors – every single scene, each dialogue and costume has been carefully examined to make sure it adheres to the norms. The result, however, is a series that treads a fine line, even even at times showing the generally unshowable, such as women singing.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Lights, Camera, Revolution

A brief history of Iranian cinema, from Haji Agha to Agha Farhad
Ezzatollah Entezami in The Cow. Courtesy REORIENT.
Iranian cinema has long served as a mirror, reflecting a nation that has absorbed foreign influences, defied restrictions, and expressed hope for its future, all the while proudly drawing upon its own ideologies and deeply-rooted tradition of storytelling

by Zara Knox, REORIENT

To best understand the roots of Iranian cinema, one must perhaps travel back to the early 20th century, when the Qajar monarch Mozaffareddin Shah was shown cinematographic footage during a visit to France. The cinematograph, invented in 1892, was the successor to the kinetoscope that granted viewers the ability to watch quality, illuminated images on a screen, as opposed to through Thomas Edison’s ‘peephole’. Enraptured by the projected pictures of ships crossing the River Seine, street scenes, and camels traversing the Sahara, the Shah ordered his personal photographer, Mirza Ebrahim Khan ‘Akasbashi’ (lit. ‘Master Photographer’), to buy all the equipment necessary to bring film to Iran.(1) The first cinema there was opened in the backyard of an antique dealer in 1904, and soon afterwards, similar establishments cropped up all over Tehran. Such places were initially frequented by the upper classes, mainly, until cinema took over as the most popular form of entertainment, with ticket prices kept deliberately low in order to attract audiences from all backgrounds.

This national interest in cinema also resulted in the opening of the first film schools, most notably Ovanes Ohanian’s Cinema Artist Educational Centre in 1930.(2) An Iranian of Armenian origin, Ohanian had honed his skills at Moscow’s School of Cinematic Art, and was determined to establish a film industry in Iran. Ohanian went on to collaborate with a handful of his graduates on his first feature-length comedy, Haji Agha, Aktor-e Sinema (Haji Agha, the Cinema Actor, 1933), the follow-up to the commercially successful Abi o Rabi (Abi and Rabi, 1930). Haji Agha, starring the director himself, centred on a filmmaker’s attempts to film an unwilling subject, went as far as to praise the virtues of cinema itself. In Nader T. Homayoun’s 2006 documentary, Iran: A Cinematic Revolution, the film historian Mohammad Saninejad claimed that Haji Agha
… Argues cinema’s case eloquently. It presents this art as a modern, progressive tool, in contrast to traditionalist thoughts and values. Ohanian does not tell a story. He had the good idea of showing Iranians their world, setting up a dialogue between them, their thoughts, and the outside world.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

You and Me

“Has a people on the march ever melted away? Tell me where. And how.”
–Jean Genet, Prisoner of Love
Nicky Nodjoumi, Invasive Personality, 2015. Oil on canvas. 65 × 85 inches. Courtesy the artist, Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York and the Brooklyn Rail.
by Yasaman AlipourThe Brooklyn Rail

Nicky Nodjoumi’s exhibition, You and Me, fills two floors of the Taymour Grahne Gallery. The show is made up of his familiar large paintings and a group of sketches that, taken together, represent a new iteration of old thoughts. Inside the anti-iconic culture of his native Iran, Nodjoumi’s practice is daring and bold because of his figurative approach; abroad, he is recognized as the Iranian counterpart of contemporary artists contemplating Social Realism. Whether it is read through Iran’s complex history or from a global humanistic perspective, Nodjoumi’s work evokes the abyss of modern socio-politics.

The artist is famous for his monumental political allegories. In the ten large panels presented here, men are placed next to and in contrast with wild animals amid the surreal ruins of modern societies. Nodjoumi’s canvases become stages; the men study, obey, mimic, and ultimately become the animals. It’s an absurd game of power that the men join without objection. Willingly, slowly, they lose their identity.

In comparison to peers like Neo Rauch and the Kabakovs, Nodjoumi’s symbolism is simple—suited men refer to power, female nudes to desire—and his technique seemingly naïve—cartoonish and, at points, happily flawed. Nonetheless, these artists share a common background; they were all born within, failed by, and have moved beyond Social Realism.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Proposal to privatise Tehran’s Modern art museum causes alarm

Director denies that politicians want to transfer collection to private foundation 
(NB this article was slightly modified in light of events unfolding today)
A protest planned for today, and worried reports were beginning to swirl on social media. Image courtesy Tarane Sadeghian
by Tim Cornwell, The Art Newspaper

A reported proposal from Iran’s Ministry of Guidance and Islamic Culture that Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) and its extraordinary art collection of Western and Iranian art be transferred to a private foundation has caused deep alarm in the arts community.

The museum’s collection includes Modern masterworks acquired before the Islamic Revolution. As last summer’s nuclear deal with Iran has led to an easing of sanctions, museums in Europe and the US have been vying to borrow the works by Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and Warhol among others, may of which have not been seen in the West for 40 years.

An official letter was sent to the museum proposing that it is transferred to the Rudaki Foundation, a source familiar with the institution tells The Art Newspaper. The foundation already supervises the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. 

A protest planned for today, and worried reports were beginning to swirl on social media. However, the museum’s director issued assurances that the plan had been “dissolved” for now. It seems that there has been no official statement on any plan for the transfer. 

"That this collection has remained intact throughout political shifts in Iran is a testament to the power of art and the centrality of culture to the Iranian people," says Shiva Balaghi, a specialist in Middle Eastern art and a visiting scholar at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. "This collection ultimately belongs to the people and should remain in the museum, cared for by art professionals. In turn, the museum's budget should reflect its mission to preserve, document, and exhibit this collection that has universal importance beyond Iran's borders as well."