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."

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Interview with Bijan Daneshmand

The London based, Iranian Bijan Daneshmand tells art journalist and writer Lisa Pollman about his work and how it's inspired by Persian architecture and mathematical principles.
Bijan Daneshmand, Rood, 2016, Oil on canvas, 122 x 122 cm. Courtesy the artist and Janet Rady Fine Art.
by Lisa Pollman, JRFA

At one time, you worked as a Civil Engineer. Does your education and training in this specific occupation have an impact on your work? How?

From my teen years on, I enjoyed drawing and had an interest in structures and buildings - both in terms of how they were built and their aesthetics. I chose Civil Engineering as a degree at Kings College London.

I was inspired by Mondrian and the De Stijl Movement, and later by Frank Stella and Agnes Martin. In particular, I was inspired by the grid type patterns, hard edge finish and solid areas of paint. Rather than say the education or my occupation impacted my work, I would say that I entered an occupation and pursued work that I found interesting and aesthetically engaging. Many years later, I pursued a MA in Fine Art at Chelsea mainly to find direction in my practice.

Explain your interest in Persian architecture. Are there any particular facades that you admire? Which ones?

I have a special feeling for the architecture of my country in both the larger cities of Isfahan, Yazd and Kashan as well as the smaller towns and villages such as Natanz, Nishapur, Gonbad, and Abyaneh. Throughout Iran we have creative and intricate buildings: garden houses, tea houses, private houses, government buildings, palaces and mosques that date from the Persepolis (6th century BC) to later works in the 13th and 14th centuries. More recent works from the Qajar and Pahlavi eras are also of interest.

Persian architecture displays strength in structure and aesthetics. I would say the most notable areas of inventiveness and originality are in our arches, vaults and domes and further demonstrated through the use of ghanats (groundwater systems) and wind towers for cooling. Some argue that the greatest Persian artform has been our architecture and represents the highest and truest expression of our civilisation. I would add poetry to that.