Monday, 18 January 2016

Exile, Censorship, and Pink Floyd: A Q+A With Curator Tom Vick on the Iranian Film Festival

Iranian film The President. Photo courtesy of the Freer and Washington Post.
by Steve KiviatArts DeskWashington Post

The Freer Gallery of Art may be closed, but that's not stopping the museum's annual Iranian Film Festival now in its 20th year. With the Freer closed for renovations, film screenings are taking place at the National Gallery of Art, East Building and the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. Iranian cinema—much like its country—is often the subject of both controversy and mystique, because of the Iranian government's stringent censorship. Tom Vick, the Curator of Film at the Freer and its sister museum, the Sackler Gallery, spoke to Arts Desk via email about this year’s selections, qualities of Iranian cinema, how Iranian directors work, which selections will appeal to non-cinephiles, and more.

Arts Desk: Can you tell me about the start of the festival? How has it evolved since then?

Tom Vick: The festival began 20 years ago (before my time), at the height of the Iranian New Wave, when directors like [Abbas] Kiarostami, [Mohsen] Makhmalbaf, etc., were getting a lot of attention for the creative and poetic ways they found to make artistic—and sometimes subversive—films despite Iran's strict censorship.

For many years, this mode seemed to dominate Iranian filmmaking, but I have noticed in recent years that Iranian directors are clearly being exposed to more kinds of films from around the world, and the style and subjects of their films are changing accordingly. In addition, the Green Revolution inspired some directors to take more bold political stances.  One thing that hasn't changed over the years is the devotion of the local Iranian community. They come out in droves for the festival, and always express their appreciation.

For those not that familiar with Iranian film, would you say the movies being shown this year have some common characteristics? Does that depend on if the film was made in Iran under the country's rules, or by an Iranian filmmaker working elsewhere?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Six Artists From Iran at Grey Art Gallery

“Global/Local 1960-2015: Six Artists From Iran” runs through April 2 at Grey Art Gallery.
“Projectile 10,” by Shahpour Pouyan, part of “Global/Local 1960–2015: Six Artists from Iran,” an exhibition at Grey Art Gallery. Credit Agaton Strom for The New York Times. Courtesy NY Times.
by Holland Cotter, New York Times

Time decides. When an exhibition scheduled for the winter slot at Grey Art Gallery at New York University wasn’t ready, a replacement had to be found, and “Global/Local 1960-2015: Six Artists From Iran,” set for a future date, was moved forward. If there was a scramble to pull it off, you’d barely know. Organized by the gallery’s director, Lynn Gumpert, the show looks great, thought through, with the improvisatory lift that adrenaline can provide.

One thing that made the switch doable was having some of the art already in hand. In the 1960s, the gallery’s founding patron, Abby Weed Grey (1902-78), traveled to Iran, loved the new art she found there, bought it up and gave it to N.Y.U. As a result, the Grey has the largest holdings anywhere of work by one of the show’s six artists, Parviz Tanavoli, widely considered Iran’s leading modern sculptor, and outstanding examples of paintings by his brilliant but unlucky colleague Faramarz Pilaram.

To these two modernists Ms. Gumpert has added a fascinating figure of a more recent generation, Chohreh Feyzdjou, who died at 40 in 1995. Ms. Feyzdjou hasn’t yet registered on New York’s radar, though she may well do so now. Finally, bringing the show into the present are three young artists — Shiva Ahmadi, Barbad Golshiri and Shahpour Pouyan — born decades and political worlds away from the pre-revolutionary Iran that Ms. Grey knew.

Contemporary art in Iran has always been politically fraught. When Mr. Tanavoli began making sculpture, he had few local models to follow. The tradition of sculpture in Persia had effectively ended in the seventh century with the arrival of iconophobic Islam. Even with sculpture’s return in the secularized 1960s, the question was where to go with it: Should new art be national or international, local or global, in character?

With Iran emerging from a long stretch of Western domination, artists were in the mood to shape a distinctively native aesthetic. At the same time, many of them had visited Europe and wanted to stay at least partly in the global swing. Mr. Tanavoli’s answer to these dual demands was synthesis, and you can see him sorting it out. His 1962 “Figure and Hand” suggests a stack of bazaar-bought pots and pans with a Surrealist overlay. A decade later, in his well-known bronze “Heech,” he seamlessly united three calligraphic characters spelling the Persian word for “nothing” into a single, Brancusi-sleek curve.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The man behind Iran's most famous tower

Azadi Tower, Tehran. Courtesy Mazyar َAsadi
by Rozita Riazati, BBC World Service

For 45 years, Iran's most famous modern monument, the Azadi (Freedom) Tower in Tehran, has been the backdrop to every major news story coming out of the country.

A plaza for celebrations, anniversaries, military parades and a gathering point for mass demonstrations, the 50m (165ft) tall tower has overlooked some of Iran's most important political events.

The edifice was built in 1971, to represent a symbol of modernity and project the way forward for Iran.

Even at the time the project was finished, architect Hossein Amanat never expected that "it would become such an icon, so popular with the people of Iran".

Originally named the King's Memorial, or Shahyad, it was commissioned to mark 2,500 years of the Persian Empire, celebrating the richness of Persian history and culture.

Hossein Amanat was a rising star in Iran's architectural scene when, in 1966, he won a national competition to design the monument.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The perils of writing

Iran and its authors

The history of modern Iranian literature has been shaped by censorship. Nonetheless, Iran is hoping to be guest of honour at the world′s leading book fair in Frankfurt in 2018.
Reading time just two minutes a day: the majority of Iranians are not interested in reading works that have been subjected to heavy editing by the country’s cultural censors. ″The more closely a work of literature resembles the global republic of letters, the more it is subject to the wrath of the censor,″ explains Cheheltan. Courtesy Qantara
by Amir Hassan Cheheltan,

In a bid to clarify just how much pressure Iranian writers are under, let us consider just a few of the calamities visited upon them during the last three decades.

They spirited a poet away from his wedding celebration and handed him over to a firing squad; a respected translator was found by the road with obvious injection marks in his arm; they conspired (but failed) to plunge a bus carrying twenty-one writers travelling to a cultural event in a neighbouring country into a gorge; they grabbed a poet on his way to a supermarket and an hour later dumped his corpse on the outskirts of the city… The list goes on and on. Writing is indeed a perilous activity, something everyone engaged in it in Iran knows.

In this absurd climate, Iranian writers punish themselves for the sake of writing and resort to self-destruction. Some fall prey to addiction; others choose the path of exile, which, it goes without saying, accelerates the process of self-destruction. Those who remain behind must endure strict and gruelling censorship.

What has happened is this. They have established a ministry in Iran, the principle duty of which is to inspect what writers are writing, what film-makers are filming, what painters are painting – basically what artists in general are doing.