Saturday, 16 September 2017

Exclusive Visit to the Studio of Iranian-American Artist Farzad Kohan

Located in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Farzad Kohan’s studio is filled with a mix of interesting fabrics and vibrant paints
Installation view of an artwork by Farzad Kohan. Photography by Stephen O'Bryan. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
by Maymanah Farhat, Harper's Bazaar Arabia

In the courtyard garden that leads to Farzad Kohan’s studio, small, contorted figures crouch and leap among citrus trees and pomegranate shrubs. As we walk across a concrete patio towards the converted cottage, Kohan confides that the ceramic sculptures remind him of the beginning of his career over 20 years ago.

It is a warm summer day in the Los Angeles suburb where the Iranian-American artist lives and works. The hot weather has withered a rose bush that grows taller than the roof of his studio. When I stop to admire it, he says, “It’s as old as Roz,” referring to his sunny teenage daughter, who grew up visiting his workspace. Kohan opens the door and motions me to step inside.

To the right of the entrance is a wall covered with the outlines of works that were once in progress as well as endless drips of paint. Today, the patinated surface displays a large piece containing vertical seams and fringe-like strips of canvas—an arrangement that is reminiscent of a Moroccan wedding blanket. The background is grey, painted in washes while the shredded canvas is left raw and attached with small knots, hanging loosely from the stitched base. These knots recall the scroll-like talismans that are inscribed with prayers or wishes and then placed in Muslim shrines. I notice a similar use of string in an abstract sculpture that sits among rolled canvases nearby and wonder if the artist is revisiting certain concepts in search of something new. Hanging on an adjacent wall are handwritten notes tied to wooden posts: makeshift amulets that hold self-reflective messages.

As we stand in front of the cut and assembled painting, I ask Kohan if it refers to something specific. ‘It’s not specific, it’s experimental, I am recycling old works,’ he responds. “The text of the painting says ‘Go Crazy,’” he explains. “I painted it six months ago but recently tore it apart and put it back together, and then added the knots. Now the text is unreadable since it has been cut and glued in a different way.” Looking closely, I see remnants of Farsi script, indicating the title of an earlier composition. As I examine its textures, Kohan adds, “I worked many hours to make the original painting, only to cut it into pieces. It’s all about letting go, and in the process I find things that I think are important to keep. For me, the work is getting closer to life itself.”

Jazz in Iran through the Decades

A Duke Ellington concert ticket in Abadan, Iran in 1963. Courtesy Ajam Media Collective.

by Kamyar JarahzadehAjam Media Collective

The history of Iranian jazz is difficult to write, despite the country’s many collisions with the genre and its major acts. Iran has generated its share of jazz acts, yet also holds a special place in jazz history for the inspiration it has served to many of the genre’s greats. This mix is an attempt to capture those two elements of Iran’s jazz history: Iran as a site of inspiration for foreign jazz artists, as well as a cultural sphere from which jazz is produced.

The relationship between jazz and Iran began when the Pahlavi monarchy extended invitations to many Western musicians to visit in an attempt to bring so-called “high culture” to the country. As part of this opportunity, in the 1950s many jazz performers such as Duke Ellington came from the United States as a part of State Department sponsored diplomatic tours in which jazz musicians were sent to perform in various countries all the way from Turkey to Sri Lanka as a way to spread American influence. Ellington even famously dedicated a composition to the city of Isfahan, featured on this mix. Interestingly, many jazz artists stopped in oil-rich cities that were home to many expats, suggesting that there was likely very little of an audience for jazz beyond the Western-minded elite and expatriate community.


Around the same time, Iran began generating its own jazz acts, arguably beginning with Viguen in the 1950s and 1960s, who is occasionally referred to as the “Sultan of Iranian Jazz.” Legend has it that Viguen was inspired to introduce the guitar to Iranian music when he heard Russian soldiers playing it in the short-lived Azerbaijan People’s Government, a Soviet-occupied breakaway state in northwestern Iran from 1945-1946.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Raving Iran

 The promoter/DJs risking their lives to party 

Courtesy Mixmag. 
by Andy BuchanMixmag

Most promoters have pretty mundane problems. Which DJ to book, maybe, or how best to pacify a venue owner, or which bills they can get away with not paying. Iranian promoters have more pressing issues... like whether they would actually survive the sentence if they are caught putting on a party, or whether they have bribed a cop quite enough to allow them to dance until dawn in the Iranian desert. Iran is a country where, just recently, six music fans were given 91 lashes each for the criminal offence of singing along to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to do, and of course illegal. We haven’t been back to Iran since,” say Beard and Blade, or Anoosh and Arash as they’re now known to the authorities. Last year they featured in a documentary about their experiences as promoters inside Iran, and they’re presently touring Europe as DJs – including an appearance at Tomorrowland.

“The outdoor parties in the desert or mountains are super secret and hidden far away, in the middle of nowhere,” confirms documentary director Susanne Regina Meures. “You need to rent equipment, find a bus with a driver who is happy to bypass police stops, bribe local officials and authorities, and ultimately, find friends who are brave enough to party under such circumstances. It’s not an easy task.”

In essence, there is no club scene in Iran. Music, plays, films, novels – virtually anything artistic - must first receive authorisation and approval from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Music producers Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian were recently sentenced to six years in prison for“propaganda against the state” – or making underground music with their mates, to you and me. And there’s rapper/singer/songwriter Amir Tataloo with his 3.5 million Instagram followers, who was sentenced to five years and 71 lashes for “spreading Western immorality”. And the students busted by the police for having a house party and fined 99 lashes.

Friday, 25 August 2017

“We Carry Home within Us”

A Conversation with Laleh Khadivi & Sholeh Wolpé

Left to Right: Laleh Khadivi, Sholeh Wolpé, and Persis Karim joined around Karim’s kitchen table to discuss their contributions to Iranian diaspora literature. Courtesy World Literature Today.
by Persis KarimWorld Literature Today

Persis Karim, a poet and the editor of three anthologies of Iranian diaspora literature, is the Neda Nobari Chair of the newly established Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University. In her new position, Karim is in the unique position to provide institutional recognition for the emerging field of Iranian diaspora studies—an extension of her long career of editing and promoting Iranian American literature and curating articles and anthologies of writers of Iranian origin. She sat down with novelist Laleh Khadivi and poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé to speak about their contributions to Iranian diaspora literature and the ways that the literature of Iranian Americans is reshaping our perceptions of Iran and the diaspora.

Persis Karim: It’s great to have you in my kitchen in Berkeley for this informal conversation.

Sholeh Wolpé: Thank you for the delicious Persian lunch. You make a great herb kookoo. Perhaps you can include the recipe for WLT’s readers.

Karim: Maybe I will! But first, tell us how each of you came to writing?

Laleh Khadivi: I came to writing late, after being a filmmaker and after dropping out of medical school. I was twenty-three when I decided to try my hand at fiction. I started writing stories that came from the generation before me (my grandparents). I wanted to know who my grandparents were. By the time I was done writing the story, it had very little to do with them. It was just a portal. I had interviewed my aunts and uncles, but almost all the stories varied; they all said contradictory things. But the things they did say about the place, the atmosphere, about western Iran, and Kermanshah, those did agree. And that was very useful. And when I wanted to write the story of the protagonist, I did historical research.

Wolpé: How did you get the truth out of your relatives? There is a concept of ab-roo in Iranian culture—saving face. It is hard to get people to speak openly and honestly.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Music in Rouhani′s Iran: A change in tune?

During President Rouhani′s first term in office, musicians began to gain greater freedom in Iran. Now, they′re hoping for further alleviations for their work after Rouhani′s re-election. To date, however, musical performances have been subject to much uncertainty and even traditional religious music is a thorn in the side of hardliners. 
Officially female bands may now perform, albeit only in front of all-female audiences. Courtesy ISNA and Qantara.
by Nahid FallahiQantara.de

Scholars of Islamic law disagree on how to judge music and that controversy is reflected in Iranian politics. While moderate and reform-oriented forces close to the president allow concerts, the hardliners try to prevent musical performances through all means at their disposal. Yet they too know that the Iranians don′t want to go without music – so they use it for their own purposes wherever possible.

″The Ahmadinejad era was a big shock for Iranian music,″ admits composer Karen Keyhani. ″The state broadcaster still takes a negative stance towards music. At the same time, any musical activity in Iran is related to major uncertainties due to the sustained restrictions. ″ Iran′s state broadcasting company is dominated by ultra-conservatives.

Restrictions, disruptions or even bans of concerts have become a matter of course in Iran, Keyhani regrets. ″There are groupings who won′t even tolerate religious songs by Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, the maestro of traditional vocals.″ No wonder then that many Iranian musicians have turned their backs on the country over the past few years. Keyhani himself has performed in various countries such as Switzerland, Italy and the USA.

The chairman of the Iranian non-governmental organisation Khaneye Moussighi (House of Music), which represents musicians′ interests in the country, described the situation in an interview with the ILNA news agency in early June: ″When it comes to music, it′s as though we′re living in a feudal country. Someone is constantly flexing their muscles and acting as they please. It not only threatens artists′ existence, it taxes their mental health.″

In Serbian Refugee Center, a ‘Little Picasso’ Dreams of Art and Asylum

Farhad Nouri, second from right, who is nicknamed Little Picasso, with his family in a refugee center in Krnjaca, Serbia. Photo by Marko Risovic, courtesy The New York Times.
by Matthew Brunwasser, The New York Times

In a shabby refugee center on the outskirts of Belgrade, an Afghan artist nicknamed Little Picasso spends his days sketching and dreaming while living in limbo, seemingly immune to the deepening sense of hopelessness and despair all around him.

The artist, Farhad Nouri, a 10-year-old boy who lives with his parents and two younger brothers in a small room at a former Yugoslav military barracks that houses more than 600 migrants and refugees, has been celebrated in Serbia and beyond. Fans speak of his extraordinary artistic ability. He had his first exhibition this month, organized by the Refugees Foundation, a group based in Belgrade.

But the story of Farhad — a smart, lanky boy with and a quick smile — is more than an unexpected bright spot in grim circumstances. It shines a light on forgotten asylum seekers and suggests the untold potential lost among migrants stranded along the Balkan route to Western Europe.

“Farhad is such a striking example of all the talent and human potential that is being wasted and put on hold among these thousands of people who are stranded,” said Elinor Raikes, the European regional director of the International Rescue Committee.

“You can’t overestimate the extent to which having zero control and zero ownership over your own future will affect your psychosocial well being,” she said.

The Nouris are among the 4,700 asylum seekers who the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates are living in Serbia. While Europe offers no clear avenues for asylum seekers to find a future in the West, the Balkan governments are still largely treating them as temporary residents.

Sedentary Fragmentation: Toward a Genealogy of Chicago’s Iranian Art Scene

Mapping out Chicago’s legacy of Iranian-American art:
Iranian-Assyrian student Hannibal Alkhas jumped from one part of the brain to the other when he ditched his medical studies to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1952. After studying under a number of faculty members including painter Boris Anisfeld, Alkhas returned to Iran and revamped the art programs at the University of Tehran.  So began a steady stream of Iranian artists like Mehdu Hosseini who made their way to SAIC. The 1979 Islamic Revolution kicked this number up a notch, and soon second- and third-generation Iranian-Americans began to use art as a way of navigating their dual heritage. “Sedentary Fragmentation” at Heaven Gallery traces this lineage and unites several Iranian voices, generations and alumni who studied at SAIC.  Kimia Maleki curated this nine-person show, which includes work from Alkhas himself.  “I'd say this is the first time that these Iranian and Iranian-American artists are showing their work together,” Maleki says. “You’ll see how they all had different experiences of being categorized as ‘exotic’ in the art scene.”  Joining the late Alkhas is Maryam Hoseini, who examines the relationship between the body and architecture — fitting subject material for an exhibition concerning national identities — and Yasi Ghanbari, an interdisciplinary artist whose practice with media mimics the show’s intercultural exchange. Via Chicago Tribune 
Hannibal Alkhas “Portrait of Buna Alkhas”, 1974. Courtesy of Heaven Gallery and Ajam Media Collective.
by Alex Shams, Ajam Media Collective

In 1951, a young Iranian man named Hannibal Alkhas moved from Tehran to Chicago, where he spent the next decade studying at the Art Institute of Chicago under the instruction of Russian painter Boris Anisfeld.

After his return to Iran, Alkhas went on to teach Fine Arts at the University of Tehran and established Iran’s first modern art gallery. True to his Assyrian lineage – his uncle Jean Elkhas is one of the most influential Assyrian poets of the 20th century – he named it Gilgamesh, after the ancient Mesopotamian epic hero.

Alkhas moved back and forth between the US and Tehran for the next half-century, building a life between the two that was informed by and influenced both. Alkhas maintained steadfast anti-imperialist political views throughout his life in both countries.

After the 1979 Revolution he became famous for painting the first murals on the US Embassy following the hostage crisis, when Islamist students stormed what they considered a “den of spies.” Among the murals were depictions of victims of the Shah’s secret police, key scenes of popular mobilization, as well as scenes from the takeover of the Embassy itself. These murals initiated a program of painting across Tehran headed by Alkhas that integrated elements of modernism, Soviet realism, and Latin American muralism that remain today highly influential in Iranian mural painting.

Alkhas is well-known in the Iranian art scene for daring experimentation in his work exploring emotion and the human condition. Less well-remembered, however, is the role the Art Institute of Chicago played in shaping his understanding of painting, sculpture, and modernism, and the continuing role this institution plays in Iranian and Iranian-American artistic production.

Iranian cinema: Iranian heritage and sentimental self-censorship

Review of Iranian films and the phenomenon of Persian art


Kazan director and columnist of Realnoe Vremya Renat Khabibullin who, by the way, will participate in the upcoming Festival of Muslim Cinema talks about the phenomenon of Iranian cinematography. In this op-ed column written for Realnoe Vremya online newspaper, he shows the evolution of Persian film art, finds salient features of Iranian masters' films and considers uneasy relations of directors with the regime in the Islamic republic.

Photo: instagram.com/muhammadmovie. Courtesy Realnoe Vremya.
by Renat Khabibullin, Realnoe Vremya

Development of Persian cinema: from Odessa and Rostov towards Italian neo-realism

Nowadays the cinematography of the Islamic Republic of Iran is probably the most curious area of research for film experts and critics. Not only the ethnic component but rather those principles and foundations that dominate in Iranian cinema are curious.

Cinematography appeared in Iran in the early 20th century like everywhere. As a rule, the first cinemas showed works brought from Odessa and Rostov-on-Don. In the future, communist ideas of Soviet Russia became one of the reasons why western cinematography drove the Soviet one out from Tehran's screens. Iran, Persia back then, started to make films a bit later than Russia. Ovanes Oganyan shot the first live-action film called Abi and Rabi in 1931. Students of the first film school of the capital that very Oganyan opened performed roles there.

As strange as it might be, Iranian cinematography did not play any significant role in world cinema then. Persia's rich cultural heritage became a basis for the creation of objects of art with the language of cinematography in this country many times but did not have any big wins in this field.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Inspired by lingerie, Iranian artist in East Haddam explores perceptions of women worldwide

Which Pair Are Yours? (Coalition) Colored pencils, 2014, 12.5 x 15.5 inches, by Azita Moradkhani. This drawing is about women's vulnerability and, at the same time, their power. While lingerie has a powerful role in sexual enticement, it is also extremely delicate barrier against sexual violence. Women are much the same way: we are powerful because of our willingness to struggle in spite of our constant vulnerability of being violated. Also, the string of pearls in the design of this specific lingerie refers to the story of vagina dentata (vagina with teeth) that talks about the power of the vagina to give birth to you -- or possibly kill you. That's the meaning of the world for me; the paradox between these different notions. Courtesy the artist.
by Cassandra DayThe Middletown Press

Deep in the woods in the Millington section of town sits 450 acres of preserved forest and marshland — a retreat that, since 2001, has been a temporary home to a multidisciplined and constantly changing enclave of artists.

I-­Park is an artists-in-residence program offering free four-week residencies in visual arts, architecture, moving image, music composition/sound art, creative writing and landscape/ecological design.

The campus is bordered by Devil’s Hopyard State Park, the Nature Conservancy and East Haddam Fish and Game Club — all whose missions of land stewarding and preservation align with that of I-Park’s, said executive director and co-founder Joanne Paradis.

Iranian visual artist Azita Moradkhani, 31, packed up everything in her Boston home of five years and came to I-Park a week ago, the start of year-long back-to-back residencies she has lined up.

Inspired by her first visit to a Victoria’s Secret store in the United States, Moradkhani uses delicately drawn images of women’s undergarments to showcase the public-private concept of women’s bodies and violence against women.

“Lace is a big part of my work. I was thinking about the pressure on women and censorship in some countries, but also noticed the impression it has on a female’s body in different cultures,” said Moradkhani, who incorporates lingerie in her drawings “to talk about a more hidden story.”

"When it Dawned"

Iran opposition leader’s daughter held painting exhibition

Narges Mousavi an Iranian artist and daughter of Mir Hossein Mousavi stands during her exhibition in “House of Free Designers” art gallery in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. The daughter of Iran’s opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since early 2011, is holding a painting exhibition in Tehran. Courtesy Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press, via Washington Post. 
by Amir Vahdat, Associated Press

The daughter of Iran's opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since early 2011, hides her pain behind abstract watercolor paintings of birds and blossoms — but bullets and bars are never far away.

That's according to Narges Mousavi's latest art exhibition, which opened on Friday [August 11] in Tehran.

The display, entitled "When it Dawned," is the second public showing of her art since her father was placed under house arrest along with another opposition leader, Mahdi Karroubi.

The two led Iran’s Green Movement and street protests challenging then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2009 re-election. No charges have been raised against Mousavi and Karroubi. Both are 75 years old.

At the exhibition’s opening at the “House of Free Designers” gallery in Tehran, Narges said her paintings are “about the contrast between coarseness of war and elegance of peace.”

In the cream-colored world of her art, birds sing, flowers blossom and “invisible angles in the sky and on the ground turn cruelty of the material world into kindness.”

“I attempt to conceal the agony brought about by weapons and missiles with a poetic touch,” she said.

But thin and sharp lines slice through some of the work. One depicts a mother holding her slain son as she cries.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

“Subliminal”

Iranian-American Painter’s exhibition at SECCA provides visual revelations while highlighting hidden messages and nefarious political agendas

“Shooting the Edge,” 2017, Acrylic on Canvas, 213 x 274 cm, by Taha Heydari. Heydari’s work, in an exhibition titled “Subliminal,” can be seen at SECCA. Image courtesy the artist and Winston-Salem.
by Tom Patterson, Winston-Salem Journal

In his visually engaging, thematically charged exhibition at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary art, Iranian-American artist Taha Heydari ingeniously turns the traditional medium of painting into a critical lens on timely issues with international implications.

Instead of taking his visual cues from unmediated “real life,” Heydari bases his paintings on digital imagery, usually in varied states of pixilation and degradation, as witnessed in video broadcasts subjected to interference or a weak signal. In some cases he throws in traditional Islamic design motifs, computer-generated patterns, linear screen grids and painterly brushstrokes.

The results of this varied mix are distinctive paintings whose visual distortions, scrambled images and other enigmatic qualities metaphorically underscore cautionary, underlying messages about political repression, covert operations and other authoritarian modes of socio-political control.

The show’s title, “Subliminal,” alludes to visual and/or auditory stimuli that recipients perceive without being consciously aware of them — “Hidden Persuaders,” as journalist Vance Packard called them 60 years ago in his popular book of that title. Corporations and governments use subliminal tactics fairly often in mass-media efforts to manipulate the expectations and desires of consumers, voters and political subjects.

Heydari simultaneously employs and implicitly criticizes these tactics in this show’s 20 paintings, half of which were specially commissioned for this show by SECCA’s former curator Cora Fisher, who organized it. Heydari’s clear aim, aside from making visually compelling art, is to heighten viewers’ abilities to recognize and resist such corporate and political manipulation.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Comics and Calligraphy: British-Iranian artist Jason Noushin – in conversation

Diaspora artist bursts onto international art scene with found paper and Persian script mash-ups. 

Multidisciplinary artist Jason Noushin employs antiquarian paper, discontinued bank notes and vintage comic book leaves alongside calligraphy to emerge with works examining socio-political narratives. 
Jason Noushin, ‘Ils Sont Fous Ces Romainsi’, 2017, oil, shellac, ink, pencil, turmeric and comic book leaves on linen, 48 X 48 in. Image courtesy the artist and Art Radar.
by Lisa Pollman, Art Radar

British-Iranian artist Jason Noushin is a self-taught artist whose work has been exhibited throughout the world, including CONTEXT Art Miami, Yale University and the Courtyard (United Arab Emirates). Currently, the artist’s work is on exhibition at Susan Eley Fine Art through 30 August 2017 and will be a part of Magic of Persia’s “Magic in Monaco Fundraising Event”.

Noushin was recently part of acclaimed group show “The Ocean Can Be Yours”  at the Gerald Moore Gallery in London, curated by Janet Rady. As Ms Rady told Art Radar, his collages were chosen due to their “unique” combination of sources:
I was particularly attracted to the fact that whilst he uses Persian script, the words he writes in his paintings are actually English taken from English poets and texts.  Similarly, in his portraits of Persian poets on manuscript pages from the Bible, he is blending the combination of Iranian and Western traditions.  In this way, he is speaking equally to both audiences in a unique and original manner.
Art Radar caught up with Noushin to learn more about his early years growing up in one of Tehran’s most well known contemporary art galleries and how this experience living between cultures continues to influence his work.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Why Shirin Neshat complicates 'Aida' at the Salzburg Festival

With Anna Netrebko in the title role, Verdi's "Aida" gets a fresh staging at this year's Salzburg Festival. Iranian stage director and film artist Shirin Neshat told DW why she made "Aida" more complex than usual.
Anna Netrebko will be Aida. Courtesy DW.
by Andrea Kasiske, DW

New York-based Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat is known for her photography, video installations and films. Her work has largely dealt with women's issues in Iran, exploring taboos and touching on gender and cultural conflicts.

At this year's Salzburg Festival, she is the stage director for a new production of Verdi's opera "Aida" starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. The 19th-century work tells the story of a Nubian princess captured and enslaved by the ancient Egyptians. Radamès, a military commander, finds himself forced to choose between his love for Aida and his loyalty to the powerful Pharaoh.

DW spoke with Neshat ahead of the premiere of "Aida," conducted by Riccardo Muti, on August 8.

DW: Ms. Neshat, how would you describe your interpretation of "Aida?" How do you see the opera?

I have the feeling that there is a lot to interpret with "Aida," both from a Western and non-Western perspective. I know that many Middle Eastern critics have complained about how "Aida" exoticizes Egypt and portrays it as a barbaric society.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

This Creepy AI Artwork is Programmed to Learn and Adapt Itself

Who is the artist? The AI creators or the AI itself?

The Machine Was a Ball and I Was a Cold Star Installation view, Adam de Neige in collaboration with Ivan Pesic, 2017.  Images courtesy of the artist and Creators - Vice.
by Andrew NunesCreators - Vice

Whenever we view an artwork, we only see its final stage, some form of polished end product. All of the labor, emotional turmoil, and complexity of its transformation from thought to reality remain hidden, its history lost. The artwork at its completion enters stasis, never to leave this state unless ultimately destroyed. Iranian artist Adam de Neige in collaboration with software engineer Ivan Pesic completely disrupt this model with their project The Machine Was a Ball and I Was a Cold Star, an algorithmic artwork designed to "educate and evolve" itself as time goes on.

Recently on view at the start of the Venice Biennale at Spazio Tana White, de Neige's project consists of an AI arrangement of projected videos, images and sounds, that are ultimately out of the duo's control once installed. The "storytelling AI" as de Neige calls it, continuously morphs itself, and even the action and presence of visitors can "influence some parameters" in the artist's words.

Although this project marks the first time de Neige has made autonomous AI-as-art, he believes the work is in line with his ongoing conceptual trajectory as an artist. "You can see some reflections of this idea in my previous work and projects," he tells Creators. "There is more or less the same principle behind my 'partly destroyed' concrete works. It's even more evident in my project Beneath the Flow where I drowned artwork in a Venice lagoon two years ago. By masking, destroying, drawing, and letting things go on their own, you basically question notions of order, chaos, and control."

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Refuge: A Novel

I started having nightmares around the time we arrived in the first refugee hostel—missing limbs and phantom stranglers and dying parents were simply the price of sleep.

Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku. Courtesy Guernica.  
by Dina Nayeri, Guernica

ur first visit was in 1993. I believed Baba was coming to Oklahoma to stay. We drove to the airport around noon on a blistering Oklahoma Sunday. Maman allowed us to miss church for it and we took pleasure in putting on casual clothes, packing bottles of ice water. Kian brought an old Game Boy. The sun blazed through the windows and within five minutes we were sweat-stained and nauseated. Kian and I wore thrift store shorts and t-shirts with faded brand names; Maman wore jeans and a nice blouse from Iran. She was trying to strike a balance. Iranian women fret constantly over their looks, but she didn’t want Baba to think she missed him.

She fired questions at us, oblivious to the answers. “Are you excited to see your Baba?” “Kian, do you have your poem?” “Niloo, I told you, no shorts. Do you want your Baba to think you’ve become some kind of American dokhtare kharab?”

Maman’s biggest fear for me since the day I turned thirteen (a year earlier) was that I would become a dokhtare kharab, a “broken girl,” which is the Iranian way of describing a sexually free person who happens to be female—she thought I was more prone to it than average, because of my shared DNA with Baba. The male version of the word, as in most cultures, is something along the lines of playful.

Kian nudged me in the ribs and started singing an annoying song he had made up that made Maman giggle. Sometimes she would tease him by humming his toddler revolution song. “The caged bird is heartsick of walls,” she would croon in a baby lisp. Kian would sing the rest and they carried on their mother-son infatuation. I hated it. I didn’t know to miss Baba in those moments.

Maybe because I was a daughter, or because I was Baba’s daughter, Maman reserved all her austerity for me. She forbade me from wearing a drop of makeup and only gave in to my demand to shave my legs when she saw that my hairiness defied modesty and she could neither let me out looking like that nor force me to wear long pants in the stifling Oklahoma heat. Always crammed in tiny rooms with Maman and Kian, I craved the smallest privacy.

Sometime during our years as asylum seekers, I stopped playing children’s games. I forgot books I had loved and lyrics to Farsi songs, and started to dream about having my own apartment in a big city. In Oklahoma, I made secret plans, borrowing college admissions guides from the public library, readying myself for my second escape—this sleepy flatland was no home to me, and it would be worth any hard work and indignity now if I could just find my own. The other children had never met someone from the Middle East, never considered dreams or demons other than their own, and they didn’t invite me into their narrow universe. They didn’t explain their song lyrics, the rules for dodgeball, or how to pronounce the many words I mangled. Left to entertain myself, I lived inside my imagination. Soon I decided that to find safety here and to re-create the sense of home, I needed two things: money and the air of being a real American (an elusive formula that brought me daily shame). In order to prepare for my excellent future in a big city, I lived off pita bread and egg whites, swam a thousand meters daily, and never stopped moisturizing my legs. I studied twelfth-grade calculus seven hours a day.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Beyond the veil: Bold art by Persian-Arab women


Superheroes, mythical female figures in the desert: the Suspended Territories exhibition at Germany′s Marta Herford gallery showcases contemporary women's art from the Arab world, Iran and North Africa. 
Courtesy Qantara.
by Julia HitzQantara.de

Public debate about women in the Middle East easily gets bogged down in prejudice: oppression, violence and backward ways of thinking are predominant perceptions of a region that has become the epitome of chaos, war and decay.

An exhibition at the Marta Herford gallery, located in north-western Germany, tries to avoid these pitfalls by exposing the visitor to issues presented by female artists in countries as diverse as Iran, Libya, Jordan and Tunisia. Their art raises awareness about the unseen and "in between" dimensions of Middle Eastern culture, equally found in desert landscapes or in Palestinian refugee camps.

Living in uncertainty

The notion of "in-betweenness" is arguably most ingrained among stateless Palestinian people. To this end, Jordanian artist and architect Saba Innab helped rebuild the Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon while creating a series of installations and drawings that reflect on almost 70 years of diaspora. She notes that Palestinians have internalised the temporary and elusive. "That interested me, " Innab admits.

Sama Alshaibi knows exactly what Saba Innab means. You have no place to return to, no place to go, said the Iraqi-Palestinian photographer who was a refugee for a large part of her life. "Nor are you welcome where you are, either."

Sama Alshaibi lived illegally for years in the U.S. before being granted asylum. To be a refugee or a displaced person " is an identity all of its own," she says.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

New York art museum seeks to counter Islamophobia

Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani says she wants museum visitors to walk walk with a different impression of Arabs and Muslims. Courtesy Al Jazeera
Reported by Gabriel ElizondoAl Jazeera News

Home to some of the world's most famous art spaces, New York is known for its cultural diversity. Yet, the US city had not had a museum dedicated solely to Arab and Islamic art.

A new museum, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, is seeking to change that by providing a platform for artists and scholars to exchange ideas and promote cultural dialogue between voices in the United States and Arab and Islamic countries.  

The museum’s founder, Mohammed Rashid al-Thani, a Qatari art enthusiast, told Al Jazeera that he wants to help foster better understanding between the East and the West at a time of rising Islamophobia.

"Unfortunately until now we didn’t have one art institute or cultural centre that represents the Arab and Islamic regions and provides these artists the platform," he said.

"There's a stereotype of Muslims and Arabs and we can blame media all we want. But it is our responsibility to do something about it and to be active participants in the society we live."

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Abraham in Flames, Truth, Justice & Memory: On Trials by Fire in the Art of Iran and America

Niloufar Talebi is a writer, award-winning translator, and multidisciplinary artist. She won a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship for her translations of Ahmad Shamlou’s poetry. Courtesy Jules Cisek and HuffPost.
by Omid MemarianHuffPost

Ahmad Shamlou, the highly celebrated Iranian poet, is the inspiration behind a new opera, Abraham in Flames, conceived by creator/librettist Niloufar Talebi with composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and director Roy Rallo. I spoke with Niloufar Talebi as she prepares for a sneak preview event at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on May 31, a multimedia presentation including sung musical excerpts from the opera, a selected reading of the opera’s libretto, and a visual collage of other material shaping the concept of the opera:

Omid Memarian: Who is Ahmad Shamlou and why is he the inspiration behind your opera?

Niloufar Talebi: Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000) was one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th Century in Iran. He was a poet, translator, essayist, editor, encyclopedist, and much more, with over seventy book to his name, a living encyclopedia of Persian folklore, several recordings of poetry recitations, and numerous translations of major literary works from several languages into Persian. Drawing from both Western and Eastern techniques and movements, he pushed the boundaries of Iranian poetics and helped usher it into its Modern forms. His life’s work was also devoted to the struggle for social justice. In other words, he was a cultural giant.

I had the privilege of knowing Shamlou from his participation in my parents’ literary salons in the tumultuous years after the 1979 revolution when Iran was besieged in war with Iraq, martial law, and uncertainties as the new Islamic Republic was forming after the deposition of the Shah of Iran. Shamlou is a world class artist who deserves a larger, global audience, one of my reasons for introducing him to new audiences through projects inspired by him. But also because I cannot help it: the extraordinary company I found myself in during my coming of age years had a lasting impact on me and still informs me as an artist.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Meet Dj Nesa, A Woman Aiding Iran’s Electronic Music Boom

An interview with the female DJ behind Deep House Tehran about the growth of the Iranian techno scene.
Courtesy Electronic Beats.
Interview by Tristan Bath, Electronic Beats

I was born and raised in Tehran, and I got into music at a very young age—when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. I started playing very traditional Iranian instruments, like the tombak and dayereh drums, a string instrumental called a tar, the zither-like santoor and one non-traditional instrument: the guitar. I’ve been making music myself since 2004, but before that I was working as a DJ with lots of my own techniques. I decided to make my own music and started working in Ableton, plus a bit of Reason and Logic. But what I make is very different from what I play, and I’m still mainly known for being a DJ.

My earliest DJ gigs were actually at private events in Dubai in 2009. It was an amazing experience for me because I was used to playing only for very small groups in Iran. I was even offered a residency ­­at a club in Dubai, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay due to visa issues. My first official DJ set—one that wasn’t a private or unofficial party—was actually only a few months ago in Yerevan, Armenia. It was amazing to play in a proper club, to have that atmosphere and to play for people from so many different places. I love playing for people I’ve never met. It’s quite a contrast to playing in Iran, where there aren’t any clubs or public nightlife. All the underground music has to happen at parties at private homes. The crowds at house parties in Tehran can vary a lot, from 30 up to even 200 people. Most of the people there are Iranian, unless by chance someone has a foreign guest visiting. But other than that, Iranians make up 90 percent of the parties. As far as the atmosphere goes, I’d have to say that we all have similar problems everywhere in the world: when you mix drugs and alcohol, the chance of altercations increases. However, I do think there’s less chance of problems at parties in Iran because everyone’s usually friends.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Art of Iranian Immigrants Reveals the Creative Potential of Inclusivity

Gallery looks “Beyond the Ban” to highlight the role art can play in uncertain times.
Nahid Hagigat, “Kurdish Women in Red,” 2015, hand-painted etching from 1970s plate. Courtesy Susan Eley Fine Art and HuffPost.
by Priscilla FrankHuffPost

In January, President Donald Trump issued an executive order denying citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations entry into the United States. In the months since, multiple courts have deemed the ban unconstitutional, arguing that it discriminates against Muslims.

Yet Trump is still pushing strongly for the directive, filing an emergency request with the Supreme Court earlier this month and penning increasingly incensed tweets expressing his frustration with the Justice Department.

Not long after Trump first announced his plans for the ban, art institutions around the U.S. responded to denounce the executive order as fundamentally opposed to values of inclusion, diversity and liberty. New York’s Museum of Modern Art made its convictions known by hanging work made by artists hailing from affected nations on its walls. The Davis Museum at Wellesley College used a different approach to convey a similar message. The museum temporarily removed all artwork made by or donated by immigrants from the museum walls.

The message behind both art world protests came through loud and clear: immigrants are indispensable parts of the fabric of this country, and their contributions to American civilization and culture are invaluable.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Tehran Noir: Samuel Khachikian and the rise and fall of Iranian genre films

For four decades, this innovative director made Hollywood-style movies that played to sellout crowds in Iran. After the revolution, his western inspirations fell out of favour, but a new retrospective of his little-seen work should reinvigorate his reputation.
Midnight Terror (1961). Courtesy BFI
by Ehsan Khoshbakht, BFI

The films of Samuel Khachikian have, as the director’s name suggests, a strange ambiguity. One of the father figures of Iranian cinema, Khachikian was for 40 years synonymous with popular genre films inspired by Hollywood and enjoyed by big audiences. But his formal innovations and fluid handling of genres not only expanded the possibilities of cinema, but reflect the specific social and political tensions of a country building to a revolution.

Hollywood style in modern Tehran

Khachikian was dubbed the ‘Iranian Hitchcock’, a title he disliked, and in the 1950s and 60s the premieres of films would cause traffic jams. New cinemas were opened with the latest Khachikian picture.

Khachikian’s films provide us with images of a bygone era in Iran. Cadillacs roaring through the streets; women in skirts parading to the next house party; bars open until the small hours of the morning; dancers grooving to the swing of a modernised, post-coup Tehran, which was soon to collapse into revolution. The films are part-documentary, and partly a product of Khachikian’s fantasy of an Iran which has successfully absorbed Hollywood style.

The films were unique in the way in which they could almost be passed off as foreign productions. His classic Midnight Terror (1961) was reportedly bought and dubbed by the Italians, with added name changes, to make it seem as if the story had been set in Milan. Fully aware of the deep contradictions of this encounter between cultures, however, the films manifest a sense of unease. Khachikian’s attention to the fetishistic celebration of automobiles, fashion and glamorous mansions were so many symbols through which he could reflect injustice, class conflict and identity confusion in Iran.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Iranian-American Artist Revives Islam’s Apocalyptic Goddesses

How Morehshin Allahyari is using new technologies to reclaim an ancient feminist narrative.

Images courtesy of Morehshin Allahyari and Creators - Vice.
by Catherine ChapmanCreators - Vice

Mystical goddesses and warnings of the end times are reimagined with digital technologies in the new work by Iranian-American artist Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown. Taking images of supernatural female figures found in Islamic mythology—Ya'jooj and Ma'jooj—Allahyari has created a digital video artwork using 3D techniques to bring their cautionary stories to life, and reinterpreting them in what the artist calls, "a feminism activism practice."

"I find these figures and then reappropriate," Allahyari tells Creators. "I find them from different images, choose a selection, and then 3D model, print and scan them. I write narratives about them in relation to the power that they have, putting them in context to current forms of colonialism and oppression. So these female powers come to fight these current systems, going against them in a way."

Presented on the Media Wall at The Photographer's Gallery in London, Allahyari's first solo UK show expands on themes found in her previous work. Her continued series Material Speculation, for example, sees the reconstruction of ancient artifacts destroyed by ISIS in 2015, questioning the issues of ownership and access to data that arise with the new technologies that she uses.

Friday, 26 May 2017

A Guide to Iran’s Electronic Underground

9T Antiope. Courtesy Bandcamp.
by Tristan Bath, Bandcamp

“By the time I was a teenager living in Tehran, underground music was all rock, metal, and hip-hop,” says Siavash Amini from his home in the Iranian capital. “In the past [all] musicians wanted to be mainstream, but were forced to stay small and underground.” Speaking to Amini —freshly returned from his first European tour—the changes in both the climate and the mindset in present-day Iran become clear. “Right now,” Amini says, “being underground is not as much a limitation as it is a decision to disconnect from the mainstream.”

The existence of any kind of underground or electronic music scene in Iran is a relatively recent development, arguably part of a quiet and generally slow shift in the country’s post-revolution identity. Those changes came to a head with the election of reformist and relative centrist Hassan Rouhani as President in 2013, which opened up a doorway for Iranian relations with foreign countries, all but shut off after decades of international sanctions.

The Islamic Republic that emerged from the 1979 revolution quickly quashed the country’s burgeoning pop and rock music scene, in favor of state-approved folk and classical styles. Iranian pop and rock musicians stayed all but silent throughout the 1980s, but years later, after the arrival of globalized digital media and swappable MP3s, government repression isn’t enough to stop a new generation of musicians creating digital noise, heavy techno, and textured ambience.

With rock and pop music increasingly entering Iran’s opening mainstream, it’s hardly surprising that instrumental electronic music has become the touchstone for Iran’s underground musicians. For one thing, wordless music is often too subtle or oblique to be perceived as an ideological threat and censored. For another, as in the West, the means of production have been entirely handed back to the artists, who are able to record and distribute at home, even able to send files to foreign labels and journalists while they’re at it. Local experimental musicians can now perform live regularly in Tehran (in fact probably far more regularly than like-minded local musicians can muster in far costlier cities like London or New York),  and they now also host their very own festival, called SET.

The election of an isolationist far right American President, along with the waning of liberal thinking in general, signifies no small threat to the development and progress of the young scene. Notably, Donald Trump’s infamous proposed—and briefly enacted— travel ban includes citizens from Iran, regardless of the fact not a single deadly attack has taken place on American soil at the hands of an Iranian citizen since 9/11.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Charming, Disgusting Paintings of Tala Madani

A still from Tala Madani's “Sex Ed by God” (2017), currently showing at the Whitney Biennial. Courtesy the Artist / Pilar Corrias Gallery / David Kordansky Gallery and The New Yorker.
by Negar Azimi, The New Yorker

Recently, the Iranian-American artist Tala Madani was sitting in her studio in Los Angeles, tweaking a video in progress. It featured a young girl wearing a bow in her hair and a yellow-gold cardigan, her legs akimbo in a pose that conjured Courbet’s “The Origin of the World.” The animated film imagines a sex-education class taught by God. Madani had recently been watching nineteen-seventies sex-education films from Scandinavia and Britain on YouTube, and was struck by the way they were typically narrated “from both perspectives, male and female.” In her own film, a pair of men—one thin and boyish, the other tall and pear-shaped—gaze at a projection of the young woman, while the narrator, represented by a pair of disembodied pink lips, wheezily delivers the wisdom of the ages: “Be present. Find the clit and never let it go.” As the scene unfolds, the girl reaches out of the projector screen, takes hold of the male figures, draws them in, and makes them disappear between her legs. “I guess I was really interested in exploring female pleasure,” Madani told me. “I wanted to play with the idea of passivity. She’s not passive anymore.”

Like her paintings, Madani is alternately droll and punishingly serious. The first time I saw her work, seven years ago, in London, I was struck by a painting of a gaggle of men kneeling on all fours. It was impossible to say whether they were engaged in prayer or in sexual submission. Large parachutes hung limply around their bodies. The men’s noses were spewing blood. And yet, somehow, this grotesque group portrait had a sweetness to it as well.

In February, following President Trump’s executive order denying the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries entry into the United States, the Museum of Modern Art exhibited eight works by artists from those countries in its fifth-floor galleries. Among the works on display was a Madani video, from 2007, entitled “Chit Chat.” In the video, which can be seen on YouTube, two men engage in banter that is by turns friendly, argumentative, and literally bilious. It is, like the best of her work, at once charming, thoughtful, and kind of disgusting.

Critics are wont to consider Madani’s work through the prism of her Iranian background. Madani is not fond of this maneuver. Her work has more in common with the giddy grotesqueries of the Los Angeles artist Paul McCarthy or with Philip Guston’s lumpy, comical forms than it does with Islamic calligraphy or Persian miniature painting. And yet, she admitted, “I probably wouldn’t have become a painter if I hadn’t been the product of emigration.” Her canvases can be viewed as theatres of cultural encounter, where references from the history of art meld with figures drawn from the Japanese anime that she loves to watch or from the Ladybird children’s books that served as her introduction to the English language.

Wherever the spirit guides

Henry Corbin, theologian and professor in Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne, is widely regarded as the West′s authority on Persian philosophy. Despite having died in 1978, he is not only revered in modern-day Iran, he has also been appropriated. 
French philosopher Henry Corbin (source: Association des Amis de Henry et Stella Corbin). Courtesy Qantara.
by Marian BrehmerQantara.de

An unremarkable street in the southern part of Tehran′s city centre, not far from the Armenian Embassy, bears the name of a French academic - ″Henry Corbin Street″. If you walk a few blocks further down Enghelab Street and visit one of the numerous bookshops opposite the University of Tehran, the same name will leap out at you from the philosophy shelves, printed on the spines of books placed prominently beside the works of Iranian academics.

No other European Iran specialist and scholar of Shia is as respected in modern-day Iran as the French philosopher and mystic Henry Corbin (1904-1978). There is no study of ancient Iran in which his name does not appear; no research on Iranian philosophy that does not build on his work. Corbin had a traditional Catholic education, before studying philosophy at the Sorbonne. At the age of 22, his intellectual journey eastwards began with the study of Arabic and Sanskrit.

Making the acquaintance of the “Imam of the Platonists”

In 1929, when Corbin was 25, the young Orientalist met the Islamic studies scholar Louis Massignon in Paris – an encounter which was to change his life. Massignon, a Catholic priest particularly famed for his research on the Islamic mystic Mansur al-Hallaj, introduced Corbin to the Iranian Sufi philosopher Shahab al-Din al-Suhrawardi. Massignon had just returned from Iran and handed over to Corbin a manuscript of Suhrawardi′s major work, the Hikmat-ul Ishraq, that he had brought back with him.

It was an act of providence that Corbin would later describe as ″inspiration from heaven″. He devoted most of the rest of his life to studying the works of Suhrawardi, whom he called the ″Imam of the Persian Platonists″. Suhrawardi, born in 12th-century Persia, is also known as Shaykh al-Ishraq, or Master of Illumination. Suhrawardi developed a complex philosophical system, in which the whole of creation is an emanation of the highest divine light.

Corbin saw his work on Suhrawardi as more than just an academic undertaking. ″Through my meeting with Suhrawardi my spiritual destiny for the passage through this world was sealed,″ the French scholar later revealed. Alongside the study of Platonism, Zoroastrianism and Islamic mysticism, Corbin delved into the German theological tradition, in particular the legacy of Martin Luther. In the 1930s, Henry Corbin published several translations of Suhrawardi′s works. At the same time, he was completing the first translation of Joseph Heidegger′s major work ″Being and Time″ into French. The two philosophers had met in Freiburg in 1931.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

How the CIA Secretly Funded Arab Art to Fight Communism

A man walks past "Baghdadiat" by Jewad Selim at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha December 14, 2010. Selim was one of a number of Arab artists promoted in the U.S. by the AFME. Courtesy Reuters/Mohammed Dabbous and Newsweek.

by Sultan Sooud Al QassemiNewsweek

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, details began to emerge about the CIA’s covert role in using art as a tool for political ends during the Cold War. The policy—known as "long leash"—was initiated to showcase the creativity of American artists such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko in the face of "rigid" Soviet artistic constraints.

The United States government wanted to use the soft power of modern American art to combat Communism. Among the most effective of these initiatives was the Congress for Cultural Freedom which funded a number of cultural projects including a major exhibition titled "The New American Painting" that toured Europe in the late 1950s.

Suspicions about the almost sudden spread and funding of American art movements such as Abstract Expressionism led critic Max Kozloff to describe it in a 1973 essay as "a form of benevolent propaganda." But while much is known about CIA funding for American art during the Cold War, their support for Arab art during the same period has rarely been discussed.

In his 2013 book America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, Hugh Wilford documents the extent of the relationship between the spy agency and a "pro-Arabist" organization known as the American Friends of the Middle East (AFME).

One of the 24 Americans that founded the AFME in 1951 was Kermit Roosevelt Jr., a career intelligence officer who played a leading role in the CIA-backed coup to remove the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953.

Friday, 3 March 2017

‘Roud’ (“River”)


The ‘Gardoun Art Group’ is pleased to announce the launch of a new and exciting project, called ‘Roud’ (“River”). The group will be travelling to work in Dezful and Shuhtar in Khuzestan province, from 5th to 15th March 2017, in order to highlight the importance of water and the impact of three main rivers, namely DezKarun and Karkheh, in the region. The word ‘Roud’ is the Persian word for river, and in some Persian dialects, it also means ‘offspring’ and ‘beloved’. Khuzestan, located in the southwest of Iran, is the most ancient Iranian province, in which the agricultural developments first appeared around 3000 BC in the northern region. Throughout history, the abundance of water and its management has transformed this region into a well-endowed land, although recent droughts have significantly affected this region and its unique eco-system.
The ‘Roud’ project aims to inspire and educate underprivileged children as well as high school and university students, through various artistic events, such as 1) running creative workshops, 2) wall painting in a high school (with a particular focus on themes of the Shahnameh, “the Book of Kings”), 3) painting next to rivers and waterfalls, 4) organising seminars, 5) concert, and 6) art exhibition.
Gardoun hopes to support the local youths and inspire the next generation through art and education.
Organiser: Taraneh Sadeghian
Participants: Aida Foroutan, Ashkan Jalali, Samira Darya, Samira Eskandarfar, Hamed Sahihi, Keyvan Mousavi-Aghdam, Naghmeh Hokamzadeh, Nezhla Motamedi, Mahtab Nematollahi, Maryam Bordbari, Mahya Ghobadi, Sadolah Nasiri, Solmaz Shamshiri, Parmida Jalilvand, Amir Shalmani, Taraneh Sadeghian.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

″Self-censorship is the worst″

Interview with the Iranian writer Abbas Maroufi
The novel describes events during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 while tracing the narrative of one family: against their father′s will, all four sons of the Amani family end up supporting opposing sides. Abbas Maroufi provides an intricate portrait of this highly dramatic period in Iranian history, mirroring the revolution. Courtesy Qantara.

Abbas Maroufi, born in Tehran in 1957, was one of Iran's most respected writers when he was sentenced to prison and a flogging for 'offending the fundamental principles of Islam'. It was only thanks to the intervention of the German PEN Center and the intercession of Gunter Grass that he was able to leave Iran in 1996. He has lived in Germany ever since. 

Volker Kaminski: In your novel Fereydun had three sons, your hero Majid is almost compulsive in his habit of looking at old family photos that bring back memories of his past in Iran. Are you ever like this? You have been living in Germany for 20 years now. Do you often dwell on what you left behind?

Abbas Maroufi: Memories very often come back to me and sometimes I write them down. That can happen very spontaneously. For example, someone passing my window can suddenly trigger a memory of someone I used to know. And this one memory can remind me of details that then set me thinking about a whole host of other details. Sometimes I am like the first person narrator in Proust's Recherche.

For him, a madeleine dipped in tea opened the door to his past. For me, it is colours, sounds, or a specific smell. Memories are never linear. The same is true of modern writing, which – unlike the works of Balzac and Flaubert with their single narrative threads – works with fragments. This is like my rather associative narrative style in my novel Fereydun had three sons.

Kaminski: To what extent does your novel reflect the situation you yourself were in when you left Iran? Your hero's life is in ruins. He is an asylum seeker and lives in a psychiatric hospital. To put it bluntly, he is a nervous wreck. At the same time, he is gripped by a yearning to return home. Is this what it was like for you? Did you want to go back home?

Maroufi: A writer's homeland is very important to him. It is a constant source of inspiration for his writing, his daily work. But I couldn't go back; I had been given a prison sentence. It was only thanks to support from outside the country, with the help of the PEN Center, of which I am a member and the personal intercession of Gunter Grass that I was able to leave Iran.

Regarding Majid's state of mind in my novel, it is indeed rather typical: he has not only lost his homeland, he has also lost his job, his social environment. And so he is tortured by 'bad thoughts'. He falls into a depression, feels humiliated and useless. On occasion, he acts aggressively towards the others in the hospital. It is only when he is busy with his daily work that he feels alright.