Saturday, 2 December 2017

"Their audacity leaves me speechless"

Interview with the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar

Every year the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar holds a ceremony in Tehran to commemorate her parents′ murder by the regime. Accused of propaganda against the system, she′s now on trial herself – for artwork that the regime considers "insults the sacred". 
Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar (photo: picture-alliance/dpa). Courtesy Qantara.
Interview by Catrin

Ms Forouhar, you fly to Tehran every autumn to hold a memorial ceremony for your murdered parents. This year, your passport was confiscated as soon as you landed. Were you surprised?

Parastou Forouhar: I might have expected it; I′m being tried in Tehran this year. In the past, I have always had to attend a hearing on entering Iran. Usually at the intelligence ministry, sometimes with other organs that are also part of the security apparatus. They′d try to influence me – I′d be threatened, confronted with allegations I was stirring up counter-revolution.

Yet that was always related to the memorial event for your parents, who were murdered by the regime nearly twenty years ago.

Forouhar: Indeed. My parents were prominent opposition politicians, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar. They were dissidents, secular democrats who campaigned for democratic structures in the Shah′s times and then later in the Islamic Republic. They were attacked on 22 November 1998 by 18 officers from the Islamic Republic′s ministry of intelligence, who brutally murdered them. And they were not the only ones: two wonderful writers, two activists, a poet and his son were also murdered at the same time. These crimes became known as the "chain murders". The public felt deeply violated; thousands of people attended my parents′ funeral – the figure reported by the BBC was 25,000. The funeral march turned into a protest for dissident rights.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Persian and Iranian Studies in Britain in the 1960s: A brief survey

Image courtesy of the British Council. 

Amid the shifting currents of Anglo-Iranian relations, there has been continued scholarly interest in the cultural history of Iran among British academics. Developments in the 1960s in particular have proven to have a lasting impact.

همزمان با اوج بی اعتمادی ایرانیان به بریتانیا بعد از کودتای شهریور بیست، چه شد که مطالعات ایران شناسی در دانشگاه های بریتانیا چنین اوج گرفت؟

by Aida Foroutan, Underline MagazineBritish Council

It is an understatement to say that the 1960s was an important phase in Iranian history, yet in terms of cultural relations between Iran and the United Kingdom, it was rather a quiet period. In art and culture generally, other areas of Europe were more obviously affected by Iranian influences – France, Germany and Italy, for example. The low points of Anglo-Iranian relations were, of course, the Abadan crisis of 1951-54, and the 1953 MI6-CIA-backed Coup and Prime Minister Mossadegh’s overthrow in August of that year. It took the rest of that decade for wounds to heal. In between, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made a state visit to the UK for a few days in May 1959. It was then less than two years before the Shah returned the compliment, welcoming Queen Elizabeth II to Iran in March 1961.

What needs pointing out among all these high profile crises and royal to-ings and fro-ings, is that there was ongoing interest in the UK towards Iran’s history and culture at the highest level of academia. This is evidenced by the quiet scholarly work and collaboration in academic research focusing on Iran – Iranian languages, texts, documents, artefacts of history and archaeology. This intense attention paid to everything Persian and Iranian is all the more surprising as Iran was never directly colonised by Britain, and drawn into its Empire, like India. One may ask: why was Iran the source of such fascination in Britain?

One of the keys to answering this question is the founding of the British Institute of Persian Studies in December 1961, just after Queen Elizabeth’s visit earlier that year. The foundation reflected rather than created an already existing long-term interest in Iranian and Persian studies: along with the physical Institute – located both in Tehran and London – a learned journal entitled IRAN: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, was inaugurated: it ‘was to make its field of interest the whole spectrum of Iran’s archaeology, history, and culture, from prehistory through ancient and Islamic Iran to modern times’. [1]

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Patchwork identities

Young Iranian women writers in Germany

In commanding language and without a trace of sentimentality or vanity, the second generation of Iranian women authors in Germany present the balancing act between Persian and German ways of life, weaving their parents′ lives into their literary material. 
Iranian author Nava Ebrahimi (photo: Katrin Ohlendorf). Courtesy Qantara. 
by Fahimeh

Three novels by Persian-speaking writers recently published in Germany were written by women: the authors Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani, Nava Ebrahimi and Shida Bazyar. They are part of the second generation of Iranian diaspora writers, their parents having fled the country following the 1979 Islamic Revolution to end up – more or less by chance – in Germany.

With the exception of Shida Bazyar, who was born in Hermeskeil in 1988, the young storytellers came to Germany as children of politically persecuted parents during the 1980s. Initially exposed to linguistic isolation, mental exile and cultural confusion, they took to writing as adults to set down the stories of their hybrid identities. Their books, with the titles ″33 Arches and a Teahouse″ (Zaeri-Esfahani), ″Sixteen Words″ (Ebrahimi) and ″Tehran Is Quiet by Night″ (Bazyar) unambiguously indicate the source of their creativity, also linked to Iran′s recent history.

The three writers confront the ordeal of flight and their unwelcome arrival in Germany in the language in which they once woke from their nightmares as children, in which they now dream of a colourful life: German.

Existential issues

The issues these young Scheherezades tackle have a long tradition in the genre of migration literature. They are not radically different from the material the first generation covered. Those literary pioneers also constructed their works on the heritage of collapsing utopias of a generation that resisted the Shah and mullah regimes with great willpower, went into exile despondent and had to build a new existence abroad.

United by blood: Afghan artists come together for Iran exhibition

Tehran show challenges attitudes in country where community is grappling with marginalisation after escaping war

Barat Ali Batoor’s photographs focus on Afghanistan’s problem with Bacha bazi, the sexual abuse of young boys. Photograph: Barat Ali Batoor
by Saeed Kamali DehghanThe Guardian

Elyas Alavi’s performance piece at a Tehran exhibition showcasing contemporary Afghan artists invites participants to give blood. Samples are taken by a professional nurse and splashed on the wall next to each other.

The idea came to Alavi’s mind when his sister, one of at least 3 million Afghan refugees living in Iran, was blocked from getting a kidney transplant because she is a foreigner.

The Nimrouz exhibition – the first of its kind held in Iran and the largest for Afghan artists in at least four decades – is challenging Iranian society’s attitude towards its Afghan community, who have found sanctuary from war in their homeland but are grappling with marginalisation.

In recent years, as Iran propped up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, it controversially recruited Afghan refugees to go to fight there, rewarding them with money and documentation.

“I want to call people’s attention to the injustices inflicted upon Afghan people living in Iran,” Alavi told the Guardian. “Afghans in Iran are legally unable to receive organ transplants or blood transfusions and yet, fight in the Syrian war for Iran.”

Mirrors everywhere

Reza's worldwide perspective

Reza: The Children Photographers. Afghanistan, 1985. Courtesy the artist and Pasatiempo.
by Paul Weideman, Pasatiempo

French-Iranian photojournalist Reza Deghati, who is known for his media training projects in strife-torn regions of the world, as well as for his stunning photographs, is in Santa Fe for several events. A selection of his photos shows in an exhibition that runs until Nov. 12, at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

The photographer, known as Reza, has made photographs in more than a hundred countries, including in war zones in Somalia and Afghanistan and in dangerous neighborhoods of large cities. He has long been a contributor to National Geographic, and his work is featured on many of its covers as well as in books; articles for Agence France-Presse, Time, and Newsweek; and National Geographic Channel documentary shows.

In 2001, he founded the nongovernmental organization Aina (in Farsi, the name means “mirror”) in Afghanistan. Through his Reza Visual Academy and Aina, he has worked in media training — especially for the benefit of women and children — around the world. A 2015 installation along the banks of the Seine titled A Dream of Humanity featured Reza’s portraits of refugees along with photos shot in Iraqi Kurdistan by refugee children who were trained in his academy program as “camp reporters.” He has also had photographic exhibitions at the United Nations in New York, at the European Parliament in Brussels, and at the headquarters of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in Paris.

Reza’s recent work includes Exile Voices, a 2013-2017 project to train young Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan; a 2015 photography training program for young Maoris in New Zealand; and a 2017 photography workshop with orphans and displaced children in Bamako, Mali.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Sculpture for sale in New York illegally obtained from Iran?

Ancient Limestone Relief Is Seized at European Art Fair

A 1933 photograph of an excavation of the ruins of Persepolis in Iran. The bas-relief of a soldier that was seized at the art fair came from the ruins, according to a search warrant. Courtesy Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and The New York Times.

by James McKinley Jr., The New York Times

The European Fine Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory is an elegant event during which wealthy collectors browse through booths of stunning art pieces, from ancient sculptures to works by early 20th-century masters.

So it raised a few eyebrows on Friday afternoon (27 Oct., 2017) when two prosecutors and three police officers marched into the armory at 2 p.m. with stern expressions and a search warrant, witnesses said.

A few minutes later, cursing could be heard coming from a London dealer’s booth, breaking the quiet, reverential atmosphere. To the consternation of several art dealers looking on, the police and prosecutors seized an ancient limestone bas-relief of a Persian soldier with shield and spear, which once adorned a building in the ruins of Persepolis in Iran, according to a search warrant. The relief is worth about $1.2 million and was being offered for sale by Rupert Wace, a well-known dealer in antiquities in London.

In an statement, Mr. Wace said he had bought the relief from an insurance company, who had acquired it legally from a museum in Montreal, where it had been displayed since the 1950s.

“This work of art has been well known to scholars and has a history that spans almost 70 years,” Mr. Wace said in an email. “We are simply flabbergasted at what has occurred.”

Thursday, 26 October 2017

'A place where art can be art'

Selling the Porsche to Promote Iranian Art
The Argo Factory, a former Tehran brewery converted into a space to exhibit work by Iranian and foreign artists. The art in the exhibition on view in this and all the photos is by Slavs and Tatars, an art collective. Credit Arash Khamooshi. Courtesy The New York Times.
by Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times

The old brewery was a cockroach-infested ruin, a makeshift shelter for drug addicts in Tehran’s bustling downtown. Most people walked straight past it, a festering eyesore in a city dominated by high rises and building cranes.

But when Hamidreza Pejman, a sweatpants-wearing art lover with a mission to bring Iranian art to a global level, stumbled across the building he saw something else: a space to exhibit international art and build bridges between Iranian and foreign artists. “A place where art can be art,” he said, “no matter the costs.”

Mr. Pejman, 36, who once scrubbed toilets in London but got rich in construction in Iran, took out his checkbook and bought the brewery last year.

In the two years that his nonprofit Pejman Foundation has been active, he has not only bought loads of Iranian art, but also supported dozens of Iranian and foreign artists.

In fact, he says his love of art has become so pricey that he has been forced to cut back on other things. “I had to move in with my parents three months ago to save costs. I’m selling my Porsche,” he said, adding: “My goal is not to make any money from art. My goal is to free our art scene from the iron grip of money and get as many people to interact with art as possible.”

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Iranian Artists Picturing Their Cities

A gallery exhibit explores the urban public spaces of the Islamic Republic.
Behnam Sadighi's images show stark landscapes of a neighborhood in west Tehran. Courtesy of Hillyer Art Space/Behnam Sadighi and CityLab.
by Mimi KirkCityLab

Iran has experienced extraordinary political and economic transformation over the past four decades. From the 1979 Islamic Revolution to the democratic aspirations of the 2009 Green Movement to the 2016 nuclear deal with the U.S., the country has seen profound change, including in its cities.

“These developments have affected urban life, both for individuals and the collective,” says Gohar Dashti, a photographer who splits her time between Boston and Tehran. “These changes have also inspired artists.”

Dashti is the curator of an exhibition that provides a platform for this inspiration. Dubbed “Urban Mapping: Public Space Through the Lens of Contemporary Iranian Artists,” the show, hosted by the Washington, D.C., gallery Hillyer Art Space, features the photographs and videos of 10 artists whose work focuses on the urban.

Rana Javadi’s images of the revolution, for instance, show the commotion and dynamism of central Tehran during that period. In one photograph, a group of young women gather, arms raised in protest, on what is now known as Enghelab, or “Revolution,” Street. Pre-1979, it was named after Reza Shah, the shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941.

It’s Hard to Kill

Student uses photography to connect with her past 
Fatemeh Baigmoradi, It’s Hard to Kill #13. Courtesy the artist.
by Hannah EisenbergDailyLobo

When trying to move on from painful experiences, it can be tempting to imagine that old memories can simply burn, fall away into a harmless ash that leaves nothing more than a temporary residue on our minds.

This is not how memories work, though. Rather, they simmer through us. Our thoughts, patterns, actions, beliefs, our cultures and our histories exist not in an entirely progressive vacuum but in our connection to what was and who we have been.

It is this idea of the durability of memory, of living an authentic history, that UNM Master of Fine Arts candidate and photographer Fatemeh Baigmoradi explores in her thesis show, “It’s Hard to Kill.”

From late September to early October, “It’s Hard to Kill” was housed in the College of Fine Arts downtown gallery.

A large, painted red stripe flowed through the venue, and shelves lined the walls holding roughly 130 photographs of people living in the era before the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The frames showed women socializing around a car, couples vacationing, family meals, religious figures — a menagerie of early 1970s Iranian life.

These photographs, though, have all been burned. They are warped into new shapes with blackened edges and smoky holes, missing pieces of information.

A question of politics

Dubai-based Iranian artist Ramin Haerizadeh uses a variety of materials to investigate contemporary global issues such as identity, gender, intolerance and political power games
Ramin Haerizadeh, First Rain's Always a Surprise, 2012-17. Courtesy Gulf News.
by Jyoti Kalsi, Gulf News

Ramin Haerizadeh’s work is playful, absurd and profound. His latest show, To Be or Not To Be, That is the Question. And Though, it Troubles the Digestion, features collages on paper and canvas that seem to be chaotic, crazy assemblages of images and objects, which have no connection with each other. But there is a method to the madness. By excavating, manipulating and juxtaposing the debris of all the imagery that surrounds us, the Dubai-based Iranian artist wants to investigate contemporary global issues such as identity, gender, cultural intolerance, media manipulation, political power games, migration, displacement, the Western gaze, and hegemonic ethics.

The title of the show is extracted from the poem, Children of the Age, by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. The poem says that we are all children of a political age, and there is a political slant to all the things we do and say or abstain from doing and saying. It points out that in this age, even things such as crude oil and protein feed have political meaning. Hence, our existence, and every decision we make is a question of politics.

“Regardless of what we say or don’t say, do or don’t do, we cannot help being political. As an artist working in this region, I feel that the very act of making art is political. My work emerges from my daily activities as I perform different roles and take on different identities. I do not believe in preserving my old artworks. When they come back from exhibitions across the world, I start reworking them. Like human beings, they keep changing and evolving with time, acquiring new layers of experiences, emotions and memories. In my collages, I put unrelated things, people and events together to pose questions about their relationship, and to give information and tell stories, leaving it up to each viewer to process and read it in their individual context,” the artist says.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

'Is it art or pain?' Iran's Parastou Forouhar on family, death and the failed revolution

Daughter of high-profile dissidents talks about how their murder nearly 20 years ago continues to inform her work
Parastou Forouhar says she finds ‘healing in repetition’ through her artwork. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian

Every autumn, the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar returns to Tehran from Germany to hold a memorial service for her murdered parents.

Dariush Forouhar, a secular politician, and his wife, Parvaneh, were two of Iran’s most high-profile political activists when they were stabbed to death in their home on 22 November 1998. The killers placed her father’s body in a chair facing towards the Qibla, the direction of Mecca.

Forouhar, 55, remembers receiving a call from a BBC reporter asking when she had last spoken to her parents.

“I called a close friend of my parents in Paris and he was crying,” Forouhar says. “I thought, it mustn’t be just an arrest. We were used to [arrests]. I said, is Dad killed? He said, it’s not just your dad.”

Every year since, Parastou has gathered with close relatives to light a candle and pay tribute to her parents’ secular democratic values. The public are routinely blocked from attending by security officials.

“They won’t let people in for the ceremony [but] it gets media coverage and it becomes an act of protest,” says Forouhar, whose work was recently exhibited at Pi Artworks in London.

Forouhar says regularly revisiting the suffering she has endured for nearly 20 years has helped to heal the wounds of her past.

Colorful Verses

Ann Marie Fleming and Sandra Oh on Highlighting Iranian Poetry in Window Horses
A scene from Window Horses. Courtesy MovieMaker Magazine.
by Carlos AguilarMovieMaker Magazine

Intrinsically shaped by multiculturalism, Canadian director Ann Marie Fleming has amassed a body of work grounded in her curiosity to learn about cultures geographically distant from her own, but directly linked through a similar artistic spirit.

Set largely in Iran, Fleming’s debut animated feature Window Horses—which follows the more than 30 short films she’s made in the last three decades—is a delicately crafted and heartwarming ode to borderless connections between people via creativity, and a love letter to Iranian poetry.

The film had its U.S. premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival back in February, in the midst of the shameful Muslim travel ban, and First Pond Entertainment is releasing it theatrically in Los Angeles today, only five days after the White House announced that it would roll out new discriminatory measures against those traveling to the U.S. from a set of eight countries that includes Iran. In light of these unjust developments, Window Horses’ value as a gorgeous candy-colored piece of magical animation that aims to unite, as well as a subtle and non-political statement for the respect and appreciation of an ancient civilization, has doubled in importance.

This proudly female-centric production follows Rosie Ming, a Canadian girl of Chinese and Persian descent, who is a self-published young poet who has been invited to a poetry festival in Iran. Eager to be among other poets from around and the world, as well as learn about her father and his homeland, Rosie travels to the Middle Eastern nation. Fleming’s recurrent character and avatar, Stickgirl, becomes Rosie Ming in the film. Rosie is voiced by actress Sandra Oh, who serves as Executive Producer, and Academy Award-nominees Ellen Page and Shohreh Aghdashloo also lend their voice-acting skills to Window Horses.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

"The Music of Strangers": A quest for perfect harmony

The Silk Road Ensemble has been a leading force on the cross-cultural world music scene for almost twenty years. A new documentary – ″The Music of Strangers″ – tells the story of the project. 
The Silk Road Ensemble. Courtesy Qantara.
by Marian

The New York Times recently published a list of five outstanding examples of classical music with a political message. One of the pieces featured was "Silent City", a composition by the Iranian knee-violin (kamancheh) virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, performed in the USA by the Silk Road Ensemble, a group Kalhor has been a member of for 20 years.

From the outset, the Silk Road Ensemble has presented music as a universal, immediately comprehensible language, an idea which for them is no mere platitude. The Ensemble is one of the most highly respected world music combos around and in recent years its musicians have become the exponents par excellence of the power of music to transcend cultural and political borders.

World class musicians

The project was the brainchild of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whose idea it was to bring together world-class musicians from the great classical music traditions. The documentary "The Music of Strangers" reveals how he succeeded in transforming a diverse group of musicians into a world class ensemble.

Old footage traces the story, from Yo-Yo Ma's earliest performances as a child, to the first concerts by the Silk Road Ensemble. The extensively researched film gives audiences a privileged insight into the inner workings of this exceptional project. It all began in the year 2000, when Yo-Yo Ma invited sixty composers and musicians from the Silk Road countries, the cultural soul of Asia, to Massachusetts in the USA for them get to know one another. The journey that began there could well be described as a "search for perfect harmony" — and highly symbolic at a time when cultural misconceptions are all the rage.

The Line of March

Artist Pouran Jinchi on Inventorying War

Her current exhibition is on view in Dubai through October 21.
Pouran Jinchi, T Morse Code (2016). Courtesy of The Third Line.
by artnet Galleries Team, artnet News

Through quietly formal and exquisitely made work, Iranian artist Pouran Jinchi has assembled a bold exhibition that traces the lasting effects of war on contemporary society. With embroidery, sculpture, and metalwork, she explores military insignias and the pervasive power of symbols and language through her urgently coded messages.

Here, she discusses her current obsessions and how her background has shaped her practice. “The Line of the March” is on view at The Third Line in Dubai now through October 21.

Can you tell us about your process?

My art always begins with an idea, something gets triggered in my mind. I become focused entirely on this particular subject; it’s as though my brain edits out other things. My vision becomes myopic and as I do research on a given subject, I take it all in.

For my latest exhibit, The Line of March, I focused on militarism and I started to see its influence everywhere—online, in fashion, in films. I started to listen to brass bands, marching bands. I noticed the way military terms inflect our slang, how it penetrates popular TV shows, video games, even our food. When I am making art on a particular subject, my brain shuts out all other distractions. The process of making my work is physically demanding since so many details go into my work. I find long walks through NYC are the best form of stretching my body and relaxing my mind.

Go West

Farhad Moshiri, Dubbed ‘the Middle East’s Andy Warhol,’ Gets First Major U.S. Exhibition

A selection of the pop artist’s significant works will be displayed, fittingly, at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh
Farhad Moshiri, Yipeeee, 2009, private collection, London (Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli). Courtesy  
by Brigit

The work of Farhad Moshiri is often sparkly, glittery and unabashedly tacky. Inspired by the pop art movement, the Iranian artist has deployed sequins, crystals, beads, keychains and postcards to create vibrant, winking images that explore the quotidian preferences of American and Iranian culture. And so it seems fitting that Moshiri’s first major solo exhibition in the United States will take place in an institution devoted to the king of pop art: the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

As Gareth Harris reports for the Art Newspaper, “Farhad Moshiri: Go West” will showcase 33 of the artist’s significant works, many of which are being shown in the United States for the first time. The exhibition will reflect the diversity of Moshiri’s oeuvre, showcasing his embroideries, paintings and sculptures.

Born in 1963 in the city of Shiraz, Moshiri and his family relocated to California in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, according to a 2010 profile by Negar Azimi for The National. Moshiri graduated from the California Institute of the Arts and in 1991, he decided to move back to Iran. He rose to prominence on the Iranian contemporary art scene in the early 2000s, after he premiered a series of large oil paintings of antique ceramics, with Farsi calligraphy superimposed on their cracked surfaces.

“For Moshiri, the use of calligraphy references the pop calligraphy movement of the 1960s, which flourished under Empress Farah Pahlavi,” Elaine W. Ng writes in ArtAsiaPacific magazine.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

“Crossing Borders” exhibit touches on immigration issues

Ten artists with diverse backgrounds come together to show their works
Saman Sajasi, "Glory", 2013. Courtesy Periphery Space Gallery.
by Alexander Castro, Providence Journal

Any keys in your pockets? How about loose change? Are you wearing a belt?

You needn’t plunk your belongings in a gray plastic tray to enter “Crossing Borders” — a carefully curated exhibit showing at Periphery Space Gallery in Pawtucket through Oct. 14. But you will have to pass through a metal detector, an experience courtesy of Los Angeles-based Camilo Cruz, who’s installed one of the metallic sentries at the gallery’s entryway.

Cruz joins nine other artists in “Crossing Borders,” a group affair orchestrated by curators Judith Tolnick Champa and Jocelyn Foye. The pair began contemplating and assembling the show nearly eight months ago as an investigation of “dual identities, dual coasts, dual personalities,” according to Foye. With the Trump administration’s recent push to eliminate the DACA program, imperiling thousands of undocumented young adults, Foye sees the venture as an even more timely comment on immigration.

But the show is not a battering ram of polemic. Says Champa: “Hopefully it’s subtle. I think it is.”

The sophistication of the art seems to agree. This is a show you might expect of Providence’s academic galleries and, appropriately enough, the show will travel to Brown University this fall.

Cruz’s spatial cleverness is one instance of several. Mumbai artist Poonam Jain will likely elicit many a double-take, having outfitted a slab of the gallery’s wall with door hardware like deadbolts, locks and coat hooks. Is she keeping something out, or holding the audience captive?

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

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: 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


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

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.