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.