Thursday, 7 March 2019

Artist accuses Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art of selling off works at a premium

Rokni Haerizadeh sold his work to the museum at a reduced rate before it was auctioned without his permission

Haerizadeh’s N Vel Ab 2 (2002-03) was auctioned in Tehran on 12 January and sold for 3.6m rials ($86,680) Tehran Auction. Courtesy of the artist and The Art Newspaper.

by Gareth HarrisThe Art Newspaper

A growing number of artists claim that their works in the collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) have gone “missing” and may have ended up on the market without their knowledge. Rokni Haerizadeh, who was born in Iran and is now part of an artist collective in Dubai, has accused TMoCA of buying one of his paintings at a reduced rate and then selling it at a premium. Haerizadeh says his canvas, N Vel Ab 2 (2002-03) was consigned to Tehran Auction, selling on 12 January for 3.6 million rials ($86,680), a sum significantly over the price at which it was acquired.

Meanwhile, the Tehran-based artist Barbad Golshiri fears that his work in the TMoCA collection, Bahram Doesn’t see a Right Wing (2003), may have also been disposed of. “TMoCA confirmed that my work is indeed in the collection, yet when I ask them to say this in writing, they turn tail. I no longer have any motivation to find my work. That piece was about my own death. I consider it dead. It is as if it never existed,” he says.

The big picture: a surreal scene in the Iranian desert

Gohar Dashti’s take on the aftermath of the Iran‑Iraq war captures her nation’s ongoing sense of trauma

Untitled, from Gohar Dashti’s series Stateless, 2014-15. Photograph: © Gohar Dashti, courtesy the artist and the Guardian.

by Tim AdamsThe Guardian

The photographer Gohar Dashti was born in 1980 in Ahvaz, a city in south-west Iran, near the border with Iraq. For the first 10 years of her life, her home was a battlefield in the brutal war between the neighbouring states. She spent many childhood nights in an air-raid shelter and she looked on as the place that was all she knew was reduced to rubble. Dashti’s work has always focused on the legacy of conflict, a fallout that continues around Ahvaz both physically – the rivers are poisoned, the wheat fields barren – and psychologically.

From her earliest work a decade ago, Dashti has approached this post-conflict history not as a documentary photographer, but as a conceptual artist. She grew sick, she has said, of foreign photojournalism – women in chadors brandishing machine guns. Instead, she wanted to use her pictures to locate the more intractable insecurity that she recognised all around her. She started staging pictures that juxtaposed the expectations of normal life events – celebrations of weddings or birthdays – with the ever-present detritus of war.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

5 Photographers Show What It’s Like to Be a Young Iranian Today

Labkhand Olfatmanesh and Gazelle Samizay, Bepar, 2018. Courtesy of the artists and Artsy.
by Jacqui Palumbo, Artsy

What is like to grow up as an Iranian today? The third edition of Focus Iran, a biennial exhibition presented by the Iranian arts-and-culture nonprofit Farhang Foundation, hopes to provide an answer through photography and video that explore contemporary Iranian youth culture.

The juried show—selected by Iranian photographers, filmmakers, and curators such as Babak Tafreshi, who shoots for the likes of National Geographic, and documentarian Maryam Zandi—features works by more than 40 image-makers and runs through May 12th at Los Angeles’s Craft & Folk Art Museum.

Here, six of the exhibiting photographers (two of whom work as pairs) share the backstories of their works.

Iranian artists revisit their relationship to a contested past

London's Mosaic Rooms showcases the work of Iran’s current generation of artists and writers

Visitors watch The Fabulous Life and Thought of Ahmad Fardid (2015), a film by Hamed Yousefi with Ali Miresepassi, at the Mosaic Rooms. Photo by Andy Stagg. Courtesy Mosaic Rooms and Middle East Eye.

by Sahar EsfandiariMiddle East Eye

This month marks 40 years since the Iranian revolution, an anniversary which has prompted many to turn their attention to Iran and discuss historical events and current realities.

Spanning over two floors of London gallery The Mosaic Rooms, When Legacies Become Debts is a group exhibition of contemporary Iranian artists revisiting their relationships to a recent, tumultuous past.

“The exhibition is about the personal bonds between two generations of artists and writers, and coming to terms with the desirable, but also confusing and problematic legacies of a generation who were involved in the Iranian revolution in 1979,” says Iran-based curator Azar Mahmoudian, who is an independent arts educator in Tehran.

The older generation of artists were “situated in a network of other struggles happening at the time, from independence movements to struggles against colonialism, gender inequalities and racism," she adds.

"It is an attempt to understand how we ended up in the current state of culture in the country, while refraining from producing an isolated narrative, and go beyond the 'Iranian–ness' of this situation."

Monday, 25 February 2019

Iranian artist and activist Siah Armajani builds bridges in New York

The artist will recreate one of his best-known works in Brooklyn Bridge Park to coincide with his retrospective at the Met Breuer

Siah Armajani, Bridge Over Tree (1970/2019) installed at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo: Timothy Schenck; courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY and The Art Newspaper.

The Iranian-born, US-based artist Siah Armajani’s first major retrospective in his adopted county includes paintings, collages, sculptures and maquettes made from the mid-1950s until today. Armajani has “what seems like such a diverse practice at first glance”, says the curator Clare Davies, who has organised the Met Breuer’s leg of the exhibition. “But there is this thread that runs through a lot of it: he’s really interested in how language can transform people, and the different ways that that gets implemented in the physical world,” Davies says.

Armajani arrived in the US in 1960 to go to university in Minnesota. He says he left Iran as he “was in danger of being arrested” for his activism. The collages that Armajani made in the 1950s as a young political activist borrow language from poems, school texts and even spells he procured from a scribe he met outside a post office.

His sculpture Dictionary for Building: The Garden Gate (1982-83), made from wood and books, looks at the relationship between “speech that’s supposed to transform its listeners” and architecture, Davies says. The work combines the form of a minbar (a pulpit in a mosque) with “elements of vernacular American architecture and references to Russian Constructivism”. There will also be a section dedicated to his work made for public spaces and will include a key piece, Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room #3 (1988).

Friday, 22 February 2019

In Tehran: A Conversation with Iranian Gallerists

This conversation took place in Tehran on June 18 and June 30, 2017. The participants (in Persian alphabetical order) were Rozita Sharafjahan (Azad Art Gallery), Anahita Ghabaian (Silk Road Gallery), Maryam Majd (Assar Art Gallery), Masoumeh Mozaffari (President of the Society of Iranian Painters), Combiz Moussavi-Aghdam, and Keivan Moussavi-Aghdam. The questions, asked by Combiz Moussavi-Aghdam, were formulated by Talinn Grigor (University of California, Davis, and a member of the Art Journal Editorial Board) in conversation with Art Journal‘s editor-in-chief, Rebecca M. Brown.

Rozita Sharafjahan, Maryam Majd, Combiz Moussavi-Aghdam, Masoumeh Mozaffari, and Anahita Ghabaian in conversation, Tehran, June 2017 (photograph by Keivan Moussavi-Aghdam). Courtesy Art Journal.

Interview by Rebecca M. Brown, Art Journal

The Market, the Masterpiece, and Introducing New Artists

Combiz Moussavi-Aghdam: There is no doubt that your role in the realm of contemporary Iranian art has been significant over the past few decades. What’s more, since the era preceding the [Iranian] Revolution, women have had an active role in the domain of gallery ownership. The international art market has changed the direction of Iranian art within the past twenty years. How have artists, gallerists, and collectors taken steps to accommodate or resist the forces of the market? More specifically, what stance have you adopted toward the market? Have you moved in the same direction, or have you mounted resistance? What were your strategies?

Maryam Majd: I have been practicing this profession for eleven years. The issue of market does not go back twenty years; it goes back to 2006—when Christie’s started introducing and selling Iranian works in Dubai; at that moment Iranian art began to receive attention. In addition to modern art, Christie’s exhibits contemporary art and works of younger artists. There is a vast difference between the present and 2006; similarly, 2006 and 2000 are vastly different from one another. As for accommodating or mounting resistance to the market, several concerns come to mind: becoming international, being able to introduce your artists to the world, and making artists who are at different levels visible.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

How Iran’s Greatest Director Makes Art of Moral Ambiguity

Asghar Farhadi’s films fill theaters in a country where taking sides can be dangerous. They’ve also captivated Hollywood.

Farhadi in Tehran, near the mountains north of the city. Credit: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum for The New York Times. Courtesy NY Times.
By Giles Harvey, New York Times

Asghar Farhadi, the most successful director in the history of Iranian cinema, may have little interest in global politics, but global politics are interested in him. On Jan. 27, 2017, less than a week after “The Salesman,” Farhadi’s seventh feature film, was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign-language movie, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769, more commonly known as the Muslim ban. Under its terms, citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, Iran among them, were barred from entering the United States for 90 days — apparently the time it would take the new president to figure out “what the hell is going on.” For Farhadi, a connoisseur of human particularity whose nuanced, open-ended films about the cultural fault lines within Iran have been embraced by audiences around the world, Trump’s order was an offense both moral and intellectual. In a statement released two days later, he announced his decision to boycott the Oscars and also alluded to the history of “reciprocal humiliation” that lay behind present-day American-Iranian hostilities. Given the circumstances (the collective punishment of an entire religious group), that “reciprocal” showed extraordinary equanimity — not that anyone who had seen the film for which Farhadi was nominated, a painstaking psychological inquest into the rival claims of reciprocally humiliated parties, would have been surprised.

Iran is 11 ½ hours ahead of Los Angeles (or, if you are going by the Persian calendar, 622 years behind), so it was early morning, Tehran time, when Farhadi sat down, along with his family and a group of close friends, to watch the 89th Academy Awards. Iranian state TV, which is heavily censored by the country’s political and religious authorities, doesn’t broadcast the ceremony, but the Farhadis, like most of their compatriots, own an illegal satellite dish that picks up foreign programming. (Farhadi is married to the film and television director Parisa Bakhtavar, whose cinematic debut, “Tambourine,” released in 2008, centers on a young couple trying to raise cash by installing satellite dishes in a Tehran apartment building.) These dishes aren’t always reliable, however, and on the morning in question, Farhadi’s was on the fritz. A repairman roused from his sleep was unable to fix the problem. Finally, a friend on the other side of town who was streaming the show using a VPN managed to set up a remote connection between his computer and Farhadi’s laptop, and the group huddled around. The feed went live just in time for them to see Shirley MacLaine and Charlize Theron announce that the Oscar was going to “The Salesman.” When Farhadi spoke to his downstairs neighbor the following day, she said she thought there had been an earthquake, such was the commotion coming from the director’s apartment.

Farhadi had asked two Iranian-Americans, Firouz Naderi, a former NASA scientist, and Anousheh Ansari, a tech entrepreneur and the first female space tourist, to represent him at the ceremony. (Naderi said he believed they were chosen to make the point that borders are invisible from outer space.) As Farhadi’s living room in Tehran quieted down, his surrogates in Los Angeles took the stage. He was not there, Ansari explained in a speech written by Farhadi, “out of respect for the people of my country” and the six other nations targeted by Trump’s executive order. By dividing the world into “us” and “our enemies,” the speech continued, Trump was creating “a deceitful justification for aggression and war.” Farhadi’s words were warmly applauded within the Dolby Theater, but the conservative commentariat was less receptive. “We give an Iranian filmmaker an award & he writes us a lecture on our government,” Lauren Cooley, an editor for The Washington Examiner, posted on Twitter. “How about he go lecture his own Iranian leaders?” Cooley and other such pundits may not have realized it, but they sounded like no one so much as their conservative counterparts in Iran, where Farhadi is often accused of pandering to international audiences by presenting an overly negative image of his homeland.

Asghar Farhadi (right) and Javier Bardem on the set of ‘‘Everybody Knows’’ in August 2017. Credit: Teresa Isasi/Focus Features. Courtesy NY Times.
The truth is naturally far more complicated. Farhadi has learned, as he says, to speak quietly in his films, and part of this involves trusting his audience to listen for his meanings. In the stark opening shot of “A Separation” (2011), which also won the Oscar for best foreign-language film, a man and a woman, the woman wearing a head scarf (as all female citizens of Iran are required to do in public), look straight into the camera and explain their plight. After years of marriage, they are separating; each is seeking custody of their only child, a 12-year-old girl. As they make their competing arguments (the woman wants to leave the country because she believes their daughter will have a better life abroad; the man says he has to stay to look after his father, who has Alzheimer’s), we realize they are in an Islamic divorce court. The person being addressed is a judge — although it is also, in a way, the viewer, whom Farhadi always enlists as a kind of juror in his moral procedurals. “As a mother, I’d prefer my daughter not grow up in these circumstances,” the woman says. “What circumstances?” the baffled judge, still only a disembodied voice, asks. He doesn’t receive an answer — Farhadi, a master of pacing and suggestive omission, has already ushered us into the next scene — but Iranians, and those familiar with the social conditions under which Iranian women live, will know all too well the circumstances she’s referring to.

“I believe that art in the face of censorship is like water in the face of a stone,” Farhadi has said. “The water will find a way to flow around it.”

[The best actors of 2018]

“Everybody Knows,” Farhadi’s latest film, will be released in the United States on Feb. 8, but the director won’t be coming over for the opening: He hasn’t been here since Trump took office. “The extremists, the hard-liners — in Iran, in the United States — are very similar wherever you go,” Farhadi, who is 46, told me in December. We were in Spain, in the back of a black S.U.V., barreling down an autopista toward Torrelaguna, a village an hour north of Madrid, where “Everybody Knows” was shot. When it became clear that continuing American-Iranian hostilities would make it unfeasible for me to meet him in Tehran, Farhadi, with an obligingness I would come to recognize as characteristic, offered to fly to Spain to be interviewed.

Tehran to Madrid is a journey Farhadi has been making regularly since 2013, when he first approached Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem with the idea of making a film about a family from rural Spain whose secrets are blown open during the course of a wedding weekend. At the time, he had just finished making “The Past,” a French production and the first of his movies to be set outside Iran. Most directors would be wary of taking on projects in a foreign country, let alone a foreign continent, where they don’t speak the language and know little of the native culture. Farhadi, a cosmopolitan universalist, shows no such trepidation. “The taste of love and the taste of hate are everywhere the same,” he told me. Farhadi likes to cite the director Amir Naderi, whose 1984 film “The Runner” was the first post-revolutionary Iranian movie to achieve international renown: “This and this are the same everywhere in the world,” Farhadi said, using his right hand to slap and then to stroke the back of his left. “This” — the first gesture — “is violence, and this” — the second — “is kindness. And cinema is based on these two principles.”

“Fireworks Wednesday” (2006). Credit: Grasshopper Films/Everett Collection. Courtesy NY Times.

The day was cold and bright, and as the industrial outskirts of Madrid fell away and the snow-dusted Sierra de Guadarrama mountains began to rise up on either side of us, Farhadi turned to the window to take in the view. He is short and compact. His dark hair has receded to the crown of his head, but in a way that makes him look worldly and dapper. He wears glasses with photochromic lenses (at one point I glanced up from my notebook to realize, with a small start, that I could no longer see his eyes) and has a somewhat rakish goatee that is filigreed with silver. He dresses much like the liberal, middle-class Iranians in his films, which is to say, much like liberal, middle-class people everywhere: bluejeans, red crew-neck sweater, a three-quarter-length black overcoat. Although he speaks decent-enough English, he opted to communicate by means of an interpreter, Shahram Ruzbehan, a burly Iranian expatriate in a gray tweed flat cap, who sat across from us. Also present was Ahmad Taheri, another Iranian living in Spain, who served as one of Farhadi’s interpreters on the set of “Everybody Knows.”

Like many of his previous films, Farhadi’s latest turns on a traumatic incident that occurs offscreen. In “About Elly” (2009), it is the disappearance and possible drowning of the title character. In “The Salesman,” it is, or at least seems to be, a sexual assault whose precise nature remains unclear, in part because the victim is too disturbed to talk about it. In “Everybody Knows,” the teenage daughter of one of the wedding guests is abducted. As you might expect, this leads to a good hour and a half of engrossing panic, but Farhadi is less interested in plot twists than in the psychological revelations they precipitate.

“To get to know my characters, I need a crisis,” he explained in his methodical manner. Take a group of people in an elevator, he said. If the elevator goes from the first to the 16th floor without a problem, then no one is going to get to know anyone else. But if the elevator gets stuck between the 15th and 16th floors for half an hour — well, then they may begin to get acquainted. “In crises, we show our true character,” he added.

Just then, we were faced with a miniature crisis of our own. A highway-patrol officer in wraparound sunglasses and a neon yellow windbreaker, who was lurking by the side of the road, decided to flag us over for a random vehicle check. After briefly quizzing our driver, the officer had a peek through the back window and noticed that Farhadi, Ruzbehan and Taheri were not wearing their seatbelts. This seemed to seal our fate. The officer radioed for instructions, or possibly backup. When it became clear that the full weight of the Guardia Civil was being brought to bear on us — or, at any rate, that we wouldn’t be going anywhere for some time — Farhadi seized the opportunity, as he often did during the days we spent together, to step outside and have a cigarette.

“About Elly” (2009). Credit: Regent Releasing/Everett Collection. Courtesy NY Times.

It isn’t difficult to imagine another titan of world cinema (a Von Trier, say) having a do-you-realize-whom-you’re-talking-to-here moment. Farhadi appeared instead to relish the mild absurdity of the situation. “In Iran you can at least talk to the police,” he said with a smile, bracing his shoulders against the brisk wind. They come on strong, he explained, but soon they’ll be joking and sending you away with just a warning. After a while, he turned to the subject of censorship. “Each director finds his own way of dealing with it,” he said. “It’s claimed restriction can lead to even greater creativity. I believe that’s true in the short term, but in the long term it destroys creativity.” He somberly enumerated the great Iranian directors who had gone into exile — Naderi, Bahram Beyzaie, Parviz Kimiavi — some of whom, though Farhadi didn’t say so himself, have suffered an artistic decline as a result. In 2010, Farhadi’s close friend Jafar Panahi, whose films about marginalized Iranians had long angered the regime, was charged with producing anti-government propaganda. He received a six-year prison sentence, was banned from filmmaking for 20 years and was forbidden to leave the country. (The prison sentence, however, was never enforced, and Panahi, in his typically defiant fashion, continues to make underground films, which are released abroad and circulate on the internet. His latest, “3 Faces,” will open in the United States in March.)

Farhadi’s own success — acclaim at home and abroad, the freedom to make movies with A-list stars anywhere in the world — seemed all the more remarkable alongside these unhappy destinies. But I wondered how secure his position in Iran really was — whether he felt vulnerable to the same fate as Panahi, or if he was ever tempted, like so many of his characters, by the dream of a permanent move to the West.

Before I could ask him, Taheri, who had been quietly conferring with the officer, returned with an update. Farhadi, as a foreign visitor, would be shown leniency, he informed us. But he and Ruzbehan would each be fined 100 euros. We stood there a moment in silence, absorbing the news.

“This is more serious than censorship,” Farhadi said finally, and everyone laughed.

Farhadi was born in Iran’s central Isfahan Province in 1972 — a bit like being born in Volgograd, Russia, in 1910. By the time he turned 8, his hometown, Homayoon Shahr, had been renamed Khomeini Shahr, for the leader of the 1979 revolution that brought down the 2,500-year-old Persian monarchy and, after the idea of liberal democracy was briefly entertained, replaced it with a theocratic republic every bit as paranoid and repressive. Eighteen months after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became supreme leader, Saddam Hussein, fearful of an uprising in Iraq and seeking to capitalize on the post-revolutionary chaos next door, sent his forces over Iran’s western border, initiating a war that would drag on for eight years. Isfahan, the provincial capital, was bombed repeatedly. One day, Farhadi’s eldest brother didn’t return from school: He had run away to join the army’s volunteer forces. Months passed before Farhadi’s parents were able to locate him and bring him home. Farhadi himself, inflamed by patriotic feeling, often wished he were a few years older so that he could join, too.

“A Separation” (2011). Credit: Sony Pictures/Everett Collection. Courtesy NY Times.

During the conflict with Iraq, Iranian cinemas would sometimes play old Allied propaganda films about World War II. (The idea was to stir up nationalistic sentiment by encouraging a conflation of Hussein with Hitler.) One such film was playing when Farhadi paid his first visit to a movie theater, shortly before the war began. Along with several cousins, he took the bus from Khomeini Shar to Isfahan. They arrived late and walked in halfway through the picture, but Farhadi was captivated nevertheless. The protagonist was a teenage member of a resistance group in Eastern Europe; in the end, he assassinates the Nazi villain. For days afterward, Farhadi found himself thinking about the scenes he missed, trying to reconstruct them in his imagination. “It made me feel as though I were actually making the movie myself,” he told me the day before our trip to Torrelaguna. His own enigmatic narratives involve the viewer in a similarly collaborative experience. “I don’t want the film to end for an audience,” he has said. “I want the audience to leave the film with it still in their minds, asking questions.”

Cinema has long been a front in Iran’s fierce political struggles. The so-called New Wave, which first broke in the early 1960s, was inspired by opposition not just to filmfarsi, the formulaic, Hollywood-influenced movies that dominated theaters, but also, some have argued, to the shah’s whole project of enforced Westernization. These were the years when Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s 1962 essay, “Occidentosis,” a fervent call for Iranian cultural independence, galvanized resentment toward the United States-backed royal family and presaged the coming revolution. Farhadi grew up on the New Wave and warmly acknowledges its influence. Dariush Mehrjui’s “The Cow” (1969), an austere yet deeply empathetic case study in the brutalizing effects of a tragic loss, is an obvious precursor to Farhadi’s stories about the self-destructive behavior of men in extremis. At the same time, he feels estranged from the anti-Western passions that have been associated with the movement. When the New Wave came up in conversation, he was keen to emphasize its continuity with what was happening in other national cinemas at the time, as well as its debt to the Italian neorealists of the 1940s. “In Japan, France, Germany, even in the United States, we see the same reaction,” he said. What all these directors had in common was a desire to shake off artifice and get closer to real life.

Farhadi’s family owned a grocery store, where he often helped out after school. This put them squarely in the middle class. Although his parents weren’t themselves deeply cultured, they encouraged Farhadi’s artistic aspirations. When he was 13, he made his first short film using an eight-millimeter camera belonging to the Young Cinema Society, a government-sponsored organization established shortly after the revolution, with offices in every major city. (When Khomeini came to power, he considered banning cinema altogether — its mimicry of God’s creative act seemed a form of blasphemy — before recognizing the medium’s potential as a propaganda tool.) Farhadi’s film tells the story of two friends who find a radio on their way to school one day and, after an argument about who gets to keep it, decide that each will have custody for a day at a time. Because what they’re most interested in is a serialized drama that is broadcast every evening, the radio turns out to be of no use to either of them, and they throw it away. Already Farhadi was thinking about the difficulty of compromise and the power of interrupted stories.

The young director was intent on studying cinema as an undergraduate, but the admissions office at the University of Tehran decided he was better suited to dramatic arts. What at the time felt like a setback would prove to be decisive in forming his sensibility. From Ibsen, Strindberg and Chekhov, Farhadi learned what no film had quite shown him — how to construct a story without a hero, or rather, a story in which (as in life) everyone thinks of him- or herself as the hero. These European dramatists, writing at a time of rapid social change about men and women painfully suspended between an old way of life and a new one, also presented Farhadi with a mirror of the Iranian middle class at the end of the Khomeini era. In the years after the ayatollah’s death in 1989, there was widespread hope that the country would move in a more liberal direction, easing its draconian religious laws and seeking reconciliation with the West. Those hopes would be continually deferred.

In the early ’90s, while he was still in college, Farhadi began writing serialized radio plays for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the Iranian BBC. They were so popular that he was soon fielding offers from TV producers. In person, Farhadi is humble, generous and attentive; a number of the actors he has worked with told me of the calm, supportive atmosphere he creates on set. But he also knows how to look after his own interests. After several of his scripts were turned into hit programs, he told his producer at the IRIB that he would continue to provide them with material on one condition: that he do the directing himself. A deal was struck, and at 23 Farhadi was writing, directing and producing his own TV show, “A Tale of a City.” It followed a team of fictional documentarians who, in each episode, made a program about a family or group struggling with a different social issue: poverty, immigration, drug addiction, AIDS. Although scenes were sometimes cut by the censors, the series was widely watched.

In many ways, Farhadi’s first two feature films picked up where “A Tale of a City” left off. Diffuse and episodic, “Dancing in the Dust” (2003) and “The Beautiful City” (2004) are somewhat sentimental portraits of marginalized young people trying to escape their circumstances. His third feature, “Fireworks Wednesday” (2006), is a different matter altogether. Tightly constructed, it observes the classical unities of time, place and action. The movie gives us a day in the life of a troubled middle-class couple as seen through the eyes of a young working-class woman, herself soon to be wed, who is sent by a temp agency to clean their home. It was Farhadi’s first feature film about his own social milieu and the first to draw on his deep theatrical background — qualities that would underwrite the sequence of masterpieces that followed.

Before Farhadi begins shooting, he leads his cast through an intensive rehearsal process, which can last for three or four months. His approach is modeled strongly on that of Konstantin Stanislavsky, the Russian director and theorist, about whom Farhadi wrote his master’s thesis. Instead of practicing the script, the actors improvise moments from earlier in their characters’ lives, producing a back story that will often inform their roles, even if none of it features in the movie itself. The goal is to get the actors to feel as if they had constructed the characters themselves. In “About Elly,” Farhadi’s subsequent film, the title character (Taraneh Alidoosti) is secretly engaged to a man (Saber Abar) who appears only in the final act, after Elly has gone missing. Although they never appear on screen together, Farhadi insisted that Alidoosti and Abar spend a lot of time with each other in rehearsals. It was important, he felt, that each have a strong image of the other in their minds throughout the shoot.

Such a meticulous and — for film, at least — unconventional process has led to performances of astonishing sensitivity. There can be few scenes in 21st-century cinema as moving as the one from “A Separation” in which Nader (Peyman Moaadi), the man speaking to the camera in the opening shot, breaks down in tears while bathing his wheelchair-bound father — tears to which the old man remains oblivious. A moment earlier, we saw Nader, a secular-minded, relatively prosperous individual, behave poorly toward Razieh (Sareh Bayat), the religiously conservative woman he has hired to take care of his father, first accusing her of stealing (wrongly, it turns out) and then roughly pushing her out the door of his apartment. No one deserves to be treated like this, but Razieh has provoked Nader’s anger by tying his father to his bed and locking him in while she runs an errand. This, in turn, may sound almost unforgivable, except that Razieh is pregnant and desperately poor and has been having fainting spells that may be related to her work for Nader — work she has had to keep secret from her equally religious husband, who would be scandalized to know she was taking care of an old man. And Nader himself, we realize as the slightly shaky camera lingers over his heaving body in the bathroom, already seems to feel remorse for his actions. Almost every moment in the film invites, and rewards, this kind of in-the-round moral scrutiny. The power of the bathing scene arises not simply from the poignancy of the action it depicts (the son now caring for the father who once cared for him) but also from the way in which, after a relentless sequence of increasingly hostile exchanges, it provides a kind of release valve for an accumulation of complicated, contradictory emotions — Nader’s and our own.

“The Past” (2013). Credit: Sony Pictures/Everett Collection. Courtesy NY Times.
When “A Separation” opened in Iran in the spring of 2011, it electrified the public. People lined up overnight to see the premiere at the Fajr Film Festival, which takes place every year on the anniversary of the revolution. Theaters sold out, and it ended up grossing $24.4 million worldwide, making it the most profitable Iranian movie in history. “From Iran, a Separation,” a documentary about the film’s reception, captures some of the heated debates it provoked across the country. Many people, feeling that the film implicitly sides with Simin (the mother who doesn’t want her child growing up under “these circumstances”), were exhilarated by Farhadi’s frank portrayal of middle-class ambivalence toward the values on which the Islamic republic was founded. Others saw the movie as a vindication of Razieh, whose struggles laid bare the difficulty of leading a devout life in a modernizing nation. Still others viewed it simply as an anti-Iranian slur and asked why they should pay money to be insulted in theaters.

The intensity of this response is largely a testament to the film’s aesthetic force, but it also underscores the way it captured the polarized mood of the times. Less than two years earlier, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a reactionary who favored a confrontational approach to the West over the country’s nuclear program, was returned to office in rigged elections. The fraud was so blatant that it provoked an immediate backlash. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, calling for the result to be annulled, filled the streets of Tehran. Farhadi, whose second daughter was born the morning the protests broke out, joined the marchers that very afternoon. Thirty years after Khomeini’s revolution, the Islamic republic seemed on the brink of collapse. Then the regime unleashed its paramilitary brigades, and the so-called Green Movement was mercilessly suppressed.

How people responded to Farhadi’s film seemed to correlate with their feelings about the Green Movement, which had broad support among the metropolitan middle class but was opposed by religious conservatives. Farhadi was not unsurprised by the uproar and said that all his films are an attempt to start a conversation, though he gently rejected the idea that their moral pluralism was in any way an attempt to inoculate himself against accusations of pushing a particular agenda. “I believe that every character in my films has reasons for their wrongdoings, and that if we gave them time they’d be able to explain those reasons to the rest of us,” he said.

Farhadi did, however, acknowledge that his refusal to judge his characters or to explicitly criticize the political system under which they live may have helped him to evade censorship or worse. “Being an Iranian filmmaker is a tightrope existence,” Hamid Naficy, a leading scholar of Iranian and diasporic cinema, told me, “but he has somehow mastered the art.” That his friend Panahi, whose movies are less ambiguous, more forthright in their condemnation of Iranian society, should have ended up with the filmmaking ban is understandable. The final straw for the government may have been not the work itself but Panahi’s outspoken support for the Green Movement during an appearance at the Montreal World Film Festival.

“The Salesman” (2016)CreditAmazon Studios/Photofest. Courtesy NY Times.

Iranian censorship, like Iran itself, is far from monolithic. Scripts must be submitted for approval to the formidably named Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance before film shoots can begin; anything that strikes its functionaries as immoral or politically subversive is liable to be cut. Once a movie wraps, the end product must also be reviewed by the ministry before it is publicly released. This may sound like ideological regimentation at its finest, but in reality, like any mechanism of coercion, it has a serious design flaw: the human beings who run it. The committees in charge of reading screenplays are composed of individuals who don’t always agree with one another — or with themselves — as to what constitutes immorality. These committees are always changing, and those that read a script before it’s turned into a film are rarely the same ones that watch the finished movie. “It’s like the weather,” Farhadi said of censorship. “In the morning, it’s sunny; in the afternoon, it’s cloudy. There isn’t a universal pattern or law.”

Naficy believes that Farhadi’s position is secure for the time being. “He seems to have learned how to behave himself,” he said sardonically. What’s more, the director’s international success has enhanced Iran’s cultural prestige, putting him in good standing with the government, or at least those members of it who care about such things. But as Hamid Dabashi, another leading Iranian film scholar, told me: “There is no guarantee. If there is, God forbid, a war, or an uprising, or anything that makes the ruling elite feel vulnerable, then of course they will shut everyone up, including filmmakers.”

“People in this village are extremely kind,” Farhadi said when we finally pulled up in the center of Torrelaguna, a large cobbled square dominated by a fortlike Gothic church, where the wedding in “Everybody Knows” takes place. Almost immediately he was hailed by a local, with whom he stopped to chat. The same thing happened every few minutes as we walked the town’s quiet streets. Far from finding the production a nuisance, it seemed as though Torrelaguna had been sad to see it go.

Farhadi is eager to dispel the notion that because his Iranian films are subject to censorship they are somehow compromised or incomplete — that had he been able to make them in another country he’d have done certain things differently. Yes, the female actors wouldn’t have had to wear head scarves in their homes, and perhaps the dialogue would contain more explicit language, but his larger artistic choices were never a result of pragmatic considerations.

“Everybody Knows” (2018). Credit: Focus Features/Everett Collection. Courtesy NY Times.

Working in Europe, he said, comes with both perks (the budget for his latest film was $11.8 million; for “A Separation,” it was $800,000) and challenges. Despite his belief in the essential sameness of people, he made sure to immerse himself in Spanish culture before he began shooting “Everybody Knows,” moving to the country for two years and taking daily language lessons. Many aspects of the story changed as a result. In the original draft, Laura (Cruz’s character), who has returned to Spain for her younger sister’s wedding, withholds from her Argentine husband (Ricardo Darín) an important detail of her youthful relationship with Paco (Bardem), who still lives in the same village and remains a close friend of the family’s. While such discretion seemed plausible in an Iranian marriage, Farhadi came to realize that the Spanish were far more open and changed his script accordingly. The revision process could best be summed up, he said, by the change in the film’s title: Originally it was to be called “Nobody Knows.”

Communicating with his largely Spanish cast via a team of interpreters was another obstacle, but Farhadi seems to have a gift for connecting with actors on a level deeper than language. Cruz told me that she and Farhadi occasionally shared their dreams with each other and sometimes discovered mysterious parallels. During the shoot, the same Rumi poem about how suffering spreads throughout a family came to both of them in their sleep. “With Asghar, it was like that all the time,” she told me. “We both love the magical part of life.”

“Everybody Knows” is an impressive piece of cultural ventriloquism, a dynamic narrative engine, 132 minutes absorbingly spent; but it lacks the essential magic of Farhadi’s Iranian productions. He seems aware of this, at least on one level. “Some people find this movie strange because they are used to the idea that I always keep something back, that I don’t explain everything,” he said at a bar off the main square, a somewhat run-down establishment that Farhadi’s set designers had made over to look more rustic. The movie was strange for him as well, he continued: “It was a new experience, and it’s the result of Spanish culture. In Catholic cultures, you have this concept of confession. People talk and confess the things they’ve done.” Whereas in Islamic tradition, sinners confess directly to God, without the need of an intermediary.

One unquestionable virtue of “Everybody Knows” is how vividly it underscores what Iran does for the director’s imagination. “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry,” Auden says in his eulogy for Yeats. The same seems true of Iran and Farhadi. Spain, it is worth remembering, was a military dictatorship until 1975; and yet the collective trauma of the Franco era doesn’t really bear on the characters in “Everybody Knows.” Perhaps there’s no reason it would, and yet the absence of historical freightage stands in contrast to Farhadi’s Iranian films, in which the characters are manic with the tensions of an unfinished past. “I swear on Imam Hussein,” Razieh says when she denies Nader’s accusation of theft in “A Separation.” She is invoking Hussein ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and the second Shiite imam, who was beheaded in the seventh century. For most Iranians, and Shiite Muslims everywhere — a minority for whom, according to Ryszard Kapuscinski, “nothing has gone right for centuries” — Hussein’s death was a tragedy whose bitterness remains undiminished to this day.

Farhadi was due to fly back to Tehran the following evening, where he had a class of film students to teach and a new screenplay to work on. Outside his hotel, I finally got to ask him about the rumor that circulated in Iran after his first triumph at the Oscars in 2012: that he wouldn’t be returning to the country of his birth. He smiled skeptically. “There is a lot of fake news about me,” he said in English (Ruzbehan was trailing behind), with the weary tolerance of a man accustomed to seeing his life and work distorted on a grand scale. Had he ever considered leaving, though? Farhadi spread his hands in a gesture of transparency. “My home is there,” he said. “My kids — they go to school. Maybe sometimes I go outside for making film, for promotion, but always I am there.”

Giles Harvey is a contributing writer for the magazine. His last article was a profile of the short-story writer Deborah Eisenberg.

Via New York Times

Overlooked No More

Forough Farrokhzad, Iranian Poet Who Broke Barriers of Sex and Society

An author unafraid to defy midcentury attitudes about her gender. “What is important is humanity,” she said, “not being a man or a woman.”
Forough Farrokhzad near Tehran circa 1966. She was one of Iran’s pre-eminent mid-20th-century writers, both reviled and revered for her poems. Credit: Ebrahim Golestan. Courtesy NY Times.

By Amir-Hussein Radjy, New York Times

When a radio interviewer suggested to the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad that her verses could be characterized as “feminine,” she rejected the notion.

“What is important is humanity, not being a man or a woman,” she said. “If a poem can get to that point, it is no longer connected with its creator but with a world of poetry.”

Farrokhzad was one of Iran’s pre-eminent mid-20th-century writers, both reviled and revered for her poems, which often dealt with female desire. Throughout her life she struggled with how her gender affected the reception of her work in a culture where women were often confined to traditional roles, but where there are few higher callings than the life of a poet.

In the afterword to “Captive” (1955), her first poetry collection, Farrokhzad wrote, “Perhaps because no woman before me took steps toward breaking the shackles binding women’s hands and feet, and because I am the first to do so, they have made such a controversy out of me.”

Her death in 1967 at 32, in a car crash, was regarded as a national tragedy, making  the front pages of Tehran’s newspapers.

Iran’s leading literary journal, Sokhan, wrote after her funeral, “Forough is perhaps the first female writer in Persian literature to express the emotions and romantic feelings of the feminine gender in her verse with distinctive frankness and elegance, for which reason she has inaugurated a new chapter in Persian poetry.”

Monday, 3 December 2018

Cameras under hijabs: capturing the art of the Qashqai people

Welington woman Anna Williams met Sir David Attenborough while filming the documentary. Courtesy Stuff
by Phil Quin, Stuff

One faded piece, one frayed edge, one painstaking stitch at a time, Wellingtonian Anna Williams has spent the past thirty years repairing Persian rugs. Solitary work, maybe, but never lonely. 

"One of the first rugs I worked on - I remember it was midnight - I felt I wasn't alone.  I felt these amazing women out of whose imagination and traditions this carpet came, as well as others who have repaired them along the way, even the traders who sold them". 

When she comes across traces of an earlier repair, it thrills her: "Oh look, there's someone else in this story".

The Kiwi, The Knight and the Qashqai, a new documentary from Wellington filmmaker Anna Cottrell, follows Williams on her seventh journey to Iran where she renews old friendships among the nomadic Qashqai people, and stocks up on rare yarns and dyes.

Along the way, they meet with renowned British documentarian David Attenborough who first brought focus to the cultural traditions of the Qashqai in a 1975 documentary.

"Our Iranian friends drove us from Tehran to the Caspian Sea and back down to Shiraz in the Fars province, the summer home of the Qashqai nomads. We filmed when and where we could," Cottrell said.

Monday, 26 November 2018

An anti-feminist manifesto

Jafar Panahiʹs "Three Faces"

In May 2018, Jafar Panahiʹs film "Three Faces" was screened at the Cannes International Film Festival and won the prize for the best screenplay. It is the Iranian film directorʹs fourth film since the Mullah regime sentenced him to a 20-year ban on travel and work in 2010.
No monument to women: "Three Faces" suffers from one major shortcoming: the lack of a considered and deeply egalitarian view of the relationship between man and woman – even in the film business. Courtesy
by Fahimeh

In "Three Faces" Panahi takes to the road again, as he did in "Taxi" (Golden Bear – Berlinale 2015). This time he is on a quest to reveal the secret of a mobile video he has received via social media. The video was actually addressed to the popular film and TV actress Behnaz Jafari: a desperate girl named Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaie) from the mountainous region in north-west Iran accuses Jafari of failing to help her become an actress despite numerous requests.

The girl claims that she could have convinced her parents to allow her to attend acting school in Tehran. But now her parents have forced her into marriage and she has abandoned her passion for the theatre. As a result she sees no other way out but to kill herself. The video ends with the desperate young woman hanging herself.

Real or fake? In search of a clear answer, Panahi and Jafari set off for the mountains of Azerbaijan. The locations are also the birthplaces of the director's parents and grandparents. The protagonists also play themselves: Marziyeh Rezaie, Behnaz Jafari and Shahrzad. You never get to see Shahrzad's face, however. Before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, she played dancers or prostitutes in the films of well-known directors such as Massud Kymiai. Since public dancing and singing are forbidden for women under today's mullah regime, they are only shown as shadows behind a curtain so as not to reveal their identity.

From Manus Island to sanctions on Iran

The art and opinions of Hoda Afshar

A still from Remain by Hoda Afshar, 2018. Photograph: Hoda Afshar. Courtesy the artist and the Guardian.

At first glance the video looks like a tourism promo. There is lush tropical jungle. Fat, glistening fish. White sands. Azure water. Remain, by Iranian-Australian artist Hoda Afshar, was not filmed in paradise, however, but in a prison: Manus Island.

“I wanted to [move beyond] images of a refugee behind bars,” says Afshar. “I wanted the subject to decide how to share the story: to give them autonomy and agency.”

Melbourne-based Afshar is one of eight young Australian artists whose work is now showing at the annual Primavera exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The 35-year-old’s often confronting photography asks us to rethink how we look at marginalised people and those on the outside.

In Behold, Afshar entered an Iranian bathhouse to shoot moody, achingly beautiful images of gay men. In Under Western Eyes, women in chadors are given the Andy Warhol treatment: posing against bright pops of colour, they smoke cigarettes, pout their lips and clutch lapdogs. In one photograph, we don’t see a face at all: just a long thick Barbie-blonde plait emerging out of the dark folds of fabric. In October, her portrait of Iranian journalist and activist Behrouz Boochani won the Bowness Photography Prize.

Afshar insists that “images share a lot of power in controlling the minds of society – for me, it’s recognising that power.”

Thursday, 15 November 2018

The World Was Catching on to Iran’s Contemporary Art. Then Sanctions Returned

In Tehran, Hormoz Hematian’s gallery was thriving. Domestic and international collectors were buying works by his local artists. When Donald Trump tore up the Iran deal, those prospects began to dim.

Peybak’s Untitled, from the Abrakan Series, 2017. Courtesy of the Artist, Dastan's Basement and Bloomberg.
by James Tarmy, Bloomberg

In theory, the devaluation of the Iranian rial this year—to date, the currency has lost about 70 percent of its value against the dollar—should have been good for Hormoz Hematian.

The founder of Tehran’s contemporary art gallery Dastan’s Basement, Hematian spends a significant portion of his time traveling the world to show his artists’ paintings, sculpture, and installations to an international audience; he’s been to six different fairs or exhibitions in 2018 alone. So once the rial plummeted to a third of what it was just months before after Donald Trump resurrected oil sanctions on Iran, by maintaining art prices in foreign countries (and currencies) Hematian’s gallery should have been able to triple its profits.

But the opposite is true. Despite Hematian’s aggressive international sales efforts, more than 80 percent of his clientele is still at home. “The majority of our market is definitely inside Iran, it’s not even a question,” he says. “We’d like it to be more than just inside the country, but it really is a kind of wait-and-see situation.” As a consequence, Hamatian is squeezed on both ends: The costs of traveling and selling abroad have tripled, while the discretionary spending power of his collectors at home has plummeted.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

A Conversation with Nicky Nodjoumi on the Power and Politics of his Art

Nicky Nodjoumi working at his studio in Brooklyn New York. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nicky Nodjoumi and Global Voices.
by Omid Memarian, The BridgeGlobal Voices

From the Homa Gallery in Tehran to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Nicky Nodjoumi’s art has been exhibited around the world. Having lived and worked in his birth country of Iran before and during the country’s 1979 revolution, Nodjoumi, now a Brooklyn resident, developed a keen interest in the relationship between art and politics. He secretly nurtured that interest as an art student in the 1970s at City College in New York until a new generation of artists “changed New York’s art scene and ended the domination of the elite.” From that point on, the gallery owners who had shunned his work began opening their doors to him.

Viewed as a whole, Nodjoumi’s art is a powerful, interpretive, multifaceted, sometimes satirical, exploration of issues related to power and politics. Throughout the decades, Nodjoumi’s work has remained bold and curious as opposed to declarative.

Omid Memarian (OM): The politics of today figure strongly in your work. What’s your thought process and how do you portray political issues without focusing on a specific incident or personality?

Nicky Nodjoumi’s (NN): I start with a photo from a newspaper or magazine. There was a time when artists would put a model in front of them and draw a subject, but times have changed. For example, if I want to paint Mr. Trump’s picture, I can’t use him as a model but there are a lot of photos of him that I can use to match my chosen topic. I often try to change the form or the body so that it only bears a superficial resemblance to reality. Not everyone will recognize who that person is because I want everyone in the world to make a connection when they see it.

OM: For the past 10 years, you have focused on the issue of power, especially in your most recent collection, “Field Work and Two Faces.” How does it shape your work?

NN: Power is based on relationships between people. We have all kinds of power; the state is the primary center of power and then there is the family. Power is not hidden but many might not pay attention to it. Choosing power as one of the main topics of my work is rooted in the desire to drag it down to the ground and make fun of it. It’s important to treat it lightly rather than seriously. In every work, power is represented from a different angle, but ultimately, when you look at them as a whole, you see the humor.

Artist on escaping the Calais Jungle and having his art destroyed by police

Majid Adin is sharing his story of the refugee crisis in a new House of Illustration exhibition
Still from Majid Adin's video for Elton John's Rocket Man (Majid Adin/Stephen McNally). Courtesy ES.
by Susannah ButterES.

It was dark, cramped and nobody could hear him even if he shouted. Iranian artist Majid Adin, 39, is describing how he made it out of the Calais “Jungle” refugee camp and into the UK, locked in a fridge on the back of a van.

“There were three other people in the fridge with me so I couldn’t even raise my arm,” he says. “And we couldn’t see anything in the darkness. I was thinking I will die, and in a painful way. But it wasn’t the first time; I’d tried to leave the Jungle at least 50 times before and been caught. The smugglers often lock you in a fridge.”

This time he was in there for 12 hours. “We had no idea where we were. I only knew that we had crossed the border because the man in the fridge with me had a phone, a bad Nokia, and the time changed from 11.30am to 10.30am, so we were in a different country.”

This was in 2016. Since then Adin has been granted British citizenship and is settled in a one-bedroom flat in Finchley. He has even started working as an artist again, something he stopped when he had to leave Iran. His work is on display at House of Illustration’s latest exhibition, Journeys Drawn: Illustration from the Refugee Crisis.

Adin is exhibiting an animation he did for Elton John’s Rocket Man, drawing on his own journey to the UK. His mother, in Iran, didn’t know who Elton was. “She was more impressed that a picture I did of her in the Jungle made it into a book,” he says.

Adin grew up in Mashad, a conservative city in north-east Iran. His family are Shi’ite Muslims; his father was a shoemaker, his mother a housewife and he has two brothers and three sisters. “I always liked the cinema — silent movies, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and European cinema, Fellini — and I liked fine art, so I studied animation.” He did an MA in art in Tehran. “There was a conservative atmosphere, lots of censorship of the art books — you wondered if the covered up bits of pictures were part of the art. It’s so exciting now being in a country with freedom of expression.”

Two Takes on Geometric Themes

Detail of textile work by Bita Ghezelavagh, 2018. Courtesy Sotheby’s.
by Roxane ZandSotheby’s

My two visits to new shows by Middle Eastern artists in London could not have been more different, yet both are rooted in similar sensibilities and come from the ordered vocabulary of geometric constructs.

Iranian artist Bita Ghezelayegh’s show at Leighton House Museum with its ornate rooms and extravagant Arab Hall topped by the golden dome, surrounded by intricate mosaics and priceless Islamic tiles, projects a distinct Middle Eastern, Islamic feel. She addresses the grand themes of courtship, kingship and the arts of war, while at the same time celebrating the small stories that weave into our current lives.

With masterful and inventive use of materials such as velvet, silk, felt, and carpet fragments (which she collects) she creates a panoply of charming tableaux, where metal pen nibs adorn a black felt cloak, and recycled scrubbing bags with overlaying silk embroidery complete a handmade patchwork. Somewhere between the arts of the maker and a conceptual artist, Bita defies any simple category, using her highly individualistic inspiration to add a distinctively modern layer, elevating humble items such as discarded rugs to upcycle into a statement about our age of casual disposal. Known for her collection of textiles as modern art, Bita offers a remarkable and fresh approach to an artistic practice that is highly regional yet immediately universal.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Acclaimed Iranian actor opens up on the challenges and rewards of taking a stand

Fatemeh Motamed-Arya has used her popularity as an artist to tackle the difficult and complex issues facing her country.

Nabat (2014). Courtesy of Biennale di Venezia
by Natarsha Kallios, SBS News

Fatemeh Motamed-Arya is in Australia as a special guest of the Iranian Film Festival Australia (IFFA).

She is a well-respected political activist and is recognised for her commitment to women’s rights, charity fundraising and humanitarian projects. Motamed-Arya uses her platform to speak of these types of issues, and in turn has a large following. As an activist and popular actor, Motamed-Arya has faced challenges, including bans across Iranian screens on several of her films.

"At the beginning, they have the problem with the subject and then they have problem with me," Motamed-Arya told SBS News. "I had to explain nothing will happen if they show my movies."

She is also an advocate for peace in a region of turmoil.

"I'm a social activist also, I think that's the reason because small things that I'm talking about for the people, it's big and huge happening - so they can follow me easily," Motamed-Arya said. "They're afraid of something happening, but I'm not a political person, I am an artist. "I think artist is a high level of the quality of the country and socialist activists, the politics are down and we are at the top - it's different."

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Behjat Sadr: Iran's 'pioneer of visual arts' gets first exhibition in London

A retrospective on the life and works of the Iranian artist shows a woman ahead of her time

Behjat Sadr, Untitled, Circa 1975, oil on canvas, 80 X 128 cm, private collection. Courtesy Sotheby’s Museum Network.

When Iranian artist Behjat Sadr first debuted her abstract paintings inspired by Venetian blinds in 1967 Tehran, it was radical work for the time.

The kinetic works, flanked by black blinds covered with mirror tape on one side and individually superimposed at right angles to the canvas, created a unique visual experience. Shape-shifting with the viewer’s movement, they offer glimmering reflected colours that quickly fade to black.

But her body of work was dismissed at the time by prominent Iranian critic Karim Emami, as mere “gadgetry” in the realm of “housewife art,” says art historian Morad Montazami, who has curated a new Sadr retrospective, Behjat Sadr: Dusted Waters, which runs through 8 December at Kensington's Mosaic Rooms.

The exhibition offers an intimate look at the life and work of Sadr, a woman who was ahead of her time in many ways.

Montazami, who was 28 years old at the time of Sadr’s death in 2009, is a dedicated chronicler of her work. In 2016, he produced a Sadr retrospective at the Ab-Anbar and Aria galleries in Tehran.

Much of the biographic detail comes from Montazami’s research for his 2014 monograph, Traces. It hails the abstract painter as a “pioneer of the visual arts in Iran” and one of the first women artists and professors to “emerge on the international biennale scene in the early 1960s.”

Montazami has named this first UK solo exhibition of Sadr’s work, Dusted Waters, after a line from one of her poems that evokes the artist’s nature-inspired “cosmologies,” specifically earth and water. The exhibition juxtaposes the artist’s writings and personal photographs gleaned from her archive with her paintings.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Fragments From a War-Torn Childhood

The Iran-Iraq war that made me who I am ended thirty years ago. Keeping quiet will not make it go away. I don’t believe in talking through it, either. Between silence and speech lies the act of writing. This is where I seek my remedy.

Drawings that the author made at the age of six or seven, in wartime, which were recently retrieved by his sister from his mother's archive of masterpieces created by her children. Courtesy Guernica.
by Amir Ahmadi ArianGuernica

I spent the first eight years of my life in a war zone. Eight years of deafening noise: the staccato scream of anti-aircrafts, the whiz of military jets, the rattle of Kalashnikovs, the successive booming of landing mortars. Eight years of blinding lights: the dark orange cloud of fire after explosion rolling over and onto itself, the thin red thread of bullets shooting out of gun barrels, burning cigarettes shining in the streets like lighthouses in nights of total blackout.

In September 1980, several days short of my first birthday, the Iran-Iraq war began. At the time my parents lived in Ahvaz, Iran, seventy miles east of the frontline. Ahvaz is an expansive, flat urban area home to more than one million people and known for the Karun River, fertile palms, and flames that leap out of burning oil wells. A few months into the war it became clear that Saddam was seeking to annex the state of Khuzestan and nothing less, and that all the Western superpowers supported him. The people of Ahvaz began to leave. Neighbors and friends crammed their most precious belongings into cars and hit the road, transforming overnight from well-off southern oil families to internal refugees.

Friday, 28 September 2018

How a Political Sociologist Fell into Photojournalism After a 1980 Trip to Iran

Following her initial trip, Randy Goodman returned to Iran multiple times, shifting her focus to the many women she encountered.

Randy H. Goodman, “Women Only” (2015), color photograph on archival, enhanced matte paper with pigment inks (© Randy H. Goodman). Courtesy Hyperallergic.

by Sarah Rose SharpHyperallergic

Political sociologist Randy Goodman made her first trip to Iran in 1980. She was part of a delegation of Americans who traveled to Iran to meet with the Iranian college students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, who ultimately occupied the US Embassy in Tehran for 444 days, holding 52 Americans hostage during that time, in a gesture of support for the Iranian Revolution. Falling somewhat inadvertently into the role of photographer on the trip, Goodman found photojournalism to be an ideal merging of her interests in politics and documentary work. Following her initial trip, Goodman returned to Iran multiple times in the ’80s, and on these visits, as well as on a recent trip in 2015 — following a three-decade hiatus from international work — her focus shifted to the women she encountered in Iran. In June, the Bronx Museum of the Arts mounted Iran: Women Only, a photo exhibition that juxtaposes Goodman’s work from almost 40 years ago with photos from today. Goodman graced Hyperallergic with an email interview on the subject of her time in Iran and her own shift in perception of herself as an artist.

*   *   *

Sarah Rose Sharp: I see you referred to variously as an artist and a photojournalist, and I wonder if you can unpack the distinction between making art and making journalistic work. How do you identify, at this point?

Randy Goodman: Thank you for asking this question, as I have most recently contemplated whether I, as a photojournalist, am also an artist. For nearly four decades, because of the journalistic nature of my work, I have exclusively referred to myself as a photojournalist — someone who takes, edits, and publishes photographs to tell news stories.

An Elegy for the Death of Hamun

Q&A: Climate change in Iran by fast-emerging photographer Hashem Shakeri

The Adimi, Dehno (new village), Sistan. Here is part of the Helmand water, which one entered the city and was used by the people, but which is now dried up. The fishermen’s boats are abandoned here and there in the dried land of the rivers and Hamun lagoon. From the series An Elegy for the Death of Hamun © Hashem Shakeri, courtesy BJP .

by Diane Smyth, British Journal of Photography

Once famed for its agriculture, Sistan has suffered from drought, famine, and depopulation for years; BJP catches up with young Iranian photographer Hashem Shakeri on his images of the crisis, and on the Iranian photography scene

Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1988, Hashem Shakeri studied architecture in TAFE (New South Wales Technical and Further Education Commission of Australia), and started his professional photography career in 2010. In 2015 he was Commended in the Ian Parry Scholarship, and in 2017 his images were included in the Rencontres d’Arles exhibition Iran, Year 38, alongside work by photographers such as Abbas Kiarostami and Newsha Tavakolian, in a show curated by Newsha Tavakolian and Anahita Ghabaeian.

An Elegy for the Death of Hamun, Shakeri’s ongoing series on climate change in Sistan and Balouchestan looks at the effect of drought in the Iranian province, which is located in the southeast of the country, bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has been suffering from drought for the last 18 years, which has created severe famine in a region once famed for its agriculture and forests. “Nowadays, the Sistan region has faced astonishing climate change, which has turned this wide area into an infertile desert empty of people,” writes Shakeri. “Drought, unemployment, and hopelessness for the future of this land have made 25 percent of the population in Sistan migrate in recent years.”

Thursday, 2 August 2018

From state censorship to western stereotypes

An interview with Iranian artist Maryam Palizgir
Earth-vessels, a piece from the new Folded Mystery collection. Image provided by Palizgir. Courtesy Global Voices.

Maryam Palizgir is an Iranian-born artist and designer who currently lives and works in the U.S. Her work is interdisciplinary in nature, combining two and three dimensional drawing, sculptural painting and installations focusing on the interaction of geometric abstract forms, color, reflective objects and the layering of grid-like materials.

Palizgir, who currently teaches art at the Ernest Welch school of Art at Georgia State University, has exhibited in Iran, several European countries, the U.S. and Russia, and has been the recipient of numerous international and Iranian awards.

Her current work, Folded Mystery, explores how knowledge is exchanged, how perception widens perspective, and how observation deepens the understanding of reality. “I seek works of art that activate once the viewer is involved,” says Palizgir. “Folded Mystery is about challenging viewers’ perceptions.”

In this interview Palizgir talks about her work, her experience as an Iranian artist, and the constraints this has presented due to both state censorship of artistic expression in Iran and Western stereotypes of Iranians in the U.S.

Excerpts from the interview follows:

Omid Memarian (OM): How was your experience of attending art school in the United States different from Iran?

Maryam Palizgir (MP): The graduate program here in the U.S. is designed for artists who want to incorporate media into their artistic practice and want to expand into areas such as performance, installation, interactive and relational art forms. In my MFA studies, my professors encouraged me to find my own style through three years of course work, art history seminars, interdisciplinary seminars and studio practice. The curriculum for the MFA program in the US is based on developing critical thinking, studio practice and critiques, which are essential for a contemporary artist to develop their fine art vocabulary.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Ava, my adolescent self

Interview with award-winning Iranian film director Sadaf Foroughi

Sadaf Foroughiʹs debut feature film, AVA, examines the complexities of the relationship between a mother and a teenage daughter living in present day Tehran. The movie is both a fascinating character study and an examination of the damage caused by the rules governing women's behaviour in Iranian society. 
An essential symbiosis: "the existence of a film is shaped by the relationship between what a filmmaker has in mind and viewer insight; in the best case, it can extend the filmʹs life-span. The only thing that binds us all together in this world is art. The film facilitates a different kind of perception, showing us places to which we have less access. It can reveal just how similar we are – with our differences, in our fear, our doubts and our feelings," says Foroughi. Courtesy
Interview by Richard Marcus,

What inspired you to make the film AVA?

Sadaf Foroughi: I have always made a point of challenging sexism and the extreme situation of women. AVA arose out of my previous work, yet this time it is more personal.

What are some of the differences you encountered shooting this movie in Tehran, as opposed to shooting a movie in, say, Montreal?

Foroughi: In Iran you are always faced with the ruling bureaucracy and the fact that one has to obtain the shooting permission from the authorities.

What did you hope to accomplish with the movie?

Foroughi: I wanted to communicate with the audience. The existence of a film is shaped by the relationship between what a filmmaker has in mind and viewer insight; in the best case, it can extend the filmʹs life-span. The only thing that binds us all together in this world is art. The film facilitates a different kind of perception, showing us places to which we have less access. It can reveal just how similar we are – with our differences, in our fear, our doubts and our feelings.