Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Shocking the Bourgeoisie With Iran’s Misunderstood Modernist

The Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat (1903-51). Courtesy New York Times.

by Amir-Hussein Radjy,  New York Times

In April 1951, the police in Paris called on my great-grandfather, Prince Mohamed-Hussein Firouz, to identify a dead body. It was that of Sadeq Hedayat, who is today eulogized as Iran’s great literary modernist. Days before, Hedayat had sealed up the apartment on Rue Championnet where he was staying and opened up the oven’s gas valve before lying down on the kitchen floor.

In Tehran, Firouz had known Hedayat, the son of aristocrats who moved in the same courtly and literary circles. An army officer who was educated in czarist Russia and fastidious about his dress, Firouz carried a trim mustache and tortoiseshell eyeglasses, and read Le Figaro daily. While men like Firouz easily found their place under Iran’s army-led monarchy, Hedayat did not.

In the early 20th century, Iranians of their class proudly appropriated European culture, wore Sulka cravats and sprinkled their Persian with French expressions — as Hedayat did in letters when describing existentialism in France as démodé, or praising Henry Miller and James Joyce for their originalité. Among the last interloping foreign words of his published Persian letters is psychose. “They diagnosed me with psychosis and granted me leave for two months of recovery in France,” he writes, after a visit to the doctor in Tehran.

“As long as Hedayat was alive no one understood him,” the intellectual Jalal Al-e-Ahmad said of his literary mentor months after Hedayat’s death. “Perhaps no one took him seriously.” Today Hedayat is spoken of not only as Iran’s first modern writer but also, as one critic suggests, the first “modern Iranian” tout court. His biography has become almost entirely entwined with his most famous work, BLIND OWL (Penguin Classics, 87 pp., paper, $14), which arrives in a new English translation this year. Posthumous Persian editions carried a cover with an owl wearing Hedayat’s signature round eyeglasses, or the author’s head growing into the form of the nightbird. Two years after the author’s death, Roger Lescot published a French translation that André Breton praised as a masterpiece of surrealism. The novel, its Parisian publisher said, was “the curse of a dream that creeps into reality.”

Turn our dark night into bright dawn

Reem Kelani's "The Singer Said: Bird of Dawn"

Singer-songwriter Reem Kelani's latest release – "The Singer Said: Bird of Dawn" – pays tribute to Mohammad Reza Shajarian. The two-song EP features Kelani's unique take on a famous Shajarian anthem and a second track symbolic of the iconic Iranian singer's life. 

Palestinian-British singer-songwriter Reem Kelani pays tribute to the great Iranian vocal virtuoso Mohammad-Reza Shajarian (1940-2020): included with her latest release is a detailed and comprehensive trilingual booklet (Arabic, English & Farsi) featuring musicological notes, literary translations and a detailed glossary. The EP forms part of Kelani's ongoing project "This Land is Your Land", focusing on the music of the various communities with whom she lived in Kuwait, and with whom she now lives in the UK. Reem and her international band recorded their parts separately – in the UK and the U.S. – during lockdown in 2021. Courtesy Qantara

Outside the Persian diaspora, Mohammad Reza Shajarian is little known. Yet, to Iranians around the world, Shajarian remains one of the most beloved and popular voices ever to have graced their country's music scene. He also carries the distinction of having actively protested against both the Shah of Iran's government and the new post-Islamic Revolution state. He didn't wait for them to ban his songs, either; he simply refused to allow either regime to play recordings of his music on state radio.

The voice of "dust and trash"

As a star of Iran's popular music scene, this was no small matter. A supporter of the Green Movement – a popular uprising that followed the 2009 election, triggered by the conviction that hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole victory from reform candidates for the presidency Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi – he found it hard to stomach what the mullah regime was doing to his people. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad subsequently referred to the people protesting against the stolen election as "dust and trash", Shajarian proudly referred to himself as the voice of dust and trash.

"The Singer Said" (Qala al-Mughanni), the opening song, features lyrics penned by Mahmoud Darwish, whom Reem Kelani refers to as the national poet of Palestine. It was chosen for its thematic connection to the life and ethics of Shajarian. The song addresses the struggles of an anonymous singer, making it a fitting choice to represent Kelani's subject.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Graphic design in Iran:

 A journey of evolution and practices shaping the future

A review of the outstanding graphic design studios in Iran whose works are enriched by the country's long visual history and diverse contemporary life.

Morteza Momayez poster designs, right: 1976/ left: 1991. Image: Courtesy of Momayez Foundation and STIRworld.  

by Afra SafaSTIRworld

Delving into contemporary Iranian graphic design is impossible without studying its context first. A civilisation at the crossroads of the East and the West, where cultures collide, Iran has been culturally enriched by both; each ethnicity adding something to this cultural melting pot. Through centuries, this diverse cultural unit has delivered an outstanding visual legacy. Crafts, miniatures and illustrations have left an everlasting impact on the Iranian visual culture, one that is still strongly present today.

Illustrations for the Wonders of Creation by Zakariya al-Qazwini, 1750/ Image: Courtesy of Afra Safa and STIRworld.

Although illustrations and design have always been a part of Persian art and crafts, the dawn of the contemporary Iranian graphic design genius goes back to the 1960s, when in the rapidly reforming country, modern graphic design programmes were offered in the cutting-edge University of Tehran by key figures such as Morteza Momayez, the prodigy whose creations are forever printed on the national memory of Iranians.

As the cultural sphere rapidly developed in the 1970s by the direct support of the monarchy state, Momayez along with Ghobad Shiva, Sadegh Barirani, Behzad Hatam and Farshid Mesghali constituted the pioneers of graphic design in Iran. Though the impact of western artistic discourses is apparent in the general practice of most of these graphic designers, an ever-present search for an Iranian identity in graphic design was already prominent in their works. These graphists would come to impact the entire graphic design practice of Iran in the following decades.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

“To Know No Nation Will Be Home”:

 A Conversation with Solmaz Sharif

by Natasha Hakimi Zapata, LARB

“I HAD / TO. I / learned it.” So begins “America,” the opening poem of Solmaz Sharif’s breathtaking second collection, Customs. The fragmented confessional poem prepares the Iranian American poet’s readers for a shift from her first book, Look — which redeployed US military language to highlight the country’s crimes in the post-9/11 era — to a more intimate exploration of exile in a deeply broken America. Customs, as the title suggests, also examines poetic traditions (often showing us the customs only to break them) at the same time that it introduces readers to aggressive customs officers at the US border. The collection considers the cost of making a life as a woman of color in a country founded on white supremacy.

Unapologetically political and deeply lyrical, Sharif’s second book illustrates why her voice is one of the most illuminating in poetry today. I recently caught up with Sharif to talk about her poetic journey, as well as why she couldn’t write much in the Trump years, and whether poetry can ever become a home to the displaced.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Women living "life without a life"

Iranian artist Farzaneh Khademian's "Peephole"

In her latest exhibition in Japan, Farzaneh Khademian depicts figures who seem detached from their surroundings. In interview with Qantara.de, the Iranian photographer and painter explains the impact of photography, migration and gender-based inequality on her paintings.

Painting from the "Peephole" series by Farzaneh Khademian (photo: Farzaneh Khademian. Courtesy Qantara).
In November 2021, Khademian's second exhibition in Japan, called "Peephole", opened in Tokyo, displaying naked, faceless figures. In the introduction to her exhibition, she wrote: "Peephole is a small opening through a door allowing the viewer to look from the inside to the outside in the same way that a camera lens does. In this series, I tried to look at my surroundings through this lens".
by Changiz M. Varzi, Qantara

In 2016, acclaimed Iranian photojournalist and painter Farzaneh Khademian emigrated to Japan and entered a world fundamentally different from her home country, Iran. Khademian was born and raised in the capital Tehran; she was seven years old when the Islamic Revolution changed all aspects of life in Iran. She belongs to a generation of photographers who graduated from art universities, but decided to use their cameras to document social and political themes.

In 1995, she entered Azad University Art School, where she studied photography. Immediately after her graduation, at the height of the late 1990s reform movement in Iran, she was one of the pioneering photographers who covered the 1999 students uprising, the assassination of senior reformist theorist Saeed Hajjarian, and many protests in support of the then-president Mohammad Khatami.

At the same time, she focused on documenting women’s life in Iran. One widely acclaimed project was about female passengers on the women-only section of public city buses in Tehran. In another, she took photos of women athletes when covering women sportspersons was still a taboo in Iran. She also covered various topics in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan for international outlets.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

How Oscar-tipped Iranian drama A Hero nails social media fallout

The film by Asghar Farhadi is a rare example of capturing how social media influences our postures offline, while barely engaging with the internet itself

Sahar Goldoust and Amir Jadidi in A Hero. Photograph: AP. Courtesy The Guardian. 

by Adrian HortonThe Guardian

A Hero, a tense, mazy drama from the Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi, centers on a figure familiar to anyone who’s attuned to the ebbs and flows of internet celebrity: the social media Main Character, the subject of an internet backlash. Rahim (Amir Jadidi, endearing yet inscrutable), is a man imprisoned for debts in the city of Shiraz, who becomes a local hero for an act of charity of ambiguous motivation. His girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust), found 17 gold coins who she says were left in a purse at a bus stop, but instead of paying toward his freedom, Rahim contacts a bank and arranges a return to their owner. Within days, on furlough from jail, he’s the feelgood story of the moment.

I’ve written before about how there are few films which successfully capture the internet and/or social media without tipping into flat moralism, obsolescence or laughable facsimiles. (Social media and the internet are of course not the same thing, though in today’s climate of platform consolidation, to refer to one is basically to refer to the other, especially in the context of film and television.) This is partly because text phrasing, online references and digital interfaces change so quickly – at a much faster pace than the production of a film, let alone its distribution – that including it in text messages or social media references can jarringly distract from the story at hand; timestamped phone and computer screen risk locking the story into a tight, hyper-specific timeline that can constrain narrative, filming location or cultural references.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

A new home for digital scholarship in Iranian poetry and cinema

Whether contemporary or classical, Iranian artists regularly command the world’s attention. Courtsey  A&S News.

by Cynthia MacdonaldA&S News

Iran is home to some of the world’s oldest and richest artistic traditions. Painting, literature, film and music all continue to play important roles not only as sources of pleasure, but of social and political influence in both the country and its worldwide diaspora.

Recently, an innovative multiyear partnership was signed between the University of Toronto and the Encylopedia Iranica Foundation. The latter was established in 1990 with the ultimate aim of publishing a reference work that covers all aspects of Iranian history and culture. Under the partnership, researchers will gather and share a wealth of information on projects exploring two important artistic topics: Iranian women poets and Iranian cinema.

The principal investigator on both projects is Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a U of T professor of Historical Studies & Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations. Tavakoli-Targhi is also the inaugural director of U of T’s Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute of Iranian Studies, which opened last year.

“In the past decade, the University of Toronto has emerged as the most important site for the study of Iran,” he says. “The new institute has over 20 faculty with twice as many graduate students, and there is a vibrant Iranian community in Toronto and Canada, all linked to sources of intellectual and artistic creativity. So it has been rather timely for the University to initiate a project like this.”

The Encyclopedia Iranica will publish the digital research compendia on both subjects via its website, and the material will be freely accessible to anyone — not just academics, but those who may wish, for example, to organize readings or film festivals.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Burning Wings

Odile Burluraux on Iranian Women Artists

Samira Eskandarfar, I am here (2012). 5 min 47 sec. Courtesy the artist and Ocula Magazine.

In Conversation with Sherry PaikOcula Magazine

As curator at the Musée d'Art moderne de Paris (MAM) since 1990, Odile Burluraux has organised solo and group exhibitions at the museum and beyond to bring compelling and rarely seen examples of contemporary art to France.

The Power of My Hands (19 May–22 August 2021), among Burluraux's latest exhibitions at the MAM, was organised in collaboration with Angola-based independent curator and writer Suzana Sousa to show works by 16 women artists living on the African continent or in the diaspora. Including Stacey Gillian Abe, Gabrielle Goliath, Senzeni Marasela, and Portia Zvavahera, it considered the various explorations of concerns that have long followed women's lives, such as the female body, self-representation, sexuality, motherhood, beliefs, and empowerment.

Exhibition view: The Power of My Hands, Musée d'Art moderne de Paris (19 May–22 August 2021). Courtesy Musée d'Art moderne de Paris. Photo: Pierre Antoine. Courtesy Ocula Magazine.

Burluraux was also behind Hans Hartung's major retrospective exhibition La Fabrique du Geste in 2019, a project with assistant Julie Sissia, that brought together 300 works by the artist for the first time in Paris since 1969.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Manhattan exhibition combats view of Iran as 'hostile anti-American state'

Asia Society group show from Mohammed Akfami collection shows 'great diversity' of Iran’s often unseen arts scene

Untitled from the Rapture series, 1999. © Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist, Noirmontartproduction, Paris, the Mohammed Afkhami Foundation and The Art Newspaper.

by Daniel CassadyThe Art Newspaper

Few other countries are as misunderstood as Iran. But an Iran exists beyond the headlines of authoritarian rule and theocratic Islam. It’s a country full of thriving artists — and they’re now on show in the US. 

Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians — The Mohammed Akfami Collection, on view at the Asia Society in Manhattan until 8 May 2022, aims to broadening one’s idea of what Iran is, or can be, by giving a profound look at the country’s dynamic contemporary arts scene.

Of the 23 mid-career and emerging artists included in the show, all but one was born in Iran and over a third still live and work in the country. Three generations are represented, with the work touching on subjects as diverse as gender identity, politics and spirituality. The work takes multiple forms, from traditional Persian figurative painting to photography and abstract sculpture.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

The Unseen Women of Afghanistan

Photographer Fatimah Hossaini spent three years trying to upend Western narratives about women in her country. She didn't get to finish her work.

"Burqa behind the steering wheel," from work-in-progress by photographer Fatima Hossaini. Courtesy Guernica.

by Fatimah Hossaini, Guernica

I was born in Tehran, to parents who fled Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded. For most of my life, I knew everything about Iranian culture and history: I knew its education system, its capital; my friends, my family, everything I knew was in Iran. And I knew very little about Afghanistan — just a few stories, from my parents and grandparents. And I wondered where I belonged. I always looked for a sign.

In 2013, I visited Afghanistan for the first time, to get paperwork I needed for university. I fell in love with it. In 2018, when I was 25, I moved back permanently. I was a professor of visual art at Kabul University, and I worked as an art and documentary photographer.

I poured my heart into my personal project, a book on the unseen women of Afghanistan. I was tired of always showing the war and the poverty, always talking about the murders, the explosions. When I traveled to other countries, capitals of art and culture abroad, people would ask me, “If you’re an Afghan artist, where is your burqa?” The only thing people knew about Afghanistan was terrorism and women’s oppression, the twin sins of the Taliban. Why doesn’t the world know anything about our culture and our beauty? About our carpets, our textiles, our diversity, all of our cultural heritage? Why is it never reflected in the world? This question preoccupied me, and I think it’s why I was so inspired to work on the beautiful side of Afghanistan.

I had only five more portraits to make to finish my book when the Taliban took Kabul and, with it, the country. I had to escape with only what I could carry in two small shoulder bags. Leaving my photo project behind was one of the hardest parts of fleeing. It was everything I worked on for over three years. And what will happen to those pictures? What will happen to the women in the pictures?

I’d worked hard to find special locations — interesting places, forgotten streets — and to show off our cultural heritage. I did everything I could in these photos to show some beauty in a corner of Afghanistan. I can’t imagine I can’t go back and finish this work.

Words like fire

 Book review: Shida Bazyar's novel "Drei Kameradinnen"

Shida Bazyar's new novel is the literary surprise of the year. It tackles the pressing issues of our time, and yet it is timeless. This is a story of friendship, marginalisation and society's blindness to its own deep-seated problems. 

"'Drei Kameradinnen' demonstrates that all the talk about the lack of social relevance of art and literature is a fatal mistake. The great literary prizes, above all the German Book Prize, are meant for books like this," writes Gerrit Wustmann.  Courtesy Qantara.de.

by Gerrit Wustmann, Qantara.de

Let's get straight down to brass tacks: Shida Bazyar's second novel, "Drei Kameradinnen" (Sisters in Arms), published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch in April, is the best and also the most important German-language book of 2021 – no matter what else comes out between now and December.

Bazyar has already proven that she is a brilliant narrator and an outstanding figure in contemporary German literature with her impressive debut novel "Nachts ist es leise in Teheran" (Tehran Is Peaceful at Night, 2016). Her new book is a triumph. It has all the makings of great literature, literature that will endure, that will become part of the canon.

But first things first ... The title raises a question that needs to be answered directly: Yes, the book's German title pays homage to Erich Maria Remarque's novel "Drei Kamaraden". Not only the title but also the story. This is a book about friendship, a novel about trauma. While Remarque wrote of the trauma of the First World War, Bazyar reflects on the trauma of the NSU and the series of murders it committed. But in addition to the core themes, the two novels also display further parallels: the setting for both is Berlin and, like Remarque, Bazyar never explicitly mentions the city's name. The characters in both books drink and smoke a lot, and both stories are about friends standing together firmly against the evils of the world.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

A Poetic Monument to Folly

Abbas Akhavan review

The Isis-destroyed ancient ruins of Palmyra rise again in precarious straw and London clay, shaped by the hands of this deeply allusive Iranian artist

Curtain Call, Variations on a Folly, 2021 by Abbas Akhavan at Chisenhale Gallery. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist. Photograph by Andy Keate. Courtesy The Observer.

The scent reaches you before the sight – an exhilarating combination of evergreen and fresh sap emitting from the gallery entrance. It seems to presage woods in deep summer. And sure enough, the spectacle inside is like a glade of high trees, their dark trunks rising to crowns of leaves, scatterings of soil on the floor. But at exactly the same moment, what you are looking at is also something quite else, immediately distinct and recognisable – the colonnade of a magnificent classical temple.

The trees are both trunks and columns; the leaves might be acanthus on a Corinthian capital. The whole structure is formed out of what seems to be organic matter, possibly straw-strewn black earth.

That is the one-two surprise on arrival: what you see is entirely archaeological – a Greco-Roman colonnade – and at the same time wholly botanical, even arboreal. How can it be both at once? That is the opening wonder.

Each column is in fact a sculpture, formed by the hands of Abbas Akhavan. Born in Tehran in 1977, Akhavan moved to Canada with his family during the Iran-Iraq war and is now based in Montreal. He is an extremely subtle thinker. Anyone who saw his Delfina exhibition in 2013 (he has scarcely shown here since then, alas) may remember the way he brought the outside indoors, letting nature take over a townhouse with high hedges, leaking waterfalls and sprouting floors. With his unhurried cast of mind, Akhavan is constantly pondering our place on earth as contemporary beings living among old buildings, quite often ruins, and the strange relations between people, archaeology and nature.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

‘I Felt in Between Places’:

Iranian Artist Arghavan Khosravi on Studying Art in the U.S., and Why She Paints Preoccupied Women

Khosravi recently debuted her first solo show at Rachel Uffner gallery.

Arghavan Khosravi, "On Being a Woman" (2021). Photo courtesy Rachel Uffner Gallery and Artnet News.

by Noor BraraArtnet News

The U.S.-based Iranian painter Arghavan Khosravi’s sculptural, multi-paneled paintings capture the claustrophobia and disorientation of being split between worlds. In her critically acclaimed recent show, “In Between Places” at New York’s Rachel Uffner gallery—which was extended past its original end date several times, and finally closed in mid-June—women assume agency as they move through their daily lives, all the while preoccupied with looming concerns, represented by depictions such as a ball and chain, puppet strings, prayer rugs and other religious objects that seem to hang, quite literally, over their heads.

Each work is, Khosravi said, a visual representation of how she feels as an Iranian woman artist living in the U.S. who worries for her family, friends, and women more generally back home.

Khosravi sat down with Artnet News to discuss her incredibly successful exhibition, how she came to be a painter, and much more.

To start, I would love to know about your background. Where did you grow up? And when did you first have an inkling that art would be something you’d want to pursue?

I was born in Iran and I spent almost my whole life there. I grew up in Tehran. I think most kids are inclined toward art, to drawing and things like that. My parents were very supportive of me, in part because my father is an architect, so he already had that artistic gene. But in Iran, we need to decide at an early age what our majors will be, in high school. I thought my future career should be something more practical and art could be something beside it. I decided to study mathematics.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Shirazeh Houshiary: Pneuma

Iranian Painter Shirazeh Houshiary Explains the Benefits of Painting on the Floor, and Why Nothing Is More Abstract Than Nature

Artnet News caught up with the artist at her West London studio.

Shirazeh Houshiary. ©Shirazeh Houshiary, courtesy Lisson Gallery and Artnet News.

by Naomi ReaArtnet News 

For Shirazeh Houshiary, being close with nature is key. Even her West London studio is located right by the woods so she can listen to birds and keep in tune with nature’s ebbs and flows.

Houshiary moved to London in 1973, leaving her native Iran to study art. Her installations, paintings, and sculptures often take inspiration from Eastern culture, poetry, and mythology.

Her profile rose alongside some of the U.K.’s most prominent sculptors—such as Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg, and Richard Deacon—in the 1980s, and she was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994.

To create the five works in her latest solo exhibition, “Pneuma,” now on view at Lisson Gallery in London, she placed her supports flat on the floor and poured water mixed with pure pigment onto canvas, before meditatively layering inscriptions on top of the forms.

We spoke to the artist about connecting with nature, the joys of ambiguity, and what taking long walks along the river can do for her practice.

Iran's Afghan Michelangelo

In 1989, Alikhan Abdollahi arrived in Tehran from Afghanistan after fleeing the conflict in his homeland. He has since established a reputation as a sculptor, whose work has been exhibited internationally

Courtesy Middle East Eye.

by Mohammad HashemiMiddle East Eye

Alikhan Abdollahi has lived in Iran since 1989, after fleeing war in neighbouring Afghanistan. After arriving in the country, he began working as a caretaker in central Tehran. But Abdollahi also has another life, one which has won him the moniker the “Michelangelo of Afghanistan”, for the Afghan refugee has earned renown as an artist without attending art school (All pictures: Mohammad Esmaeilizadeh)

“When I was in Afghanistan and even early on when I was here [in Iran], I hadn’t seen a sculpture up close before,” says Abdollahi, who was 25 when he left Afghanistan. His journey to becoming a sculptor started with an encounter with an elderly street painter who sold his works on a sidewalk outside Abdollahi’s workplace in 1994. Fascinated by the paintings, he brought the artist a cup of tea and the pair struck up a conversation. The resulting friendship that developed with the man, who was known as Usta Hassan [Master Hassan], would have life-changing consequences for Abdollahi.

The one lesson Usta Hassan had to offer Abdollahi was to not give up on his dreams, irrespective of whatever hardships came his way. One day, out of the blue, an idea struck the young Afghan during one of his regular meetings with the artist - that he and his friend should use the time they were spending chatting together to make statues instead.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Why ‘The Empress and I’ is the most controversial book in the art world right now

An exiled Empress, a score-settling curator, and $3 billion worth of modern art - need we say more?

Empress Farah Pahlavi with Salvador Dali in Paris, 1967. Courtesy of Assouline Publishing and Tatler.

by Maya Asha McDonaldTatler

The legacy of Iran’s last Empress, Farah Pahlavi (née Diba) - wife of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi- is unquestionably her patronage of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA). With 1970s Iran flush with oil money, the modern Empress set off with a nearly unlimited budget to amass an art collection that represented a fusion of Western and Eastern art.

It’s in said context that the 78-year-old former Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curator Donna Stein writes her highly controversial 2021 memoir, The Empress and I: How an Ancient Empire Collected, Rejected, and Rediscovered Modern Art. Stein’s disputed account - which has faced equal parts praise and criticism - chronicles her time working for Her Imperial Majesty’s Private Secretariat between 1975–77.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

‘Iranian culture has huge depths and continues to be relevant today’

Five thousand years of Iranian art goes on show at the V&A this month. A private collector who lent many of the works reveals what light these treasures cast on the country

A detail from Shirin Aliabadi’s Miss Hybrid #3, 2008. Photograph: © Estate of Shirin Aliabadi. Courtesy The Guardian. 

by Rachel CookeThe Guardian

The drive from London to a certain nameless valley in rural Oxfordshire - a preposterously pretty realm of flint cottages, quaint pubs, willow trees and gentle hills - is always slightly unnerving. This part of the country is so close to London and yet the feeling is of stepping back in time, a remoteness that is sudden and unexpected. But today the experience is all the stranger, for I’m on my way to visit an institution I did not even know existed until a few days ago. Housed in a private museum whose location, hidden beneath farmland, I cannot reveal, the Sarikhani Collection is one of the most extraordinary and significant assemblies of art in Britain, if not the world. It comprises, in all its magnificence, some 1,000 items: ceramics, metalwork, textiles and manuscripts that together tell the long and wondrous story of Iran and its culture from 3000BC until the 18th century.

The driving force behind this collection is Ina Sarikhani Sandmann, the warm and curious person who greets me when I finally arrive (there is no mobile signal and I twice get lost). Her passion for Iranian art is, as I’m about to discover, disconcertingly infectious. Talk to her about an object for only two minutes and you will quickly be overcome by the feeling that you cannot possibly sit still until you’ve seen this inlaid candlestick or that turquoise ewer; an exquisite 11th-century fragment of the Qur’an written in a script called Eastern Kufic; a magnificent 400-year-old carpet on which, if you look carefully, you can see a bixie (a leonine animal) locked in combat with a qilin (in this case a type of deer with a dragon’s face). She knows a lot, but she makes her expertise so accessible you hardly notice the learning involved, let alone the fact that you left home without having eaten any breakfast.

Such a gift has its roots, perhaps, in the collection’s beginnings. “We went from being bumbling amateurs to initiating a full programme of education and exhibitions,” she says. “But I like to think that we’re still bumbling amateurs in a way, because then everything is possible, right?”

Monday, 22 February 2021

Censorship of Literature in Post-Revolutionary Iran

Iranian literature – the censor’s mindset The Islamic Republic has a strict and often arbitrary system of censoring artistic and journalistic works. An in-depth investigation by writer Alireza Abiz uncovers the details and their impact on the book trade. 
 Courtesy Qantara.de.

Mahmoud Doulatabadi’s novel “The Colonel”, Amir Hassan Cheheltan’s novel “Revolution Street” and Shahriar Mandanipour’s “The Courage of Love”: three novels with much in common. Their authors come from Iran, they are viewed as important works of Iranian contemporary literature and they are highly political. All three works have thus far been published in numerous nations – but not in Iran.

None of these books stood a chance of receiving publication clearance from Iranian government censors. Every year, innumerable literary works share the same fate – of which only a modest number make it into German translation. The Islamic Republic has a rigid system of censorship affecting books, films, music, media reports and all other artistic and journalistic works. Anyone intending to publish a book must present it in advance to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. This decides whether the work receives a publication clearance or ban – or whether it can be published with revisions ordered by the ministry.

Numerous essays have been written and statements made on the censor’s code of practice, most of them in interviews with Iranian authors in exile, but these do not delineate any clear strategy, in fact the accounts are sometimes even contradictory. This indicates the censor’s arbitrary methods. Now, London-based Iranian writer Alireza Abiz has conducted a thorough investigation of the censorship system. Abiz has published several volumes of poetry and translated poets such as Ted Hughes, Allen Ginsberg and William Butler Yeats into Persian. As a result, he has had to deal with the ministry several times himself. Translations of foreign-language works are also appraised and often censored.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Persianate ‘adab’ involves far more than elegant manners

Detail of the Rose Garden of Sa’di, from a manuscript of the Gulistan. Mughal Empire, c1645. Courtesy Wikipedia

by Mana Kia, Psyche

Edited by Sam Haselby

In Persian, the word often translated into English as ‘manners’ or ‘etiquette’ is adab. However, adab is about far more than politeness or ethics even. It means proper social and aesthetic form and, across Persianate culture, form conveyed substance and, by extension, meaning.

From the 13th to the mid-19th century, Persian was the language of learning, culture and power for hundreds of millions of diverse peoples in various empires and regional polities across Central, South and West Asia. Persian was not the language of a place called Persia – this placename is used only in European languages (otherwise, the place is known as Iran), and using it as an adjective to describe its people obscures the fact that Persian-speakers lived in many other lands. Increasingly, scholars use ‘Persianate’ as the cultural descriptor of Persian as a transregional lingua franca. For six centuries, Persianate adab – the proper aesthetic and social forms – lived in this language through its widely circulated texts, stories, poetry: the corpus of a basic education. To learn adab, these particular forms of writing, expression, gesture and deed, to identify their appropriate moments, and to embody them convincingly, was to be an accomplished Persian.

The term adab existed in other, related languages, including Arabic, Urdu and various forms of Turkish spoken in Anatolia and Central Asia (Ottoman, Chagatai and Uzbek). But what was proper as aesthetic or social form was specifically constituted within particular language traditions – for example, generosity might look different in stories in a particular language, and be called for at differing moments. The educated and less educated across Eurasia were multilingual in varying ways, and these diverse traditions permeated each other, with language traditions circulating through storytellers, preachers, reciters, mendicant-poets and prayer leaders. However, in the Islamic east, across Anatolia, but especially beyond Baghdad after the 13th century, Persian became the language of new empires, linking these other traditions and constituting the core of adab.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

He Tried to Change the System, Then Became It

Karolis Strautniekas. Courtesy New York Times.
by Rebecca Makkai, New York Times

by Dalia Sofer

“We were a skipped generation, a hiccup in history,” says Hamid Mozaffarian, the narrator of Dalia Sofer’s novel “Man of My Time.” He is on the phone with his brother, who left Iran for New York with their parents during the 1979 revolution, while Hamid, a once idealistic revolutionary, stayed behind. Life has not turned out well for either brother, in a world that is, as another character puts it, “inclining towards darkness.”

Sofer, who was raised in an Iranian Jewish family that left for the United States when she was 11, explored the years shortly after the revolution in her first novel, “The Septembers of Shiraz” (2007). She takes a much longer view in her follow-up, a layered portrayal of a man who through several decades has carried with him the conflicting pieces — beauty and brutality, revolt and repression — of his country’s history.

Hamid accompanies his boss, a government minister, to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, hoping to retrieve from a warehouse in Queens a stolen 16th-century drawing of a pilgrim by the Iranian artist Reza Abbasi. We soon learn the irony of Hamid’s hopeless quest for a work of art whose theft is “a matter of national indignation”: Once an aspiring artist and cartoonist himself, he has spent much of his life as a state interrogator, a “humorless arbiter of fates” silencing Iranian artists.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Poetry fills Tehran streets as Iranians adapt Nowruz rituals to Corona restrictions

Courtesy Ajam.
by Alex Shams, Ajam

This is the second article in a series about how Iranians are adjusting their lives as they enter the second month of Coronavirus quarantine. Read the first article “Quarantine Kitchen“, about cooking and sharing recipes under quarantine, here.

Nowruz is the most important holiday in Iran, a time when families gather together, neighbors visit and share food, and friends throw parties and wish each other well in the year to come.

Nowruz marks the first day of Spring, and its most popular rituals involve gathering in large groups. The last Tuesday before the New Year, crowds light big bonfires in the streets and party through the night with their neighbors, cooking up big vats of ash reshte soup to share. They jump over bonfires in an ancient ritual meant to bring health in the year to come. The New Year itself is welcomed with a feast of white fish and herbed rice. In the days that follow, extended families visit each other’s houses. 13 days after Nowruz, families take picnics to parks to welcome the spring weather.

The spread of coronavirus has made many of these traditions impossible. Campaigns to stop the outbreak urge Iranians to stay home and not visit family or hold parties. Iran’s largest cellphone company changed the name of its network on mobile phones to read: “Khane Bemanim,” “Let’s stay home.” Most families are spending the two-week holiday, when Iranians usually travel around the country, stuck at home.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

O.C. artist Roxanne Varzi shares her border-crossing work that resists media clichés about Iran

“Last Scene Underground” is a 2015 ethnographic novel by Roxanne Varzi set in Tehran during Iran’s post-2009 Green Movement. Courtesy of Roxanne Varzi and L.A. Times.

by Namrata Poddar, L.A. Times

It’s a recent warm winter afternoon in Orange County as a crowd gathers in the back alley near 4th and Spurgeon streets in Santa Ana — outside of the site of Libromobile, O.C.'s smallest bookstore — to listen to the guest speaker for the community event titled “No War on Iran!”

But Roxanne Varzi — a local writer, filmmaker, multimedia artist and UC Irvine professor of cultural anthropology — begins with a disclaimer: if anyone is expecting her to play the role of a political correspondent or explain yet another rising wave of Islamophobia in the U.S., it’s a good time to leave and check out the eateries nearby.

She has come to speak to her audience, first and foremost, as a storyteller and an artist.

She begins with her personal story.

Born in Iran to an Iranian father and an American mother, Varzi is both an American and Iranian citizen by birth. Though she was baptized and raised Catholic in a community of Irish missionaries in Tehran, she explains that by Islamic law, she is Muslim because her late father was Muslim.

Iran's top cultural event jeopardized by artist boycotts

Iranians arrive at the annual Fajr International Film Festival, Tehran, Feb. 3, 2018. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images. Courtesy Al-Monitor.
by Saeid JafariAl-Monitor

Confronting a boycott by Iranian artists, the Fajr International Film Festival announced the cancellation of its opening ceremony, originally scheduled for Feb. 1. In a statement released Jan. 15, festival organizers cited the “public atmosphere of the community” in sympathy with the grieving families of those killed in Iran's accidental downing of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8.

The cancellation marks a rare occurrence, as the festival's traditional opening in February and its concluding awards ceremony are usually star-studded, high-profile affairs staged to showcase Iran's contribution to global cinema and culture. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance sponsors and supervises the festival, which premiered in 1982 and is held every year on the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.

The move by festival organizers follows in the wake of demonstrations sparked by anger over the Iranian government's initial denial and then admission that two missiles fired by its armed forces had struck the civilian airliner, resulting in the deaths of 176 people, including a number of medical doctors, university professors and students.

Alongside the protests in the streets and universities, a number of artists expressed their solidarity with the public's outrage by announcing their withdrawal from the Fajr festival.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Minimalism and Maximalism of Ali Dadgar

The Berkeley-based Iranian artist’s work explores “brokeness”
"No Redemption" by Ali Dadgar. Courtesy SF Weekly. 

Dark humor is an Ali Dadgar trademark, so his new San Francisco art exhibit is full of it — but if you’re looking for a source of that humor, you have to go back four decades to Dadgar’s native country. In 1979, when Dadgar was a teenager, Iran was convulsing politically and culturally, and the revolutionary government imposed new norms through the country’s currency, when it used the old regime’s paper bills but — hastily and surreally — printed dark designs over the Shah of Iran’s face. On some bills, they simply put an “x” over the Shah’s portrait, circulating currency that seemed straight from a George Orwell novel.

“The currency still worked, and that was so exciting to me — for this visual experience that carries this tremendous amount of political power and economical power,” Dadgar tells SF Weekly, standing in his exhibit at California Institute of Integral Studies’ Desai | Matta Gallery. “I’ve always been fascinated by shifting the access of content and the platform that designed to prevail that information and value. To me, that shift is everything. It appears in different forms even in aesthetics of art — where the break in the history of art has created movements or brokenness. I’m all about brokenness.”

Yes he is. Which is why “Ali Dadgar: Additions/Redactions” features ephemera — maps, photos, newspapers, and book pages — that are broken up with whited-out passages, painted-over sections, and other painterly obfuscation. It’s not obfuscation for obfuscation’s sake but obfuscation as a portal toward subtle, sometimes funny connections. One example: Dadgar reconfigured a 2007 New York Times arts section that reduced hundreds of words from its front-page movie review to just three disparate ones: “War. On. Ambiguity.”

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Condemn Trump’s threat to Iran’s cultural heritage

Academic researchers of Iranian history, archaeology, art and culture, based in national museums and universities across the world, react in horror to the US president’s threat to target Iranian sites

The US president, Donald Trump, has threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites ‘very hard’ if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Suleimani. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images. Courtesy The Guardian.
LettersThe Guardian

We, the undersigned, deplore the threat by the US president, made via Twitter on 4 January (and reiterated to reporters on 5 January), that his forces have “targeted 52 Iranian sites” some of which are “important to Iran & the Iranian culture”. Whatever the policy implications of these words, we respond with horror to direct threats against the people of Iran and against their tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

As some have already noted, the president’s inflammatory statement is contrary to the stated aims of the 1954 Hague convention and the protocols of the Geneva conventions of 1949 and 1977. Furthermore, the international criminal court considers the destruction of cultural heritage to be a war crime.

We stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and state our support, at this time of great anxiety, for our friends and colleagues in Iran’s museums, universities and heritage organisations. Their mission is of fundamental national and international importance – they work to create, safeguard and interpret an invaluable material legacy for present and future generations.

As academic researchers of Iranian history, archaeology, art and culture, based in national museums and universities across the world, we call on our political representatives to condemn explicitly any statement or action that threatens internationally recognised war crimes against the Iranian people, as well as their cultural heritage.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Here's what could be lost if Trump bombs Iran's cultural treasures

The US president has warned Iran he will obliterate its cultural sites. Here is our guide to the nation’s jewels, from hilltop citadels to a disco-ball mausoleum

 Inside the Sheik Loftallah mosque, in Isfahan, Iran. It is a Unesco world heritage site. Photograph: BornaMir/Getty Images/iStockphoto. Courtesy The Guardian.

by Steve Rose, The Guardian

If carried out, Donald Trump’s threat to targetcultural sites” in Iran would put him into an axis of architectural evil alongside the Taliban and Isis, both of which have wreaked similar forms of destruction this century. The Taliban dynamited Afghanistan’s sixth-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001; Isis has destroyed mosques, shrines and other structures across Iraq and Syria since 2014, some in the ancient city of Palmyra. Not, you might have thought, company the US president would prefer to be associated with.

Does Trump know what would be lost? Probably not – but he’s hardly the only one. The fact that the country is rarely visited by western tourists is not due to a lack of attractions. With a civilisation dating back 5,000 years, and over 20 Unesco world heritage sites, Iran’s cultural heritage is rich and unique, especially its religious architecture, which displays a mastery of geometry, abstract design and pre-industrial engineering practically unparalleled in civilisation. This is is not just Iran’s cultural heritage, it is humanity’s.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Once Upon a Revolution in Iran

Forty years after the Iranian revolution of 1979, the people of Iran are still struggling for their rights.

Maj. Gen. Taghi Latifi of the Shah’s police was pulled from his car and beaten by a crowd near Tehran University. Photograph by David Burnett/Contact Press Images. Courtesy New York Times.

Photographs and Text by David Burnett, New York Times
Mr. Burnett, a co-founder of Contact Press Images, has worked as a photojournalist for six decades.

I spent the better part of two months, from Christmas 1978 until late February 1979, covering the Islamic revolution in Iran. There was no internet, no mobile phones, no Twitter. No one wore masks to hide their faces. The anger was immediate and raw. It led to the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty and the founding of the Islamic Republic.

I watched those demonstrations occur almost daily. Some rallies, planned ahead, would assemble a half million people. Others, more spontaneous, would converge quickly, and once started, word would hastily spread. It would take only minutes for hundreds, even thousands, of people to show up and add their voices to the protests against Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his reign.

Trying to keep up with these events in a world where communication was limited to the occasional working pay phone was a challenge. More than once I found out about something happening just blocks from my hotel by hearing a dispatch from the BBC World Service on my pocket-size shortwave radio.

The political unrest highlighted Iran’s serious economic and political challenges. It was surprising to see the cars of a cross section of society lined up, sometimes for hours, for fuel as people suffered through shortages in a country rich with gas and oil.

Friday, 13 December 2019

‘Creating Suspension Between Contradictory States':

An interview with artist Parastou Forouhar

Iran-born Forouhar has lived and worked in Germany since 1991
Parastou Forouhar,  Water Mark, a tribute to the drowning refugees, 2015. “This work was created within the scope of the artist residency program of the Brodsky Center, Rutgers University, and in collaboration with Anne McKeown and Randy Hemminghaus, masters of papermaking and printing at the Brodsky Center.” Image courtesy of the artist and Global Voices.

Germany-based Iranian-German artist Parastou Forouhar is known for creating masterful artworks that embody “the synchronicity of harmony and beauty, along with other layers that display violence and a sense of insecurity and entrapment.”

Autobiographical in nature, her work uses a range of media including installation, animation, digital drawing and photography.

In 1991, Forouhar left Iran and settled in Germany where she received her postgraduate degree in art. Her work has been exhibited widely in galleries and museums in Iran, Germany, Australia and New York, and can also be found in the permanent collections of the German Parliament in Berlin and the British Museum in London.

Forouhar is a professor of Fine Arts at the Mainz Academy of Fine Arts in Germany. Her work currently appears in a group show of Iranian women artists titled A Bridge Between You and Everything, curated by acclaimed photographer Shirin Neshat at the High Line Nine gallery in New York City (November 7-December 14).

Excepts from my interview with Forouhar follow:

Saturday, 26 October 2019

A 'destructive act': scholars criticise sale of pages separated from 15th-century Persian manuscript

Christie's defends decision to sell two illuminations, expected to make up to £1m each, as they were removed from The Paths of Paradise 30 years ago

Christie's is selling two pages from a 15th-century Persian manuscript at an auction in London this week. Courtesy of Christie's and The Art Newspaper

by Vincent NoceThe Art Newspaper

Scholars have expressed concern over the proposed sale by Christie’s London on 24 October of two illuminated pages, taken from The Paths of Paradise, a 15th-century manuscript made for the Timurid ruler Sultan-Abu Sa'id Gurkan. A third folio was presented earlier this month at Frieze Masters by dealer Francesca Galloway.

Armen Tokatlian, a Paris-based art historian and consultant, says all three come from "the recent wreckage of a cultural monument of Persian art". In Prospect magazine, the art historian Christiane Gruber says the folios were separated from a royal manuscript she has “trailed for 20 years now”.

The Paths of Paradise was commissioned by Sultan-Abu Sa'id Gurkan around 1465, in Herat or Samarkand. “It was held in the Treasury of Ottoman Sultan Selim I (who reigned from 1512 to 1520), and remained intact until the end of the 20th century”, Tokatlian says. One folio at Christie’s auction, showing the Prophet approaching angels, is estimated to make between £700,000 and £1m. A second double-sided folio, depicting "the hell reserved for the misers and the hell for the flatterers", carries the same estimate.

"Beyond the aesthetic value of the illustrations and the Turkic text written in Uyghur script, depicting Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven, this is a monument of the Persian art of the book from Central Asia, and is of paramount interest for scholars," Tokatlian says.

According to Gruber and Tokatlian, the only other existing related manuscript, with an earlier princely Timurid patronage, is held at the National Library of France—it probably served as a model for this manuscript. That example, dated 1436 and written in Herat in Chaghatay language and Uyghur script, was purchased in Constantinople on behalf of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the minister of the French king Louis XIV.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Viewing Iran and Its Complexities Through the Eyes of Visual Artists

Compelling works from six female photographers tell stories of revolution, displacement and longing for home

Untitled from the series "Witness 1979" by Hengameh Golestan, March 11 1979. Courtesy Freer|Sackler and Smithsonian.
by Anna DiamondSmithsonian

The snowflakes, the ones unimpeded by the decorative umbrellas, fall on the women’s heads, sticking to their knit beanies and scarves and catching on their uncovered hair. The women’s mouths are open, as they raise their voices against Ayatollah Khomeini’s new decree. It is the last day they will be able to walk the streets of Tehran without a hijab—and they, along with 100,000 others who joined the protest, are there to be heard.

Hengemeh Golestan captured these women on film 40 years ago as a 27-year-old photographer. She and her husband Kaveh documented the women’s rights demonstrations in early March 1979. This photograph, one of several in her Witness 1979 series, encapsulates the excitement at the start of the Iranian Revolution and the optimism the women felt as they gathered to demand freedom—although their hope would later turn to disappointment. Today, Golestan says, “I still can feel the emotions and power of that time as if it were the present day. When I look at those images I can still feel the sheer power and strength of the women protesters and I believe that people can still feel the power of those women through the photos.”

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Against The Sun

Tahereh Fallahzadeh With Fia Backström At Baxter St, New York

Tahereh Fallahzadeh. Untitled, 1997.  ©Tahereh Fallahzadeh. Courtesy Baxter St and Forbes.

The enemy of photography is the convention . . . the salvation of photography comes from the experiment.” Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion.

The first known photographer who arrived in Iran was Jules Richard, a French language tutor. He took daguerreotypes of Mohammad Shah and his son, the crown prince, Naser al-Din Mirza. The latter, took a serious interest in photography after his coronation as Shah in 1848. Within a decade, new photographic techniques were introduced in Iran by the several photographers active in Tehran. Fascinated by photography and its potential, the Shah created the position of a court photographer, and the Gulistan Palace was equipped with a darkroom and photographic studio.

By the 1870s, there were several independent photographers in Tehran, including Antoin Sevruguin, who made photographs at a time:
. . . when orientalist fervor was at its height and Europeans were using photographic images to construct and confirm their notions of the Orient . . . Sevruguin used his camera to construct counter-representations. . . [and] allowed the people in front of his camera to compose themselves according to how they themselves wished to be seen, according to their own myths and realities. (Iranian Studies, 35:1-3, 114.)

Sevruguin’s photographs of landscapes and people were published in international newspapers, magazines and books as early as 1885. Trained as a painter, Sevruguin also tended to manipulate his photographs, personalizing and enhancing their dramatic effects by retouching them.

Three women artists rewriting the troubled history of feminism in Iran

Dazed spoke to Azadeh Fatehrad, Rana Javadi, and Maryam Tafakory about the complicated history of women’s rights in Iran and how they use their work to address it
Departure Series – 1, 2015, Azadeh Fatehrad. C-Type matt print on fuji crystal archive photographic paper. 70 x 104 cm. Courtesy Dazed.

by Lizzy Vartanian CollierDazed

Given the socio-political and cultural restrictions in Iran, feminism is not a topic for open discussion within the country’s history. It has been a difficult subject for centuries regardless of governmental power, while in the west, the representation of Iranian women is often simplified and misunderstood. Despite this, Iran has a long history of consciousness of the role of women in society. Women’s rights organisations have been present since the beginning of the 20th century: Sediqeh Dowlatabadi’s Women’s Association of Iran was established in 1911, and the bi-weekly magazine Zaban-e Zanan (Women’s Voice) founded in 1919, which she edited, was one of a number of female-run publications advocating for women’s education and equality. During the 1970s, after many years of challenges, the Women’s Organisation in Iran eventually succeeded in winning equal rights for women in marriage and divorce, as well as legalising abortion and equal pay for work (abortion was not legalised nationwide in the United States until 1973). However, the grassroots organisations could not establish those rights within all classes of society, even though it was considered a new social code for all women of Iran. That said, much of this history about Iranian women’s rights is not acknowledged today in Iran.

In an exhibition that has just opened at London’s Danielle Arnaud gallery, Iranian-born, London-based artist Azadeh Fatehrad (born 1981) is exploring the history of the feminist movement in Iran through a series of multimedia installations. “What I have filmed was removed from history books when I grew up in Iran,” explains Fatehrad, adding that her work aims “to provide the viewer with the right context and the full picture”. She continues: “This is what happened to the history of feminism and I try to avoid labelling otherwise or celebrating one government over another, both Pahlavi or Islamic republic rule of conducts have been of violation towards women.” From a departure point of how the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925 – 1979) and the Islamic Revolution (1978 – 1979) have altered the way that female artists in and outside of Iran have addressed the notion of femininity, we spoke to Fatehrad as well as two other Iranian women artists based both inside – Rana Javadi – and outside of Iran – Maryam Tafakory – about how their work tackles the status of womanhood within an Iranian context.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Muslim female artists reflect on identity and a sense of belonging in Manchester

Five contemporary artists share their views on being Muslim for the 'Beyond Faith: Muslim Women Artists Today' exhibition in Manchester

Aida Foroutans ‘Separation’ appears in the exhibition. A wall (which is becoming a tree) divides and connects two people: they are in the same enclosed space, indicated by a shared window, colours and background. The scene is archetypal: their gender divides them, and their bodies form part of the wall. It is one of the instances where I use straight lines in a painting. A significant feature of this painting cannot be seen in 2D, as the wall is actually built up in paint, and the whole canvas is heavily textured. Light in the picture is an inversion of ‘reality’, coming not from the window but from the ground. We are looking into a private space that has been opened up to view. Separation is an essential theme in Sufi literature: being torn apart is meant at the highest level of mystical understanding, and that too is part of the human condition, as Rumi says: ‘Listen to this reed as it is grieving; it tells the story of our separations…’

by Ben East, The National

Growing up in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, Robina Akhter Ullah, 57, felt unique, a curio, even. “I was always the first,” remembers the artist. “The only Muslim in high school, in college, getting a degree. I was always trying to prove I belonged, that it didn’t matter that I was brown. I could fit in. But though I could change my voice,” she says, in a distinctive Mancunian drawl, “I couldn’t change my skin colour.” She says it didn’t matter where she was from, she was always subjected to racist remarks.

The epithet cuts through the gallery space in Manchester where Ullah is hanging her contribution to a fascinating group exhibition. But her reflections on identity and memory are a key part of Beyond Faith: Muslim Women Artists Today.

It’s long overdue survey of five contemporary artists, who practise or have trained in the north-west of England; none are household names in the art world. But in a way that’s the whole point of this exhibition – it’s the result of an academic research project by the University of Manchester, which has posed important questions about how Muslim women are represented in the cultural and creative industries.