|"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.”