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

MAN OF MY TIME
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.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Iranian cartoonist on the drawings that saved his life

Cartoonist Ali Dorani fled Iran at the age of 21 before becoming trapped in Australia's controversial Manus Island detention camp for four years - but things changed after his artwork was posted online.

Here's his story - in his own words and drawings.
The drawing that was exhibited in Melbourne. Courtesy EatenFish and BBC News.
by Helier Cheung, BBC News

In 2013, I left Iran. I can't tell you why because it might affect my family's safety - but I knew my life was in danger.

I stayed in Indonesia for 40 days, and tried to get to Australia - I knew Australia was the best way for me to get to safety.

A people smuggler told me he could get us to Australia by boat.

When I saw the boat, I was afraid I would die. It was a fishing boat, not really well maintained, and there were about 150 of us. And I can't swim.

When the time came to get on the boat, I told myself: "This is it. If anything happens to that weak boat, I'm going to die."

The journey took us 52 hours - it was raining and the ocean wasn't normal. It was so scary.

The Australian navy intercepted us and took us to Christmas Island - a detention centre where Australia keeps asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Inside Iranian Artist-Collector Fereydoun Ave's Paris Apartment

The various homes of artist, critic, curator and art patron Fereydoun Ave are akin to visual diaries where artwork and design objects mix in lively aesthetic feast, writes Rebecca Anne Proctor

Apline grey canapé, Chinese Buddha from the 16th century and artworks by Afshan Daneshvar, Fereydoun Ave and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi. Courtesy of Sebastian Böttcher and Harper's Bazaar.
 by Rebecca Proctor, Harper's Bazaar

It’s a cool wintry evening in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the upscale French commune just west of Paris. Fereydoun Ave’s apartment is dim-lit and cosy – an artistic refuge against a forlorn night sky in the heart of winter. Anyone well versed in Middle Eastern art will be familiar with Ave’s tireless work. The artist-cum-curator opens the door, his signature dark-rimmed glasses greeting me in from the unfamiliar cold outdoors, and my first proper meeting with the man considered a legendary promoter of Iranian artists begins. “The big word to describe what I do is collage,” says Ave as he makes me some tea. The various interconnecting rooms of his apartment are very much decorated along that strand – “a collage” of a multitude of artworks, furniture, books, paper and objects.

They seem to be have been displayed in their current location gradually over time. “I am 74 years old and I have been through various stages and various countries and various fashions but what interests me now is to have stuff around me that stimulates me,” says Ave. “I don’t collect based on what is most expensive next year or from a chronological or historical point of view but always based on line, colour and feeling.” And while the general ambiance of Ave’s Parisian abode is well kept and orderly, there a slight sense of clutter not unlike what one would find in an artist’s studio. “The background of my home is a lot based on how one creates a picture,” he continues. “The rest is assemblage and collage. The apartment has grown over time. “You start from the basics and it keeps growing if you are a collector.”

Bookcases line the walls as do Ave’s various works on paper and canvas. These are interspersed with a 16th-century Chinese Buddha sculpture, Le Corbusier furniture, works by Iranian greats such as Hossein Zenderoudi, Farshad Moshiri, Reza Aramesh, Afsan Daneshvar and Shahla Hosseini, and pieces by his dear friend, late artist Cy Twombly. Situated around an ever-expanding display of objets d’art are also variously placed taxidermy owls.

Body Politics in Iranian Art - Episode 1

"Formless, Female"
Ghazaleh Hedayat, The Sound of my Hair. Courtesy Aesopia.

by Dafne GotinkAesopia

In the last few years, the international art world has taken up a fascination for Iranian art, making exhibitions of this art outside Iran more and more common. Iranian contemporary artists seem to have especially been gaining popularity among a western audience, often because of a politically critical stance and rejection of the strict Islamic laws in the country, which appeal to a western sense of relatability. The exhibited art is often seen as a brave counter culture against a regime that does not have the best image in western countries. But in the middle of all this attention, I feel there is a lack of contextualizing, international research on this art, especially when it is involved with politics. If we want to understand how a work of art can be subversive, provocative, or a threat to those who are in power, we have to examine how it acts against the logic of the dominant power structure. In other words, provocation depends entirely on context and the norms of the society it is based in. This knowledge seems to be little, if not absent, in the hype around many Middle Eastern artists in the West. Which is tragic if we realize that art inside Iran, even though thriving, is subjected to the watchful eyes and control of the authorities. If we want to grant some liberation to an art production that is -in my eyes- wildly interesting, to release it from being caught between international misunderstanding and national censorship, it is necessary to do research on a small, direct scale. We have to look at how art works operate and how they can be analyzed within their political context.

The human body is one of the most visual and noticeable domains in which power is expressed in Iran’s public life. It is a place of expressing individuality and identity, but also a place on which power, both subtle and explicit, is exercised. Interfering with the normal body-power relation in a society, is one thing. But in Iran, art itself is tied to certain rules of modesty: bodies on canvas or in copper have to obey the same rules as the bodies of flesh and blood. Since exhibitions belong to the public sphere, all art shows are checked, which makes it a difficult place to express critique. One of the strategies that young Iranian artists use, in order to make works of art about the human body without being censored, is separating form and content. A distinction between what we can see, and what realms of thought, association and imagination it opens behind our eyes. This is the first of three episodes, based on my 2016 master thesis, in which I wrote about case studies from different Iranian artists, all living and working within the borders of Iran, who use this strategy. This episode is about the work from two young artists, Ghazaleh Hedayat and Mona Aghababaee, who both investigate what it is to have a female body in Iran, in their very own, abstract ways. Doing so, they illustrate the thin line on which acceptable provocation takes place, the place of critical innovation and resilience.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Reimagining the ’70s Tehran Music Scene, One Party at a Time

Disco Tehran, a performance project and party that combines live music and D.J. sets, recalls the music scene of 1970s Tehran.Credit: Devin Yalkin for The New York Times. Courtesy NY Times.

by Sasha von Oldershausen, New York Times

In the stories Arya Ghavamian and Mani Nilchiani’s parents told them, there was dancing. European and American expats mingled with Iranians in the neon glow of Tehran’s clubs, which pulsed with music by the Beatles and Iranian pop stars Hayedeh and Googoosh. Liquor wasn’t contraband then, and the city was a vibrant artistic hub.

Now, Ghavamian and Nilchiani are reimagining the cultural moment that they never experienced firsthand — the Tehran music scene of the 1970s, which came to an abrupt end after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 replaced a Western-allied government with today’s Islamic Republic. A year ago, the pair began organizing Disco Tehran, a performance project and party that combines live music and D.J. sets, in New York. Though the parties often spotlight Iranian musicians like the Farsi funk group Mitra Sumara, they also feature a wide array of world music, electronic music and noise art.

“The reference of Disco Tehran is to a point in time when channels of cultural transactions and exchange were wide and open and flowing,” said Nilchiani, 32, a professor at Parsons who also works at an international design firm. “That’s what we aspire to be.”

In recent months, the parties packed spaces like Home Sweet Home and Le Bain at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan, attracting many beyond the Iranian diaspora. On Friday, the event returns to Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, where Alsarah & the Nubatones, a Sudanese-American retro pop group, and Nilchiani’s own Sufi rock band Tan Haw will perform live, and four D.J.s will spin tunes from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, as well as electronic music and techno.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

US-Based Iranian Artist Taha Heydari Censors His Own Work to Talk About State Control

Taha Heydari, Shooting the Edge, 2017-2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Taha Heydari and Observer. 
by Michael Anthony FarleyObserver

Taha Heydari is having a moment in a big way. With one solo show having opened this week in his hometown of Tehran, another coming up at San Francisco’s Haines Gallery and growing interest from collectors in his adopted East Coast home, the 33-year-old painter is a busy man.

Observer visited Heydari’s studio last month at the School 33 Art Center in Baltimore, where he has been an artist-in-residence since graduating with an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art’s (M.I.C.A.) three years ago. A converted 19th century schoolhouse with soaring windows, the bright, cheery setting feels oddly incongruous to Heydari’s often-dark, hyper-contemporary paintings.

One of the smaller, more intimate works bound for “Impact Crater,” Heydari’s solo show at Tehran’s Ab-Anbar gallery, depicts the mummified corpse of Lenin as if viewed through a grainy night-vision camera. It’s an image that manages to be somehow even creepier than its morbid subject matter. Another renders a pixelated explosion from the point-of-view of a first-person-shooter video game. The hand pulling the trigger blurs into the foreground the way a buffering Skype call might, complicating the viewer’s implied relationship to the violence. It recalls the live-streaming footage of conflicts cable news bombarded us with in the days of “Shock-and-Awe” foreign policy. In nearly all of Heydari’s work, references (both subtle and overt) to state control, consumer culture, surveillance and censorship are ambiguously combined and abstracted.

Does Heydari find it weird to have a life and career that straddle two countries with extreme, arguably insane, right-wing governments—governments that have made fear-mongering and hatred of each other an intrinsic part of their respective identities? “Of course!” he laughs. “Growing up in Iran we were surrounded by propaganda about the ‘The Great Satan.’ So I always thought, ‘hmmm…maybe I want to meet this Satan! What’s the devil like?’”

Monday, 22 April 2019

Material Culture art exhibition communicated deep personal experiences to transcend cultural borders

Material Culture was exhibited at the Elga Wimmer PCC, New York City, from April 4 to April 18, 2019.

Material Culture, featured the works of five Iran-born artists who use “nonrepresentational forms” and a range of materials to create a visual language that not only communicates deep personal experiences but also transcends cultural borders.

Maryam Khosrovani. Imprint | Location 3, Brooklyn | 2015 – 2016. Courtesy Global Voices.

by Omid Memarian, The BridgeGlobal Voices

Curated by the award-winning independent curator and cultural producer Roya Khadjavi, the show featured the work of Maryam Khosrovani, Aida Izadpanah, Dana Nehdaran, Maryam Palizgir, and Massy Nasser Ghandi.

All but one of the five received their BA in visual art in Iran, from where they each emigrated at various points in their lives. Four of them now live in the United States, and Massy Nasser Ghandi lives in France.

They each work in the abstract mode, creating art that reacts to and comments on the integration of their culture of origin and that of their adoptive countries. Their works incorporate traditional materials such as clay, porcelain, fabric, iron, paint and wood into new forms and techniques that adapt to their new circumstances.

Through line, color and the use of porcelain, clay, iron, wire, gold and linen canvas, these five artists have produced sculptures, constructions and paintings that, in the words of Artscope national correspondent and Material Culture catalogue essayist Nancy Nesvet, allow “no strict cultural allusions or boundaries” and provide “steps toward understanding… [which is] perhaps the purpose of art, to reveal and to provide an understanding of the culture and mind of the artist, and to draw an empathic response from the viewer.” Nesvet says, “Certainly, the artists in this show are successful at that mission.”

Curator Roya Khadjavi, who is based in New York, has focused on the work of young Iranian artists working in and outside Iran, seeking to support their artistic endeavors and facilitate awareness and cultural dialogue between artistic communities. Since 2008 she has led exhibition committee efforts to show the art of the Middle East for institutions including the Guggenheim Museum and Asia Society, where she sat on the steering committee of the critically acclaimed exhibition Iran Modern (2013).

Iranian artist Masoud Akhavanjam to present two works alongside the Venice Biennale

'Dilemma of Man', 2016, Masoud Akhavanjam. Courtesy the artist and Art Critique.

by Katherine KeenerArt Critique

Alongside the Venice Biennale, the GAA Foundation will present their exhibition ‘Personal Structures: open borders.’ The exhibition will be open to the public, free of charge, from May 11th through November 24th and will boast European and non-European artists. The exhibition will call the Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Mora, and the Giardini Marinaress home for the duration of the Biennale.

Among the artists who will show their works during ‘Personal Structures’ is Iranian sculptor Masoud Akhavanjam. Known for his elegant works in stainless steel, Akhavanjam will exhibit two large scale sculptures at the Giardini Marinaress. Dilemma of Man and Metamorphosis, made out of Akhavanjam’s go-to material, glean in the light resembling mercury if it could be moulded. Each work is highly symbolic for Akhavanjam and serves a greater purpose: to ask those who witness them to do good.

Both Dilemma of Man and Metamorphosis combine multiple figures to create two unique and coherent sculptures that call on Persian mythology, contemporary socio-political themes, and philosophy. Dilemma of Man, which is about four metres tall, plays off the trope of the battle of good and evil within the confines of today’s world. A feathered wing melds into a bat-like wing evoking good and evil, respectively, recalling the metaphor of having an angle on one shoulder and a devil on the other. For Akhavanjam, Dilemma of Man comments on the powers at be today whose choices can do extreme good or evil. Metamorphosis, though smaller in size, is no less powerful. Bringing together attributes of a bull, elephant, and deer, Akhavanjam drew inspiration from Persian mythical figures of the Achaemenid Empire of Iran. By combining animals who are all variants of strength and power, Akhavanjam expresses sentiments of harmonious coexistence.

Friday, 29 March 2019

'It will rock your house!' Inside the Iranian electronic underground

Ten years ago, electronic music in Iran was suppressed by the government. But now these strange, often punishing sounds are finding their way into the world

‘It feels really good to be part of this family’ ... Rojin Sharafi. Photograph: Igor Ripak. Courtesy the Guardian.

by Alastair Shuttleworth, The Guardian

Ten years ago Bahman Ghobadi’s film No One Knows About Persian Cats followed a young Iranian songwriting duo’s efforts to form a band with other underground musicians in Iran. It presented a country in which music deemed politically or culturally incendiary was prohibited, since artists hoping to perform or distribute their work had to acquire permission from the Iranian ministry of culture and Islamic guidance, or risk arrest.

Western journalists seized upon a narrative of sensitive outlaws holed up in underground studios, but today a new story is emerging: of a visionary music community now able to openly share its strange creations. Increasingly, Iran is becoming recognised as a hub for some of the world’s most vital, forward-thinking experimental music.

Its affable prime mover is Ata Ebtekar, a long-celebrated figure in electronic music under his alias Sote, meaning “sound” in Farsi. His last album, 2017’s Sacred Horror in Design, received widespread acclaim for its haunting, challenging fusion of electronics with Iranian classical music; this year he will release a new electroacoustic album entitled Parallel Persia, led by the breathtaking single Artificial Neutrality.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

'No to war': Middle East musicians collaborate on a 'peace album'

Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian brings together artists from the region to promote 'resilience, hope and empathy'.

In Iran, Rajabian is barred from releasing any music or leaving the country over security-related charges. Famous photographer Reza Deghati's photo was used for the cover of the album. Courtesy Al Jazeera.

Nearly 100 musicians from across the Middle East have collaborated for an album put together by Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian to promote peace in the embattled region.

The album, titled "Middle Eastern", consists of songs played by artists from Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Egypt and Bahrain along with some musicians from Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.

"We have tried to use local instruments in the album because our priority was to highlight the native tunes of the Middle East," Rajabian, 29, told Al Jazeera.

"For my research on Middle East music, I had been in touch with musicians from all over the region. I discussed the idea of an album with many of them and they showed a lot of interest."

Some musicians who participated in the project came from places ravaged by years of wars and conflict, mainly Palestine, Yemen and Syria.

Most songs in the album, released on Friday by the Sony Music company, have been written by the artists themselves and produced by Rajabian.

Rajabian said one of the tracks was recorded while the air attacks were on. He refused to speak further about the details of the track, the artist involved or the location where it was recorded.

A musician, he added, took part in the project while grappling with "extreme poverty" while another tune was "recorded on a boat by a fleeing refugee".

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.

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 Qantara.de.
by Fahimeh FarsaieQantara.de

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.”