Monday, 3 December 2018

Cameras under hijabs: capturing the art of the Qashqai people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 November 2018

An anti-feminist manifesto

Jafar Panahiʹs "Three Faces"

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

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

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

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

From Manus Island to sanctions on Iran

The art and opinions of Hoda Afshar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 15 November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Takes on Geometric Themes

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 October 2018

Fragments From a War-Torn Childhood

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 September 2018

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

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

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

by Sarah Rose SharpHyperallergic

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

*   *   *

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

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

An Elegy for the Death of Hamun

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

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

by Diane Smyth, British Journal of Photography

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 August 2018

From state censorship to western stereotypes

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from the interview follows:

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

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

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Ava, my adolescent self

Interview with award-winning Iranian film director Sadaf Foroughi

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

What inspired you to make the film AVA?

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

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

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

What did you hope to accomplish with the movie?

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

Friday, 8 June 2018

Re: Collecting – Abby Weed Grey’s life in art

Abby Weed Grey, Parviz Tanavoli (middle) and Sohrab Sepehri © Grey Art Gallery. Courtesy  the British Council.
by Tim Cornwell, Underline MagazineBritish Council

Head of her last trip to Iran in 1973, Abby Weed Grey, the American midwestern widow who had by that time gathered the biggest international collection of Iranian modern art, wrote down her goals for the journey. ‘What I want from this adventure,’ she wrote, before answering, from one to five: ‘the rigors of travel, the demands of the strange, the unfamiliar, the accommodation of self to hosts, the retrieval of all this in new learning and enlightenment, the return home to “normal” with the least culture shock.’ She promised herself earnestly to make ‘actual progress in cementing of friendships’, and achieve ‘greater understanding of Persia, its culture and peoples’ and find new ‘fluidity’ for her poetry.

When she was a young girl growing up in Minneapolis, as a reward for her prowess in spelling, Abby Weed’s father gave her a copy of The Arabian Nights, in an illustrated edition published by the Scottish anthropologist Andrew Lang. Fifty years later, in 1962, she found herself at the studio of Parviz Tanavoli, spellbound by a giant painting in ink, gouache and gilt called Myth (1961). Inspired by the timeless story of Shirin and Farhad, it showed three figures: the legendary sculptor, Farhad; his apprentice, holding a mallet; and a gold and blue angel, with its wings open, protecting them. ‘For me, it went back to Arabian nights,’ she would write. ‘But of course, it was a Persian tale. I felt I had to have it and purchased it on the spot.’ It was the beginning of an enduring friendship between artist and patron.

With her US college friends, Abby Weed had laughed at ‘the ridiculous things we were being shown as contemporary art’, ‘outlandish’ works like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). She bought her first piece of art in college, a painting from an exhibition of works by Austrian children. At the age of 26, she married Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Edwards Grey, a West Point graduate and First World War veteran, twenty years her senior. He died of cancer in 1956, after a happy but childless marriage, leaving her a small fortune. After the ‘terrible blow’, the 54-year-old widow began to feel ‘a bewildering sense of freedom’.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Time and Again: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art

Gushtasp and the Dragon of Mount Sakila, from the Shahnama of Firdausi, AH 1014/1605, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin (MS of. fol. 4251, fol. 460r), photo courtesy Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Courtesy LACMA/Unframed.

by Linda Komaroff, Unframed

In spring 2014, while driving past Vali‘asr Square, one of Tehran’s busiest intersections, I was startled to see on the side of a building a huge billboard of President Barack Obama standing beside a menacing-looking man clad in armor over a red robe and a helmet festooned with red feathers. As I later understood, the towering image appropriated and recontextualized a central event from the early history of the Shi‘ite branch of Islam, the majority faith of Iran. It referenced an incident in 680 when the villainous Shimr offered refuge to and then murdered the Imam Husain at Karbala, in Iraq. Meant to convey a contemporary political message, it subtly linked Barack Obama with Shimr’s odious duplicity. Shimr’s distinctive wardrobe, with its red accents, reflects not a seventh-century context, but rather the domain of ta‘ziya, a Shi‘ite passion play performed by costumed reenactors, something that would be recognizable to most passersby in Vali‘asr, though not as yet to me. But what struck me was the assured and authentic manner in which this anachronistic pair of figures was presented, something familiar to me from my study of both historical and contemporary Iranian art.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Fajr International Film Festival: Tehran meets Hollywood

Iranian actors, Indian directors and a Hollywood icon have come together in Tehran at Asia's oldest film festival.

The film festival's poster. Courtesy DW.

by Theresa Tropper, Deutsche Welle

DW: What distinguishes the "Fajr International Film Festival" from other major festivals?

Reza Mirkarimi: We are the oldest film festival in Asia and as such, we provide a platform for unknown filmmakers and actors from the region to showcase their work. For example, we show works from Afghanistan, Anatolia and the Caucasus. Our topics include problems within families and cultures and the struggle for independence in many countries. Our goal is to be open to all people and also to expand peoples' knowledge a little.

The festival is taking place for the 36th time. How has it changed over the years?

In the three years since I have been running the festival, we have established a good relationship with the government. The government organizes the festival, but it trusts us and therefore gives us the freedom to do something good for many people through our work — not only for the filmmakers and actors, but also for the audience.

The festival is also a networking forum for filmmakers from Iran and other countries. How much collaboration is already in place?

We are trying to establish contacts and partnerships between the Iranian film scene and abroad. At the moment there are already many co-productions with other countries, especially those in the region — for example Afghanistan, India, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Armenia and Turkey.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The history of jazz in Iran

Creating a confluence

Jazz made its way into Iran, along with a host of other foreign influences, during the 1960s. In the decade that followed, the music's exposure on Iranian radio helped it achieve a measure of popularity – until the Islamic Revolution came along, a social caesura that brought a long-term ban on secular music. 

by Bernd G.

Take a break for a coffee in Tehran's Museum of Modern Art today and you are quite likely to find yourself relaxing to the strains of Duke Ellington or Ella Fitzgerald. Both were popular favourites with the trendy aficionados of Iran's intellectual jazz scene back in the late 60s when jazz rhythms provided the musical pulse of the well-to-do summer resorts at Mazandaran on the Caspian Sea, such as the famous Motel Qoo hotel in Salman Shahr.

The word jazz – or "jaaz" as Iranians tend to pronounce it – was however initially subject to some misunderstanding. "Because the drum kit was seen as the main instrument in what for most Iranians was a novel style of music, there was a tendency initially to refer to any music that featured it as jazz," says Tehran music producer Ramin Sadighi. "One of the biggest Iranian pop stars of that time, Vigen, for example was dubbed the 'Sultan of Jazz', simply because his band featured a drummer."

Oil and the early jazz clubs

According to Sadighi, the story of jazz in Iran begins in the early 1960s: "The country's oil industry was booming at the time, especially in Khuzestan province in the south-west. Most of the oil extraction back then was done by British and American companies and the employees had their own clubs – in Ahwaz, Khorramshahr and Abadan, for example – where jazz music was played."

In an article published in the book "Jazz World/World Jazz" in 2017, the London-based musicologist and teacher Laudan Nooshin describes jazz as a minority interest in Iran in comparison to pop music, but also points out that Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made use of its growing popularity to further his aim of turning Iran into a secular state along Western capitalist lines.

'We go deeper': the artists spearheading the boom in Iranian art

Their works, which capture a different side of life in Iran, are shifting for vast sums. As the first gallery devoted to Iranian art opens in Britain, we go behind the scenes
‘A plea for peace’ … one of Fereydoon Omidi’s union jack series, on show at Sensation, the Cama Gallery show. Photograph: Courtesy the artist and the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali DehghanThe Guardian

A giant canvas depicting the union jack overpowers the entrance to Cama Gallery in London. As you get closer to Fereydoon Omidi’s artwork, the Persian letters inscribed on the painting under the thick layers of red, white and blue become more visible.

Here, at the first gallery in London to be dedicated to Iranian art, Omidi’s multilayered calligraphy was, he said, “a plea for peace and cultural understanding”.

Ironically, due to visa issues, neither Omidi nor 18 other Iranian artists represented by the gallery in its inaugural show can make it to London for Thursday night’s opening. A stringent visa regime in the UK means real cultural exchanges rarely take place, despite the improvement in bilateral ties between London and Tehran.

But the artworks have, however, reached Britain’s shores. Reflecting huge western interest in the Iranian contemporary art market, most items in the gallery’s inaugural exhibition, named Sensation, had been purchased even before the gallery opened its doors to the public.

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat celebrates women in Islamic societies

The most successful Iranian woman photographer and filmmaker of her generation is back with a film about a legendary female Arab singer. Before the movie's summer release, Neshat dwells on her rootless artistic life.
Courtesy DW.
by Andrea Kasiske, Deutsche Welle

"I've been working on this film for seven years. And I think it's enough!" said New York-based Iranian director and photographer Shirin Neshat following a screening of her latest feature, "Looking for Oum Kulthum."

Oum Kulthum was a legendary Egyptian diva born in 1898 who is still revered for her extraordinary voice. But her persona had an impact far beyond the stage. As an Arab woman, Kulthum had to overcome severe gender inequality to become a star that continues to inspire millions of women more than 40 years after her death.

Neshat's biopic also has an autobiographical dimension in that it revolves around an Iranian woman artist who sets out to capture the life and art of the iconic singer.

The filmmaker premiered the work at the Venice Film Festival last September — she won the Silver Lion at Venice in 2009 for her first feature, "Women without Men" — and it will be released across Europe in the coming months. It has already been surprisingly well received in Egypt.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

“Song of a Captive Bird”

She Dared to Write Poetry About Sex. Iranians Loved and Hated Her for It.

The Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad died in a car accident in 1967, when she was 32.
by Dina Nayeri, The New York Times

“I take the first true measure of my body and decide that it’s shame, not sin, that’s unholy.” It’s 1955 Iran and Forugh Farrokhzad, a soon-to-be divorced mother, awakens to sex and art in Jasmin Darznik’s novel, “Song of a Captive Bird.” A few pages later, having begun an affair with a progressive Tehrani editor, Farrokhzad writes the poem that will make her both a symbol of female strength and a notorious “woman without shame,” as Persian mothers like to say. In it she confesses, “I’ve sinned a sin of pleasure / beside a body trembling and spent.” She doesn’t hide behind metaphor, and she isn’t the meek beloved of the old poems. She acts on her own desires. When she pines, it isn’t for a romantic savior but for a body. Tehran is scandalized.

Farrokhzad was Iran’s most celebrated — and controversial — female poet, and Darznik, the Iranian-born author of the memoir “The Good Daughter,” recreates her sexual and creative liberation while exploring the threat she posed to social order in prerevolutionary Iran. By the year of Farrokhzad’s debut, the “New Poetry” of Nima Yooshij and Ahmad Shamlou — both men — had made Iranian verse more accessible, freer in form and subject matter. But critics instantly denounced Farrokhzad as a silly girl, dismissing her work as an outgrowth of the national fascination with the hedonistic West, a trend Tehrani intellectuals called “Westoxification.”

Farrokhzad was defiant, in life and in Darznik’s fiction: “By writing in a woman’s voice I wanted to say that a woman, too, is a human being. To say that we, too, have the right to breathe, to cry out and to sing.” By the 1960s, she had come to represent Iran’s New Woman. At once loved and hated, she was a literary sensation and an acclaimed filmmaker, who demanded that female desires, expressed in plain language, be given the weight of serious literature. Male poets had been writing breathlessly about women for centuries — why should the reverse be any less palatable?

How did Iranian cinema go global?

The films of Iran's Amir Naderi brings the world to his homeland, while bringing his homeland to worldly recognition.
Monte (Mountain). 2016. Italy/France/USA. Directed by Amir Naderi. Courtesy of the filmmaker and MOMA,
by Hamid DabashiAl Jazeera

On Friday 16 March 2018, I had the distinct privilege of joining legendary Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi and Dave Kehr, the curator at the Department of Film, on stage at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York to launch a magnificent retrospective of his work.

Irresistible Forces, Immovable Objects: The Films of Amir Naderi begins with The Runner (1984), one of the last films he made in Iran and continues with the rest of his oeuvre that he directed in the US, Japan, and Europe.

This is not the first time the cinema of Naderi is celebrated in the US or anywhere else in the world. Over the last quarter century that I have known and been involved in his cinematic adventures, I have been a close witness to numerous similar celebrations in the US, Europe, and Japan, marking the unfolding thresholds of his unique and inimitable visionary artistry. 

How has Naderi navigated his illustrious cinematic career from a pioneering filmmaker in the rising moments of Iranian New Wave in the late 1960s up to such career celebrations around the world is the story of how Iranian cinema has transcended itself to become an unfolding drama in the course of world cinema. Naderi, just like his close friend and fellow luminary, the late Abba Kiarostami (1940-2016) - whom the world of cinema lost so tragically early - is no longer pigeonholed within any national cinema. He has, by the power of his singular imagination, assumed his unique signature.

How did that happen and what does it mean?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The conductor smashing Iranian taboos over women, and music

Nezhat Amiri’s recent high-profile performance caps a 38-year fight for recognition

Nezhat Amiri performing in Tehran’s Vahdat auditorium. Photograph: Alireza Ramezani/ Courtesy the Guardian.

In her 38-year career, which is as long as the history of the Islamic republic, Iran’s first and only female conductor had led as many public performances as the number of fingers that hold her baton.

Last month, however, Nezhat Amiri conducted a 71-member orchestra performing at Tehran’s most prestigious concert hall – a remarkable milestone in a country where it is considered taboo for state TV to show musical instruments, women are not allowed to sing solo and female musicians have been prevented from going on stage in provincial cities.

“From the beginning, I’ve swum against the current – I wasn’t seen, the society didn’t make any effort to nurture my skills and the ruling establishment turned its back on me,” Amiri, 57, told the Guardian. “But I’m still doing it, I’m showing that there are ways, and there will always be.”

Amiri’s performance, part of the annual state Fajr music festival, brought 55 musicians and a 16-member choir – with women making up almost half of both groups – on stage for two hours, to play three pieces by masters of Persian classical music, including a work by the legendary composer Morteza Hannaneh, for the first time.

The pull of the West

Electronic music band Schiller in Tehran

The German electronic music band Schiller is famous worldwide. Its recent visit to Tehran was without doubt one of the concert highlights of post-revolutionary Iran – even though some audience members began to show signs of fatigue halfway through the concert. 

Courtesy Qantara.

by Shahram

Schiller in Tehran: five concerts on five successive evenings in one week, playing for 20,000 people. The location: the large auditorium of the Interior Ministry of the Islamic Republic, at the heart of Iran's capital. The performances by this German electronic music band were one of the great musical highlights of the post-revolutionary era, not just for the Iranian audience. Such an (in some respects exotic) experience is undoubtedly rare for the musicians themselves too. Two concerts were originally planned, but tickets sold out in the space of two hours so three extra dates were added.

"Initial contact was made about a year or so ago," says Mehdi Kashi, who organised Schiller's concerts in Tehran. It was important to him, he explains, that the band could present their music in Tehran using the best equipment and most up-to-date technical standards, just as it would in Europe, especially in terms of lighting.

Well-known in Iran

Schiller, set to celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2019, is not unknown in Iran. The early albums and hits such as "I feel you" gained the band fans in Iran from the beginning of the 2000s on.

In the audience in Tehran is Ramin Behna, a well-known musician in the fusion/electronic genre. The mention of the name Schiller plunges Behna into nostalgia. At the Tehran shows, however, Schiller plays only more ambient instrumentals, dominated by gentle, atmospheric sounds.

Framing the dangerous nations

Book review: a ″Banthology″ of short stories

Born in a difficult space, this seven-story collection celebrates the work of prose artists from Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Iraq – the seven nations on Donald Trump′s January 2017 travel-ban diktat. 
Courtesy Qantara.
by Marcia Lynx

″Banthology. Stories from Unwanted Nations″, released in the UK in January and coming to the U.S. in March, manages to slip the frame′s trap, at least somewhat. It does so by coming straight at it: selecting stories that wittily, angrily and movingly write back against borders.

The stories were composed in three different languages – Italian, Arabic, and English – and unfold in markedly different styles, from Libyan novelist Najwa Binshatwan′s fantastical futurism, set in a town called Schroedinger; to Syrian writer Zaher Omareen′s bitter humour; to Iranian writer Fereshteh Molavi′s eerie mystical realism.


Two of the stories are set in a distant future: Binshatwan′s ″Return Ticket″ and Yemeni writer Wajdi al-Ahdal′s ″The Slow Man″. Binshatwan′s story, sharply translated by Sawad Hussain, takes place in a town called Schroedinger, an echo of the Austrian physicist. ″The name granted the village extraordinary powers; it could move through time and space, changing its orbit spontaneously as if it were the sun rising in one place and setting in another.″

Thus, the village allows its inhabitants to violate nature′s borders and boundaries – and life is always new. Yet, year after year, one thing remains the same in Schroedinger: its six U.S. tourists.

                             [T]hey stayed not out of love for the place, but because the walls of their own nation

                             never stopped rising, day after day, until it was cut off from the world and the world cut off from it.

                             Each attempt by an American tourist to scale the towering walls and return home proved fatal.

Schroedinger hovers over the U.S. twice a week, in an attempt to repatriate the six tourists′ bodies. This makes U.S. intelligence services suspicious and they suggest the villagers are trying to scale the walls, which have become so high that all one can see from outside is, ″the snuffed-out torch of the Statue of Liberty and her bird-shit-splattered crown.″

Goethe and Zoroastrianism

The eternal battle between good and evil

All his life Johann Wolfgang von Goethe felt a strong connection with Persia. Not only did he feel a spiritual affinity with the poet Hafez, he was also inspired and fascinated by the teachings and practices of Zarathustra, who lived in the first millennium before Christ.

Farvahar is the symbol of Zoroastrianism, a religion based on the teaching of the prophet Zarathustra which originated in what is now modern-day Iran. Courtesy Qantara.

Good and evil and the battle between these two opposites, have existed since time immemorial. Traced in age-old patterns, this cumulative conflict can be found in Augustine’s interpretation of history, the Hegelian dialectic and religious teachings such as Zoroastrianism.

This dualism poured forth from its sources of inspiration and flowed into the veins of the intellectual world: to this day it remains a powerful influence on writers and philosophers. So it is no surprise that Goethe, in his day, studied the teachings and practice of the ancient prophet Zarathustra and that in writing Faust’s cunning opponent, Mephistopheles, he was inspired by Ahriman, the evil spirit of the Avesta, the holy scripture of Zoroastrianism.

However, it is worth taking a look at Zoroastrian sacrifice, which also occurs in Goethe’s semantic fields and to ask whether ultimately, like Aristotle, Voltaire, Nietzsche and Kant, he too was influenced by the driving moral force of Zoroastrian teachings.

Nothing but taboos

German-Iranian director Ali Soozandeh says that he made the film "Tehran Taboo" in order to "break the silence". In doing so, however, he has sketched a portrait of Iran that is almost unbearable, especially for the critical viewer with a knowledge of Iran
Still from the animated film "Tehran Taboo" by German-Iranian director Ali Soozandeh. Courtesy Qantara.

After only a quarter of an hour of "Tehran Taboo", viewers will be terrified of the country where it is set, a place where everything seems to go criminally wrong. In the opening scene, a taxi driver haggles with a young woman over the price of a blowjob. Then her son watches impassively from the back seat as his mother performs oral sex. Next, the woman is seen in the office of a morose mullah, from whom she needs a signature to get a divorce from her drug-addict husband who has been behind bars for months. "I could use a woman," the mullah murmurs, hinting at how she might get his signature.

As if that were not yet enough, the next scene is set at an underground party, where a failing musician has hurried sex with a scantily clad woman in a shabby toilet cubicle. Then a sudden cut from this clumsy sex scene to a blue mosque, the call to prayer ringing out. The film's sequencing seems to harbour the subtle and incredibly naive message that the cubicle coitus is an expression of longed-for freedom, while the song from the mosque is the oppressive propaganda tune of a religion that steals that liberty.

Tehran is grey and desolate in the animated film "Tehran Taboo" by German-Iranian director Ali Soozandeh. Because it could not be filmed in Tehran, Soozandeh made use of the laborious rotoscope process. The first step was to shoot scenes with real actors in the studio. The background was then produced digitally and added to the scenes. Although altered, the characters remain realistic, and the street scenes are similar to real-life Tehran. A forty-strong team spent 13 months working on the project, which in itself is an impressive, labour-intensive feat.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

"Their audacity leaves me speechless"

Interview with the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar

Every year the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar holds a ceremony in Tehran to commemorate her parents′ murder by the regime. Accused of propaganda against the system, she′s now on trial herself – for artwork that the regime considers "insults the sacred". 
Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar (photo: picture-alliance/dpa). Courtesy Qantara.
Interview by Catrin

Ms Forouhar, you fly to Tehran every autumn to hold a memorial ceremony for your murdered parents. This year, your passport was confiscated as soon as you landed. Were you surprised?

Parastou Forouhar: I might have expected it; I′m being tried in Tehran this year. In the past, I have always had to attend a hearing on entering Iran. Usually at the intelligence ministry, sometimes with other organs that are also part of the security apparatus. They′d try to influence me – I′d be threatened, confronted with allegations I was stirring up counter-revolution.

Yet that was always related to the memorial event for your parents, who were murdered by the regime nearly twenty years ago.

Forouhar: Indeed. My parents were prominent opposition politicians, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar. They were dissidents, secular democrats who campaigned for democratic structures in the Shah′s times and then later in the Islamic Republic. They were attacked on 22 November 1998 by 18 officers from the Islamic Republic′s ministry of intelligence, who brutally murdered them. And they were not the only ones: two wonderful writers, two activists, a poet and his son were also murdered at the same time. These crimes became known as the "chain murders". The public felt deeply violated; thousands of people attended my parents′ funeral – the figure reported by the BBC was 25,000. The funeral march turned into a protest for dissident rights.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Persian and Iranian Studies in Britain in the 1960s: A brief survey

Image courtesy of the British Council. 

Amid the shifting currents of Anglo-Iranian relations, there has been continued scholarly interest in the cultural history of Iran among British academics. Developments in the 1960s in particular have proven to have a lasting impact.

همزمان با اوج بی اعتمادی ایرانیان به بریتانیا بعد از کودتای شهریور بیست، چه شد که مطالعات ایران شناسی در دانشگاه های بریتانیا چنین اوج گرفت؟

by Aida Foroutan, Underline MagazineBritish Council

It is an understatement to say that the 1960s was an important phase in Iranian history, yet in terms of cultural relations between Iran and the United Kingdom, it was rather a quiet period. In art and culture generally, other areas of Europe were more obviously affected by Iranian influences – France, Germany and Italy, for example. The low points of Anglo-Iranian relations were, of course, the Abadan crisis of 1951-54, and the 1953 MI6-CIA-backed Coup and Prime Minister Mossadegh’s overthrow in August of that year. It took the rest of that decade for wounds to heal. In between, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made a state visit to the UK for a few days in May 1959. It was then less than two years before the Shah returned the compliment, welcoming Queen Elizabeth II to Iran in March 1961.

What needs pointing out among all these high profile crises and royal to-ings and fro-ings, is that there was ongoing interest in the UK towards Iran’s history and culture at the highest level of academia. This is evidenced by the quiet scholarly work and collaboration in academic research focusing on Iran – Iranian languages, texts, documents, artefacts of history and archaeology. This intense attention paid to everything Persian and Iranian is all the more surprising as Iran was never directly colonised by Britain, and drawn into its Empire, like India. One may ask: why was Iran the source of such fascination in Britain?

One of the keys to answering this question is the founding of the British Institute of Persian Studies in December 1961, just after Queen Elizabeth’s visit earlier that year. The foundation reflected rather than created an already existing long-term interest in Iranian and Persian studies: along with the physical Institute – located both in Tehran and London – a learned journal entitled IRAN: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, was inaugurated: it ‘was to make its field of interest the whole spectrum of Iran’s archaeology, history, and culture, from prehistory through ancient and Islamic Iran to modern times’. [1]

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Patchwork identities

Young Iranian women writers in Germany

In commanding language and without a trace of sentimentality or vanity, the second generation of Iranian women authors in Germany present the balancing act between Persian and German ways of life, weaving their parents′ lives into their literary material. 
Iranian author Nava Ebrahimi (photo: Katrin Ohlendorf). Courtesy Qantara. 
by Fahimeh

Three novels by Persian-speaking writers recently published in Germany were written by women: the authors Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani, Nava Ebrahimi and Shida Bazyar. They are part of the second generation of Iranian diaspora writers, their parents having fled the country following the 1979 Islamic Revolution to end up – more or less by chance – in Germany.

With the exception of Shida Bazyar, who was born in Hermeskeil in 1988, the young storytellers came to Germany as children of politically persecuted parents during the 1980s. Initially exposed to linguistic isolation, mental exile and cultural confusion, they took to writing as adults to set down the stories of their hybrid identities. Their books, with the titles ″33 Arches and a Teahouse″ (Zaeri-Esfahani), ″Sixteen Words″ (Ebrahimi) and ″Tehran Is Quiet by Night″ (Bazyar) unambiguously indicate the source of their creativity, also linked to Iran′s recent history.

The three writers confront the ordeal of flight and their unwelcome arrival in Germany in the language in which they once woke from their nightmares as children, in which they now dream of a colourful life: German.

Existential issues

The issues these young Scheherezades tackle have a long tradition in the genre of migration literature. They are not radically different from the material the first generation covered. Those literary pioneers also constructed their works on the heritage of collapsing utopias of a generation that resisted the Shah and mullah regimes with great willpower, went into exile despondent and had to build a new existence abroad.

United by blood: Afghan artists come together for Iran exhibition

Tehran show challenges attitudes in country where community is grappling with marginalisation after escaping war

Barat Ali Batoor’s photographs focus on Afghanistan’s problem with Bacha bazi, the sexual abuse of young boys. Photograph: Barat Ali Batoor
by Saeed Kamali DehghanThe Guardian

Elyas Alavi’s performance piece at a Tehran exhibition showcasing contemporary Afghan artists invites participants to give blood. Samples are taken by a professional nurse and splashed on the wall next to each other.

The idea came to Alavi’s mind when his sister, one of at least 3 million Afghan refugees living in Iran, was blocked from getting a kidney transplant because she is a foreigner.

The Nimrouz exhibition – the first of its kind held in Iran and the largest for Afghan artists in at least four decades – is challenging Iranian society’s attitude towards its Afghan community, who have found sanctuary from war in their homeland but are grappling with marginalisation.

In recent years, as Iran propped up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, it controversially recruited Afghan refugees to go to fight there, rewarding them with money and documentation.

“I want to call people’s attention to the injustices inflicted upon Afghan people living in Iran,” Alavi told the Guardian. “Afghans in Iran are legally unable to receive organ transplants or blood transfusions and yet, fight in the Syrian war for Iran.”

Mirrors everywhere

Reza's worldwide perspective

Reza: The Children Photographers. Afghanistan, 1985. Courtesy the artist and Pasatiempo.
by Paul Weideman, Pasatiempo

French-Iranian photojournalist Reza Deghati, who is known for his media training projects in strife-torn regions of the world, as well as for his stunning photographs, is in Santa Fe for several events. A selection of his photos shows in an exhibition that runs until Nov. 12, at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

The photographer, known as Reza, has made photographs in more than a hundred countries, including in war zones in Somalia and Afghanistan and in dangerous neighborhoods of large cities. He has long been a contributor to National Geographic, and his work is featured on many of its covers as well as in books; articles for Agence France-Presse, Time, and Newsweek; and National Geographic Channel documentary shows.

In 2001, he founded the nongovernmental organization Aina (in Farsi, the name means “mirror”) in Afghanistan. Through his Reza Visual Academy and Aina, he has worked in media training — especially for the benefit of women and children — around the world. A 2015 installation along the banks of the Seine titled A Dream of Humanity featured Reza’s portraits of refugees along with photos shot in Iraqi Kurdistan by refugee children who were trained in his academy program as “camp reporters.” He has also had photographic exhibitions at the United Nations in New York, at the European Parliament in Brussels, and at the headquarters of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in Paris.

Reza’s recent work includes Exile Voices, a 2013-2017 project to train young Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan; a 2015 photography training program for young Maoris in New Zealand; and a 2017 photography workshop with orphans and displaced children in Bamako, Mali.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Sculpture for sale in New York illegally obtained from Iran?

Ancient Limestone Relief Is Seized at European Art Fair

A 1933 photograph of an excavation of the ruins of Persepolis in Iran. The bas-relief of a soldier that was seized at the art fair came from the ruins, according to a search warrant. Courtesy Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and The New York Times.

by James McKinley Jr., The New York Times

The European Fine Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory is an elegant event during which wealthy collectors browse through booths of stunning art pieces, from ancient sculptures to works by early 20th-century masters.

So it raised a few eyebrows on Friday afternoon (27 Oct., 2017) when two prosecutors and three police officers marched into the armory at 2 p.m. with stern expressions and a search warrant, witnesses said.

A few minutes later, cursing could be heard coming from a London dealer’s booth, breaking the quiet, reverential atmosphere. To the consternation of several art dealers looking on, the police and prosecutors seized an ancient limestone bas-relief of a Persian soldier with shield and spear, which once adorned a building in the ruins of Persepolis in Iran, according to a search warrant. The relief is worth about $1.2 million and was being offered for sale by Rupert Wace, a well-known dealer in antiquities in London.

In an statement, Mr. Wace said he had bought the relief from an insurance company, who had acquired it legally from a museum in Montreal, where it had been displayed since the 1950s.

“This work of art has been well known to scholars and has a history that spans almost 70 years,” Mr. Wace said in an email. “We are simply flabbergasted at what has occurred.”

Thursday, 26 October 2017

'A place where art can be art'

Selling the Porsche to Promote Iranian Art
The Argo Factory, a former Tehran brewery converted into a space to exhibit work by Iranian and foreign artists. The art in the exhibition on view in this and all the photos is by Slavs and Tatars, an art collective. Credit Arash Khamooshi. Courtesy The New York Times.
by Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times

The old brewery was a cockroach-infested ruin, a makeshift shelter for drug addicts in Tehran’s bustling downtown. Most people walked straight past it, a festering eyesore in a city dominated by high rises and building cranes.

But when Hamidreza Pejman, a sweatpants-wearing art lover with a mission to bring Iranian art to a global level, stumbled across the building he saw something else: a space to exhibit international art and build bridges between Iranian and foreign artists. “A place where art can be art,” he said, “no matter the costs.”

Mr. Pejman, 36, who once scrubbed toilets in London but got rich in construction in Iran, took out his checkbook and bought the brewery last year.

In the two years that his nonprofit Pejman Foundation has been active, he has not only bought loads of Iranian art, but also supported dozens of Iranian and foreign artists.

In fact, he says his love of art has become so pricey that he has been forced to cut back on other things. “I had to move in with my parents three months ago to save costs. I’m selling my Porsche,” he said, adding: “My goal is not to make any money from art. My goal is to free our art scene from the iron grip of money and get as many people to interact with art as possible.”

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Iranian Artists Picturing Their Cities

A gallery exhibit explores the urban public spaces of the Islamic Republic.
Behnam Sadighi's images show stark landscapes of a neighborhood in west Tehran. Courtesy of Hillyer Art Space/Behnam Sadighi and CityLab.
by Mimi KirkCityLab

Iran has experienced extraordinary political and economic transformation over the past four decades. From the 1979 Islamic Revolution to the democratic aspirations of the 2009 Green Movement to the 2016 nuclear deal with the U.S., the country has seen profound change, including in its cities.

“These developments have affected urban life, both for individuals and the collective,” says Gohar Dashti, a photographer who splits her time between Boston and Tehran. “These changes have also inspired artists.”

Dashti is the curator of an exhibition that provides a platform for this inspiration. Dubbed “Urban Mapping: Public Space Through the Lens of Contemporary Iranian Artists,” the show, hosted by the Washington, D.C., gallery Hillyer Art Space, features the photographs and videos of 10 artists whose work focuses on the urban.

Rana Javadi’s images of the revolution, for instance, show the commotion and dynamism of central Tehran during that period. In one photograph, a group of young women gather, arms raised in protest, on what is now known as Enghelab, or “Revolution,” Street. Pre-1979, it was named after Reza Shah, the shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941.