Young artists are bringing fresh ideas to one of the world’s oldest civilisations.
Iran’s tumultuous history and troubled relationship with the West has, for many decades, overshadowed the wealth of culture and artistic innovation to be found there. The Culture Trip tells us more about “Good News from Iran”, a 2013 exhibition at Endjavi-Barbé Art Projects in Switzerland that revealed a fresh and positive aspect to the Iranian contemporary arts scene.
Home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations, the culturally diverse nation of Iran has, in recent decades, become characterised by political isolation following the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
The country’s relationship with the West has been further strained by suspicions around its nuclear programme, resulting in UN imposed sanctions and increased economic seclusion.
By portraying the Middle Eastern nation as one of violence and gloom, the media encourages widespread ignorance surrounding the impressive cultural offerings to be found here. A new generation of contemporary artists works against these negative stereotypes, striving instead to look to the positive.
“Good News from Iran” (2 -16 November 2013), curated by Amir Farhad and organised by Endjavi-Barbé Art Projects, presented the work of 11 young Iranian artists who reveal a sublayer of positivity and innovation beneath the negative views of their country. In contrast to much Iranian art, the exhibition is free of calligraphy, exotic influence or voices of protest. Instead these artists challenge the viewer’s preconceived notions of Iran through works possessing a fresh and vibrant sense of fantasy.
Ayada Alizadeh (b. 1985)
A sculpture student at the University of Tehran, Iran, Ayada Alizadeh demonstrates the complexity of the human spirit through her work. She describes the motivation for this focus through her own experience:
“Sometimes I have a feeling different people are inside of me. One who is always angry, one who always tells jokes to people next to him and laughs, one who is complaining all the time. Some days I׳m happy and full of energy like a carnival. Another day I could have so much emotions, feeling like a bird is singing in my heart, another day it feels like a cloud heavy with rain.”
In Clown and his assistant (2013) two photographs are shown side by side. In the first image, the artist presents herself dressed in a red and white patterned dress, a red clown nose, and a plastic, red and white polka dot bow that sits atop her head. Although her costume indicates a joyous state, her expression is unenthusiastic. The second picture shows a grouping of toys: a jack in the box with a small cat perched above, a jester marionette and a string of holiday lights. The contrast between the artist’s mental state as indicated by her blank stare with the other elements of the work demonstrates the complexity of her emotion.
Melodie Hojabr Sadat (b. 1989)
The illustrations of Paris born, Iranian artist Melodie Hojabr Sadat focus on unanticipated moments of lightness. The works are created with an awareness of life’s difficulties, and seek to provide a relief for those wishing to look upon the positive. Persian Style (2013) draws from the tradition of Persian miniature making, and is cluttered with whimsical characters and dancing super heroes which spring forth from a sea of trees and shrubbery.
Negar Fadaei (b. 1983)
Tehran born artist Negar Fadaei creates paintings from photographic negatives of happy memories captured on film. Family photographs are usually made from pleasant experiences since there is little interest in remembering moments of pain and suffering. Therefore revisiting family albums most often evokes nostalgia for times of joy. By replicating the negatives in paint, Fadaei is forced to observe the photograph more closely than one does during the printing process to more intimately involve herself in the memory. The resulting paintings are primed in black paint and illustrated in light colour to resemble the negative itself.
Habib Farajabadi (b. 1982)
Self-trained artist Habib Farajabadi quotes Robert Morris to describe the simplicity of his paintings: “Simplicity of shape does not necessarily equate with simplicity of experience”. Farajabadi is inspired by real world observation rather than by writings and art history, and liberty and improvisation are at the centre of his concerns. The resulting paintings are uninhibited and childlike, leaning closer to abstraction than to formally composed paintings.
Maryam Hosseini (b. 1988)
When describing her work Maryam Hosseini lists the Persian Miniaturists, medieval allegorical paintings, biblical scenes by Gustave Doré, French landscape painters, and Rene Magritte as her primary sources of inspiration. Combined with imagery taken from the artist’s own personal memories, this range of influences can be found within a single work, creating a fresh and unusual arrangement of visual elements.
Elnaz Javani (b. 1985)
Elnaz Javani works principally with fabric because of its potential resemblance to flesh. Fabric can be moulded, lacerated, torn, wrinkled, shaped, and sewn in the way of skin. It bears the marks of its experiences and is feminine in its sensitivity and refinement. Her works are deeply connected to human struggle, particularly that involving female or cultural identity. Yet the violent imagery often associated with flesh is subverted in her work through the delicate quality of the medium. Furthermore, the artist’s process of drawing with thread and needle, effectively embedding an image into the fibres of the material, facilitates a highly organic relationship with the process of art making.
Poorang Pirataei (b. 1985)
The paintings of Tehran-born artist Poorang Pirataei are characterised by their bold contours, vibrant hues and highly stylised, innocent aesthetic. Using oil, pastel and old cardboard, Pirataei creates imagined worlds in which alternative ideas of human concepts such as love, freedom, peace, hope and dreams might exist. The artist is interested in exploring new meanings for these universal concepts as he believes that the existing understandings of them have become deformed.
Mohammad Piriaei (b. 1984)
In a silkscreen print from Mohammad Piriaei’s Accident behind the fountain series (2013), a muscular figure dressed in a polka dot bunny costume, complete with gloves and heeled boots, is seen enthusiastically leaping into a void of pulsating multicoloured rings. This quirky depiction seems free of heavy meaning or political reference, straddling representation and abstraction. Piriaei begins by sketching is his notebooks, developing his concepts through the natural process of working and reworking. He then collaborates with printmakers or ceramicists to complete his projects.
Ashkan Sanei (b. 1984)
Illustrated using permanent marker on paper, the drawings that compose Ashkan Sanei’s “Golden Island” series (2012) are pure in their unpretentious candour. His works are composed from the most basic of signs pulled from memory and experience, and are formed in a moment resting between the conscious and unconscious mind. Sanei asks viewers to enjoy his paintings without the search for sophistication in their meanings.
Sale Sharifi (b. 1989)
Sale Sharifi is interested in the visual charm and what he perceives as the ‘strange erotic attractiveness’ of flowers. The artist works in the manner of sixteenth century flower painters and botanical drawers who were not really considered artists in their own right, to produce deeply intricate petals, leaves and plant details on a bare white ground.
Setare Sanjari (b. 1986)
The photographs of Setare Sanjari reference 17th century European still life paintings composed of various fruits, vegetables and household objects. Her works remind the viewer of an art historical period, while also acknowledging photography’s intention to capture a moment in time in the futile attempt to resist annihilation. Her images are thus used to satirise the idea of immortality while balancing historical and contemporary artistic traditions.
Ellen Von Wiegand
This article originally featured in The Culture Trip, an online platform showcasing the best of art, culture and travel for every country in the world.
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- 28 Iranian women artists in 3 decade survey Masques of Shahrazad in London – February 2009 – an exhibition featuring work by 28 Iranian women artists of three generations at Candlestar Gallery in London
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