Homecoming: “Selected Works” by Iran’s Raha Raissnia in Tehran at Ab/Anbar gallery

Ab/Anbar gallery welcomes artist Raha Raissnia with her first solo exhibition in her native Tehran.

“Selected Works: Raha Raissnia”, on view until 31 December 2015 at Tehran-based Ab/Anbar gallery, is Brooklyn-based Iranian artist Raha Raissnia’s first solo show in her home country, and features a compilation of recent abstract paintings, drawings and films.

Raha Raissnia, 'Unbowed', 2014, oil and gesso on wood, 24 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Unbowed’, 2014, oil and gesso on wood, 24 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist.

“Selected Works: Raha Raissnia”, at Ab/Anbar gallery in Tehran, features for the first time ever New York-based Iranian artist Raha Raissnia’s multimedia oeuvre. As Gallery Director Salman Matinfar stated, the commercial space is committed to presenting “a public programme of Iranian artists who are less known and in some cases totally unknown to the domestic art scene”. Particularly, he continues:

Raha’s practice had been brought to my attention through a reputable circle of art critics and curators, but I only had the chance of encountering her works in person recently when viewing ‘Longing’ at the Venice Biennale 2015. I was struck by this piece and her approach to art as very much echoing with Ab/Anbar’s vision. Following our ethos of presenting a fresh breath in the art scene of Tehran, I immediately got in touch with her in New York and expressed my interest in her showing here in Tehran. Raha was very welcoming and loved the idea of exhibiting in Tehran.

Raha Raissnia, 'Animism, 2013' (still), 10 min, loop installation, 16mm film, 35mm slides and painting overlaid, dimensions: 33 x 43 inches ( 83.8 x 109.2 cm), sound by Aki Onda. Image courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Animism, 2013’ (still), 10m:00s, loop installation, 16mm film, 35mm slides and painting overlaid, dimensions: 33 x 43 in (83.8 x 109.2 cm), sound by Aki Onda. Image courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Multimedia artist Raha Raissnia (b.1968, Tehran) works with drawing, painting and films, all of which reveal two signature features: namely a black-and-white chromatic structure and a hallucinatory atmosphere. When working with moving images, this aspect is further emphasised by the use of experimental music as in her latest film Longing (2015), made in collaboration with New York-based artist Panagiotis Mavridis. As Raissnia explains, 

[Drawing, painting and films] are interconnected and interdependent. The language of painting brings elements of abstraction on a vision I capture on film and the films bring elements of reality into my paintings. It is through drawing that I investigate this two-sided influence.

Raha Raissnia, 'Pneumatic', 2014, oil and gesso on wood, 24 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Pneumatic’, 2014, oil and gesso on wood, 24 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist.

As the exhibition title suggests, the selection mostly presents recent works that the artist says feel very connected to each other, such as Untitled (2015) or Cadge Series (2014), and other older works like Chaleh Harz (2011) and the previous “Untitled” paintings series (2010), which also relate to the newer works and open a dialogue, making the entire exhibition consistent and cohesive. 

Both Raissnia’s paintings and films manifest influences deriving from German Expressionist films of the 1920s, like Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922) and Metropolis (1927), that she became acquainted with while working at New York’s Anthology Film Archives between 1995 and 1999. The dreamlike ambience she recreates references such films by Spanish filmmaker and leader of avant-garde Surrealism Luis Buñuel and his Un Chien Andalou, rich with disturbing images of a Freudian nature.

Raha Raissnia, 'Rampart', 2014, Oil and gesso on wood, 61 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar Gallery.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Rampart’, 2014, oil and gesso on wood, 61 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar Gallery.

Quoting the gallery’s website,

Raha Raissnia learned to paint from filmmakers and musicians rather than painters. Years spent at Anthology Film Archives left her well-versed in the cinematic avant-garde, and her projection performances often involve collaborations with experimental musicians Aki Onda and Charles Curtis. Above all, Raissnia’s work aspires to the temporal and experiential condition of music—suggestive, ambiguous, abstract.

Raha Raissnia, 'Longing', 2015, 16 mm film, color, 20-minute loop, optical sound, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Longing’, 2015, 16 mm film, colour, 20-minute loop, optical sound, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Longing is a 16 mm film recorded in the East Harlem neighbourhood of upper Manhattan in New York City. This was exhibited in the central exhibition “All the World’s Futures” at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. In the press release of Raissnia’s 2015 show “Aberration” (PDF download) at New York’s Miguel Abreu Gallery, the artist writes about the work thus:

The raw footage for Longing was initially recorded on a mobile phone camera. The hidden camera and my inability to frame what I was capturing caused sweeping and erratic movements, which resulted in abstractions throughout the film. These effects are not there in order to create any aesthetic quality or else evade figuration, but are just part of the motion of real life, captured on film through my bodily movements.

Raha Raissnia, 'Untitled', 2015, Oil and gesso on wood, 61 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar Gallery.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Untitled’, 2015, oil and gesso on wood, 61 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar Gallery.

Raha Raissnia, 'Rectitute', 2014, Oil and gesso on wood, 61 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar Gallery.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Rectitute’, 2014, oil and gesso on wood, 61 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar Gallery.

The artist further expands on the close interconnection between painting and film in her work:

I am particularly fond of the paintings that are made on wood. They relate and complement the film Longing. I am interested in the stillness of the imagery and how it can contain much of the emotional qualities of the film in a concentrated manner that is at the same time very subtle.

Raha Raissnia draws raw materials from the everyday, observing real situations and environments, and concrete gestures and facial expressions that she records, assimilates and reworks. Layer upon layer, Raissnia constructs her own experience of the real by mixing images, juxtaposing diverse materials and superimposing filters. She manipulates colours and light effects, intervening with found materials and hand-painted slides, thus transforming inputs into an abstract experiential output that is always silenced.

Raha Raissnia, installation view of "Selected Works: Raha Raissnia", 2015, at Ab/Anbar. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar.

Raha Raissnia, installation view of “Selected Works: Raha Raissnia”, 2015, at Ab/Anbar. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar.

This exhibition marks the first time Raissnia’s work is being presented in a show in Tehran. Ab/Anbar Director Salman Matinfar explains the criteria behind this selection:

Raha is a multidisciplinary artist who is not bound to a single body of work or method of production. Her approach is very contemporary and her concerns are about complications of the contemporary man in his/her contemporary society. Her works are about humanity; a concept that knows no geographical border. Her borderless approach is what we found the most interesting and an important factor in her works.

Raha Raissnia, installation view of "Selected Works: Raha Raissnia", 2015, at Ab/Anbar. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar.

Raha Raissnia, installation view of “Selected Works: Raha Raissnia”, 2015, at Ab/Anbar. Image courtesy Ab/Anbar.

Matinfar also reveals the factors that made it possible to welcome Raha Raissnia back to her native country:

As Iran is on the verge of opening its doors to the world, new approaches are in demand. The Tehran art scene is no exception. We believe our domestic art scene is in need of some adjustments including introducing of new voices, the restructuring/rethinking of existing approaches to art and education and preparation of art lovers and collectors for the changes to come. On this note, artists like Raha, with their international experience and global approach to art can be an asset for laying the ground for such foundation. In addition, it provides a fresh scene and choice for both art lovers and collectors to explore and possess. Raha is one of many great artists that can contribute to such cultural shifts and there are many more to come after her.

Carmen Stolfi

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Related topics: Iranian artists, painting, film, drawing, gallery shows, events in Tehran

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