“ART BRIEF II: Iranian Contemporary North America” at Arena 1 Gallery – in pictures

Exhibition showcasing prominent Iranian diaspora artists touches on life after exile.

“ART BRIEF II: Iranian Contemporary North America” marks the second installment of ADVOCARTSY’s innovative programmes seeking to connect, educate and engage. 

Samira Abbassy, 'Bird Apparition', 2014, oil on canvas, 44 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Samira Abbassy, ‘Bird Apparition’, 2014, oil on canvas, 44 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

“ART BRIEF II: Iranian Contemporary North America” brings together 14 Iranian diaspora artists residing throughout North America. The exhibition opens on 2 June 2016 at the Arena 1 Gallery in Santa Monica, with two curator tours (7 and 9 June) and an Art Talk/Closing Reception on 12 June 2016. The show is curated by ADVOCARTSY Founder Roshi Rahnama and Dr. Talinn Grigor, Professor of Art History at the University of California, Davis and the author of Contemporary Iranian Art: From the Street to the Studio.

Ala Ebtekar, Untitled (Manuscript 14), 2015, manuscript page, 16 3-4 x 12 3-4 in. Image courtesy the artist, ADVOCARTSY and Anglim Gilbert Gallery.

Ala Ebtekar, ‘Untitled (Manuscript 14)’, 2015, manuscript page, 16 3/4 x 12 3/4 in. Image courtesy the artist, ADVOCARTSY and Anglim Gilbert Gallery.

According to exhibition’s press release (PDF download), the show of nearly 50 multimedia works seeks to provide a dialogue behind the artists’ “separation from their homeland” and current status living in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver:

“ART BRIEF II: Iranian Contemporary North America” seeks to explore the diverse ways in which artists of Iranian background and based in North America have addressed the separation from their homeland. The works exhibited speak to the various artistic reactions and reflections to the realities of identity formation in diaspora, the pain and joy of exile, the call of nostalgia, and the fragmentation of the self.

Aida Izadpanah, 'Revelation 3', 2013, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 72 x 62 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Aida Izadpanah, ‘Revelation 3’, 2013, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 72 x 62 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

In addition to the 13 visual artists, one performance artist, Melika Abikenari will participate. The Closing Reception on 12 June 2016 will include an Art Panel with Dr. Talinn Grigor, Anousheh Razi, Collector and Patron, Scott J. Schaefer, Senior Curator of Paintings Emeritus, J. Paul Getty Museum, and Formerly Senior Vice-President, International Fine Arts, Sotheby’s Los Angeles.

Simin Keramati, 'Me, myself, and a memory', 2014, acrylics and spangles on canvas, 31.9' x 44.9 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Simin Keramati, ‘Me, Myself, and a Memory’, 2014, acrylics and spangles on canvas, 31.9′ x 44.9 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

ADVOCARTSY, a platform seeking to bring together an international roster of artists, curators, collectors, galleries and “industry visionaries” through exhibitions and art events, is the brainchild of Roshi Rahnama. Several years back, Rahnama, who spent over 20 years as a lawyer in California, noticed a lack of community engagement around the Fine Arts. In 2015, she founded ADVOCARTSY, with the expressed determination to fill this void, which in turn resulted in the organisation’s first exhibition at the end of that year.

Farzad Kohan, 'You Are the Sun for Me', mixed media on paper, 31.1' x 23 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Farzad Kohan, ‘You Are the Sun for Me’, mixed media on paper, 31.1′ x 23 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Rahnama discussed the impetus behind the creation of ADVOCARTSY and the contemporary art scene in Los Angeles in the catalogue (PDF download) for “ART BRIEF: Iranian Contemporary North America”:

Los Angeles is home to a bustling and diverse art scene, perhaps one of the most celebratory and productive scenes of contemporary art in the world. It is also home to a vibrant and active Iranian community — the largest concentration of Iranians outside of Iran itself. Yet I noticed a void. Despite this parallelism, and despite a declared desire which was routinely articulated to me by friends and community members alike, there remained an absence of community engagement with the fine arts. I deferred that this was largely due to an absence of proper avenues for Iranian artists to showcase their work and connect with their most natural base of collectors,  enthusiasts, and supporters.

The existing art platforms which have dedicated their time and resources to the celebration of the Iranian contemporary arts (which include established museums and various galleries) have faced and continue to face significant challenges in funding and support. They rely heavily on a few dedicated patrons and sponsors to achieve their respective goals in acquiring and exhibiting works by Iranian artists. Many galleries have simply been left with no choice but to close their doors or redefine.

Dana Nehdaran, 'Father and Sons From Kashan' from the "Esther's Children" series, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Dana Nehdaran, ‘Father and Sons From Kashan’, from the “Esther’s Children” series, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

The potential loss of a community’s shared identity as it assimilates to its adopted country and individuals’ “fragmentation of the self” is something that ADVOCARTSY seeks to examine through its exhibitions and events. As co-curator Dr. Tallin Grigor noted in the exhibition’s catalogue, this very dilemma was predicted to happen to the Iranian diaspora community some thirty years ago by Karim Emami:

The first Iranian art critic, Karim Emami, foresaw the predicament in which we would find ourselves today. Thirty years on, his question remains not only relevant, but also poignant: what is Iranian about their art? And what really is Iranian about these artists? From the outset, the exhibition aimed to address several overlapping concerns particular to its place and time, gathering a diverse set of artists whose work addressed a common passion: the malleable and constructive notion of “Iran” as such. For each of these artists, “Iran” and “Iranian” are an empty canvas that they paint.

Dariush Nehdaran, Untitled (1) from "The Life of the Shadows" series, digital photography: gelatin silver print, 27.5' x 41.3' in, ed.4:5 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Dariush Nehdaran, ‘Untitled (1)’, from “The Life of the Shadows” series, digital photography: gelatin silver print, 27.5′ x 41.3′ in, ed. 4:5 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

First step

ADVOCARTSY’S first “concentrated” community event resulted in “ART BRIEF: Iranian Contemporary Los Angeles”, with a dozen local artists participating and an art talk panelled by Homa Sarshar, American art critic Peter Frank, historian Tooraj Daryaee and artists Marjam Oskoui and Farzad Kohan. As Rahnama told Art Radar, the premier event was a promising “first step”:

The first ART BRIEF exhibition proved my intuition that Los Angeles was eager to engage and support a platform dedicated to showcasing Iranian Contemporary art.  The amazing collaborative effort between the artists and collaborating galleries was innovative and intended to address a void within the Los Angeles community.  Over 1000 people attended the weekend long exhibition.  The exhibition further provided Los Angeles with a diverse conversation around what Iranian Contemporary Art represents. It was a great first step in realizing a large potential.

Marjam Oskoui, 'Meta Goods', 2016, digital print on vinyl, 38 x 60 in, ed.1:4. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Marjam Oskoui, ‘Meta Goods’, 2016, digital print on vinyl, 38 x 60 in, ed. 1:4. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Los Angeles and beyond

In June 2016, the organisation’s second installation reaches further afield, as Rahnama relayed to Art Radar:

ART BRIEF II represents a larger base of artists than the first exhibition as it showcases works by Iranian artists beyond those based in Los Angeles.  This exhibition showcases works by 14 artists based in North America and explores how each of the artists have addressed their separation from their homeland in their work.  This exhibition will certainly invite the viewers to each explore and connect with their own personal experiences of transition, be it as immigrants from one country to another or otherwise, as this is certainly a universal concept. I hope that this exhibition will bring awareness to our shared experiences, thus connecting us through the arts.
Hadi Salehi, 'Iran-dught: Memory', 2016, mixed media, film, & digital ink-jet print, 34 x 24 in, ed.1:2. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Hadi Salehi, ‘Iran-dught: Memory’, 2016, mixed media, film, & digital ink-jet print, 34 x 24 in, ed. 1:2. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

The “ART BRIEF II: Iranian Contemporary North America” Exhibition includes work by 13 notable visual artists, spanning generations:

Shilla Shakoori, 'So I Could Cease Thinking', 2016, graphite, watercolor, stiches on paper, 26 x 20 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Shilla Shakoori, ‘So I Could Cease Thinking’, 2016, graphite, watercolor, stiches on paper, 26 x 20 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Separate, yet the same
As this is an exhibition with artists who are in the diaspora, separation is explored at a macro and micro level. As sculptor Kambiz Sharif told Art Radar, although his work is rooted in the socio-political manifestations occurring in his homeland, his work also reflects a broader, global reality found throughout contemporary society:

Long before immigration, my works were conceived under the influence of my homeland and the existing conditions there. This doesn’t mean that today my separation determines all of my ideas. The main concept that I follow is based on the social and political changes happening in Iran. These, in reality, are not limited to my homeland and unfortunately can be found all around the world.

Kambiz Sharif, 'Where Is Mecca', 2015, bronze, 31 x 31 x 93 in, ed. 4:4+AP. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Kambiz Sharif, ‘Where Is Mecca’, 2015, bronze, 31 x 31 x 93 in, ed. 4:4 + AP. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

In addition to the transition from homeland to adopted land, a tension between past and present is often teased-out, brooded on. According to Dana Nehdaran, the artist told Art Radar that although he looks towards the now, the past lingers on much like a shadow:
My work emphasizes the here and now; however the past is always revealed showing that relationship thereby examining that tension. You will notice that I often place historical subjects in my work, then remove them, even shadow contemporary subjects, often layering several types of media and techniques. Art is ever present as it echoes the past, memorializes the present and anticipates the future.
Kamran Sharif, from "The Passage Collection", 2014, bronze and epoxy resin, 19.7 x 11.8 x 45.3 in, ed.1:3. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Kamran Sharif, from the series “The Passage Collection”, 2014, bronze and epoxy resin, 19.7 x 11.8 x 45.3 in, ed. 1:3. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

The visual artists included in “ART BRIEF II: Iranian Contemporary North America” utilise a mix of traditional as well as contemporary techniques and media. Some work with sculpture, paint and mixed media. There are several who are also photographers or incorporate photos into their work. Amongst the media present, this particular medium is one that has certainly seen a dramatic change since the introduction of digital technology. In speaking with photographer Hadi Salehi, Art Radar found out that although digital photography has changed the photography industry, he prefers to employ the human touch:

I consider myself as a story teller, who uses two dimensional space and film as my medium. The advent of digital photography did change my industry but opened up another avenue for me and made me realise how great analog photography actually is. As you know, analog photography is half science and half art. In order to create, you have to understand science and the chemistry behind the process. In addition, it requires thought behind it and a human touch. I love analog photography because it is me and has my DNA all over it and to me, that makes all the difference.

Shadi Yousefian, 'Memories 4', 2015, mixed media, 37.5 x 37.5 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Shadi Yousefian, ‘Memories 4’, 2015, mixed media, 37.5 x 37.5 in. Image courtesy the artist and ADVOCARTSY.

Regardless of the differences, “ART BRIEF II: Iranian Contemporary North America” promises to be a very strong exhibition, bringing together the local Iranian diaspora and the diverse Los Angeles art community. As participating artist Farzad Kohan told Art Radar, the sky is the limit:

Los Angeles has a history of being home to a very large art community, it is fascinating and exciting to me that we have an Iranian exhibition in Los Angeles that is of museum quality with very high standards and a great crowd that has begun to collect and support their artists, ADVOCARTSY already elevated this art scene with it’s inaugural show and continues to do so with a great second Los Angeles show, this is a great city and it deserves great art and I think ADVOCARTSY has delivered that.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: art and the community, Iranian artists, historical art, identity art, migration, events in Los Angeles

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