Iranian artist Taha Heydari proves that beauty can be deadly, and the deadly beautiful.

On show at Ethan Cohen New York until 30 May 2015, “Taha Heydari: See Something Say Something” urges a closer look at the ubiquitous propaganda imagery that penetrates our daily consciousness. 

Taha Heydari, 'Mountains', 2014, acrylic on panel. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘Mountains’, 2014, acrylic on panel. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari (b. 1986, Tehran, Iran) was trained in the art of miniature painting in Iran. In his first solo exhibition abroad, entitled “Taha Heydari: See Something Say Something”, Heydari employs his exquisite craft in tackling the grim and weighty subject of Middle Eastern radical propaganda.

Taha Heydari, 'Tetris', 2015, acrylic on board (wood), 44 x 44 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘Tetris’, 2015, acrylic on board (wood), 44 x 44 inc. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

A postmodern aesthetic

So intricate and sophisticated is the artist’s brushwork that, from a distance, the paintings appear to be complex mixed media collages. Shiny and seductive, yet anonymous and ambivalent, Heydari’s multi-layered canvases exude a postmodern aesthetic – one that embodies the flashing temporality of Youtube and video games.

Taha Heydari, 'The Smoke', 2014, acrylic on canvas, 35.4 x 45.2 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘The Smoke’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 35.4 x 45.2 inc. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

The exhibition press release calls to attention Heydari’s unique aesthetic, highlighting his training in the art of miniature painting:

[Heydari] brings his highly-sensitised eye to the glossy post-modern palette of images generated by electronic screens.

Taha Heydari, 'Watch us', 2014, acrylic on board (wood), 45 x 47 inch. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘Watch us’, 2014, acrylic on board (wood), 45 x 47 in. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

A lurking menace 

A closer inspection reveals the menace lurking behind the glittering surfaces. Rows of faceless, bearded men ogle a female figure in Watch Us (2014), a hooded gunman executes a blindfolded prisoner in On Stage (2015), and a masked executioner beheads a boy in See Something Say Something (2015). The decapitated head is laughing; according to the press release, Heydari has depicted a

[beheading] that a brainwashed boy can only laugh at, even if it happens to him.

Taha Heydari, 'See Something Say Something', 2015, acrylic on board (wood), 47 x 47.4 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘See Something Say Something’, 2015, acrylic on board (wood), 47 x 47.4 in. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Heydari’s concern is that propaganda images are enfolded surreptitiously into everyday media channels, brainwashing people into supporting war and violence. His subject matter is the “morally toxic, deceptively banal, visual junk that feeds the region’s wars and and subliminal messages”, which are so ubiquitously deployed

that they become a kind of blurry background texture to daily life, a shifting wallpaper of the mind.

Taha Heydari, 'Doom II', 2014, acrylic on board (wood), 47.4 x 48 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘Doom II’, 2014, acrylic on board (wood), 47.4 x 48 in. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

The banality goes further: as violent computer games and drone wars enter global consciousness, painless killing is made possible through mediated screens. As written in the press release,

The result is a reality that escapes us, that happens to others, even when it happens to us.

Taha Heydari, 'Friends', 2014, acrylic on canvas, 35. 4 x 45.2 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘Friends’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 35. 4 x 45.2 in. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

See something, say something

What Heydari does with his art is freeze the questionable imagery long enough for viewers to detect evil from within the slippery eloquence of propaganda. He warns against indifference as a response towards the proliferation of clichéd abstractions, beseeching viewers to recognise atrocity for what it is. For instance, in On Stage, a beautiful female face on a billboard looks upon a blindfolded execution with chilling impassivity.

Taha Heydari, 'On Stage', 2015, acrylic and oil on board (wood), 47 x 47 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

Taha Heydari, ‘On Stage’, 2015, acrylic and oil on board (wood), 47 x 47 in. Image courtesy the artist and Ethan Cohen New York.

The press release reads:

Always ambivalent, suggestive, mysterious, his works invite the viewer to decipher, to look again and see the shiny visual poison at work.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Iranian artists, art and war, violence in art, painting, acrylic, picture feasts, events in New York

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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