Iran Modern at Asia Society Museum

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart shares a note on the exhibition of Iranian modern art at the Asia Society Museum, New York.

Untitled, 1973, Abolghassem Saidi. Image Credit:!artworks

Untitled, 1973, Abolghassem Saidi. Image Credit:!artworks

London: Don’t forget to catch the first major international exhibition of Iranian modern art, from the 1950s to the 1970s at the Asia Society Museum in New York. The Asia Society Museum has been committed to closing the cultural chasm that exists between Asia and America. By promoting and showcasing a wide range of traditional and contemporary exhibitions of Asian and Asian American art, the museum has given Asian art a wider platform for exposition.

The focus of the exhibition is to highlight the thriving glory of Iran’s flourishing art scene before the Islamic Revolution of the 1979s. The exhibition features 100 works by 26 artists that encapsulate the international presence that these Iranian artists had with the rest of the art world. The collection of this exhibition have been loaned from leading artistic institutions like JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tate, London.

Crossroads (Earthwork), 1975, Marcos Grigorian. Image Credit:!artworks

Crossroads (Earthwork), 1975, Marcos Grigorian. Image Credit:!artworks

Curated by scholars Fereshteh Daftari and Layla S. Diba, the thematic exposition of the paintings, sculptures and photographs, unravels the provenance and subsequent evolution of Iranian modernism. Embedded within Iran’s political and cultural climate, the exhibition highlights the global interaction that Iranian art from this period enjoyed.

Untitled, 1977, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Image Credit:!artworks

Untitled, 1977, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Image Credit:!artworks

 A threefold division explores the artistic genres of Saqqakhaneh, abstraction and calligraphy. Saqqakhaneh was the name of the artistic movement coined by the art critic Karim Emami in 1963. The movement amalgamated popular symbols of Shi’a Muslim culture within modern art. Each of the three sections features a monographic highlight of selected seminal artists, who played an influential role in defining Iranian Modernism.

Ledge (1), 1970, Siah Armajani. Image Credit:!artworks

Ledge (1), 1970, Siah Armajani. Image Credit:!artworks

The Saqqakhaneh movement, with its direct roots in the heart and soul of Iranian lineage, arose as a retaliation of the mimicry of Western values. Instead the movement assimilated Iranian traditions with Western modernity to form a unique pastiche, which was both distinctive and relevant on a global scale, a ‘spiritual Pop Art’ of sorts. In addition to the artworks, the exhibition features plenty of archival material to substantiate the history, politics and cultural environment of the pre- Iranian revolution.

One of the proponents of the Saqqakhaneh movement whose works can be seen in the exhibition is Parviz Tanavoli. Tanavoli created a new language for sculpture in Iran, by combining pre Islamic art motifs and modern day objects. A recurrent feature in his work is the word heech, meaning ‘nothing’. The letterform of the word- nasta’liq makes an appearance in a few of his works. The word stands as a metaphor for his fluctuating feelings towards the past and the sense of discontentment with the inadequacy of the present.

Heech (Nothing), 1972, Parviz Tanavoli. Image Credit:!artworks

Heech (Nothing), 1972, Parviz Tanavoli. Image Credit:!artworks

Some of the many other artists in this exhibition include: Siah Armajani, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Nicky Nodjoumi, Faramarz Pilaram and Behjat Sadr.

The exhibition will be on view from September 6th 2013 to January 5th 2014.

For more information, please click here.

Light from the Middle East: New Photography at the V&A (13 November 2012 – 7 April 2013)

Guest blogger Saranna Biel-Cohen shares highlights from Light from the Middle East: New Photography, at the V&A in London

London: This exhibition is a collaboration between the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum and a result of a grant given by The Art Fund in 2009 enabling the museums to collect contemporary Middle Eastern photography. You can read more about the grant on the Art Fund’s website. This is the first major exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East, featuring 30 artists from 13 countries in the region and in the diaspora. The exhibition is divided into three sections, RECORDING, REFRAMING and RESISTING, referencing the intention and styles of the medium.

RECORDING : Photography can accurately document an event, people or place and can be commemorative or historic. The exhibition later calls into question the reliability of the image by juxtaposing historical snapshots to staged or manipulated images.

The exhibition opens with veteran Iranian photojournalist, Abbas’ black and white series Iran Diary, documenting events during the Iranian revolution.

Abbas, 'Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran,December 1978', from the series Iran Diary, 1978-9, courtesy V&A

Abbas, ‘Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran,
December 1978′, from the series Iran Diary, 1978-9, courtesy V&A

Mehraneh Atashi captures aspects of Iranian life not often seen outside the country (and sometimes even inside). She visited a zurkhana, an Iranian wrestling gym, a place usually forbidden to women. She includes her own image in the composition, framed by portraits of religious figures.

Mehraneh Atashi, 'Bodiless I', from the series Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength), 2004, courtesy V&A

Mehraneh Atashi, ‘Bodiless I’, from the series Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength), 2004, courtesy V&A

Abbas Kowsari, originally a photojournalist and better known as the Senior Photo Editor for the Tehran-based newspaper E’temad, photographs a peshmerga, a Kurdish combatant in northern Iraq. The soldier’s face is excluded from the shot, and the subject in the image seems to be the face printed on his t-shirt- Canadian rock singer Bryan Adams, a juxtoposition of warfare and western popular culture.

Abbas Kowsari, Halabche, 2003, courtesy V&A

REFRAMING: Artists also use photography to reference known images, reworking them to make a personal, social or political statement. Inspired by iconic fashion photography, Moroccan born photographer Hassan Hajjij explores western consumerism alongside traditional values. His frames are made of recycled materials, giving a sculptural element to his work.

Hassan Hajjaj, Saida in Green, 2000, courtesy V&A

Between 1989 and 2004, Lebanese born Walid Raad worked on a project titled The Atlas Group, a fictional archive documenting the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The project includs text, video, installation and photography. This particular work from the series shows notebook pages from the fictional historian named Dr Fakhouri. This character kept a log of every car that was used as a car bomb during war. Read more about Walid Raad.

Walid Raad, Notebook Volume 38: Already Been in a Lake of Fire (Plates 63–64), 2003 courtesy V&A

RESISTING: Artists in this section demonstrate that photography can be manipulated, and truth in the medium is called into question. These artists also explore and expand the use of the medium through digital enhancement, processing techniques and modifications made to the print itself.

Iranian born Taraneh Hemani downloaded mug shots from a US government website just after 9/11. The printed faces are blurred and scratched so the individuals are no longer recognizable, a commentary on western stereotypes of Muslims.

Taraneh Hemami, Most Wanted, 2006, courtesy V&A

Egyptian photographer Nermine Hamman was taken by the events of Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 2011. The army was called in to respond to the protests, and she noticed the young soldiers and their vulnerability during this crisis. She imagined them anywhere but Cairo and superimposed them into vibrant, fantastical settings, recalling and rejecting the propaganda posters of young soldiers during World War II and communist propaganda images.

Hermine Hammam, ‘The Break’, from the series Upekkha, 2011, courtesy V&A

To learn more about the exhibition, click here. Also watch this video.

Guest contributor Saranna Biel-Cohen lives and works in London. She holds a Master’s Degree in History of Art from University College London with a focus on Modern Indian Art.

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