Sunday, July 17, 2011

There is a charge, for the eyeing of my scars

“There is a charge, for the eyeing of my scars”*

There are some traditions in any culture that are
supposed to be beautiful. They seem beautiful in abstract;
but if you take a closer look you might be seeing awful
truths; Things that shake you to your very bone. They
can’t be justified by today’s human rights and beliefs; and
so they can’t be applied in modern life. But as we grew up,
watching people around us honoring them, we get used to
them. We are not able to see the consequences anymore.
As for our society these traditions play a certain rule in
people’s life. They can change a person’s destiny entirely.
For being accepted in the society, sometimes you have to
wear a mask; and sometimes this mask becomes a custom
that you have to put on for a life time. Then where is
reality of you‐self? Where is that person who wanted to
conquer the world? All those wishes and dreams are gone
in a blink of an eye; all lost! Even you can’t remember that
your laughter have the power to thrill the world! You are
not able to smile anymore.
For us Iranians “flower and bird painting” could be a
metaphor of such traditions. This kind of painting is not as
old as “Negargari”; but they are old enough to be
considered a traditional form of Persian painting. The
birds in this kind of painting look so innocent that you
can’t believe that they might be able to harm a fly!
Drinking blood is not what they are supposed to do; and
that is not something that you could see at the first sight.
May be it is our fault to forget where should we stand. It is
not our place; not in the 21th century. So drink of my guilty
blood you pure birds; I am the sacrifice you need for
survival. And who I am except an ordinary woman who
gave up laughing to win the medallion of chastity; the
medallion that would shine forever on the top of my
(*) from “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

The journey of the amputee
by Kiarash Alimi

‘The Settled’ tenderly tortures.
‘The Settled” beaks her,
She, the still anxiety,
She, the motionless boredom,
She, whose claims breed sanity.
The virtual realm of birds and flowers are no longer of a
tame attitude. Birds and floral galaxies of Nikoo Tarkhani
are responding to an interruption. Bodies are not amazed.
They may not yet be smashed and broken, but they know the
rest by heart. The brutality and bloodshed is accepted.
The massacre of human freedom is right in the middle of these works.
If one asks for a key to this gate, probably the first accurate answer is
‘the floral world’.
The floral ornaments are the juxtapose or a common category
among eastern and western ornaments and hence aesthetics.
Thus its innocence and beauty is a universal belief. The innocence
of the love birds and the peace should be of and within our world.
This body of concepts are establishing a fair
image of what is to be called the floral world. The world within the
artworks, those places where ’the other’ is supposed to see the things.
Like old and long lived standpoints for the other to watch the images
and to confront with this world. The other important point is the
displacement of these foundations of interpretation. This fortunate
displacement was made by the place shift of the view point of the other.
In Sugimoto’s theaters, the cinema shots or in Mohajer’s dateless
Tehran, the long exposure times of frames caused a certain type
of stillness in the whole texture of the world within the works.
Eventually, any change in temporal sense sets fire in every
previous epistemology.
The personages, movements, meanings, chit-chats, gossips
and crimes are supposed to be shot within less than 15 seconds,
else they will disappear. As the vision corrupts, meanings and
history are tending to be forgotten. Maybe the recent works of
Nikoo consists of a very avant-garde review of Persian floral
design’s back stages and deleted scenes. Somewhere beyond
our temporal understanding of these petmannered
young lusts, bloodsheds are happening. The flesh of our tame
sacrifice is ours. This is us!!.

Metamorphoses from Nikoo Tarkhani on Vimeo.

A video-performance by Nikoo Tarkhani

Part one from the trilogy of “song of songs”
A video-performance by Nikoo Tarkhani
We have a little sister,
and she hath no breasts:
what shall we do for our sister
in the day when she shall be spoken for?
If she be a wall, we will build upon her
a palace of silver: and if she be a door,
we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
song of songs 8:8-9

Friday, June 17, 2011

This is not a woman

This is not a woman
by Nikoo Tarkhani / 2008-2010

“I say this woman. Holderlin, Mallarme, and all poets whose theme is the essence of poetry have felt that the act of naming is
disquieting and marvelous. A word may give me its meaning, but first it suppresses it. For me to be able to say, “This woman”, I
must somehow take her flesh and blood reality away from her, cause her to be absent, annihilate her.”
Maurice Blanchot-negation and the absence of language Women have always been recognized
by certain criteria through history. By their beauty, attraction, and sexiness which have been described by some characteristics. As Blanchot says the word “woman” gives a certain meaning to a human being. A creature that is much more than what world known her to be.
“This is not a woman” series aim to show a new eroticism, to delete a woman as we know her and create her again. All the works are self-portraits, reflecting my very own feelings as a woman, my social limitations and my freedom of thoughts. In spite of the fact that most of these feelings are due to personal experiences; I guess they can be extended to the general situation of women in Iran and many other countries. How they’re objectified and….

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Curated by Edward Lucie-Smith and Janet Rady Fereydoun Ave, Mitra Farahani, Ramin Haerizadeh, Narmine Sadeg, Nikoo Tarkhani Iranian contemporary art, with the exception of the cinema, has only swum into western consciousness fairly recently. Because of the political tensions between the West and Iran, it is still largely misrepresented and misunderstood.
Before looking at the specific cases offered by this exhibition, there are some general observations to be made. The first is that Iran possesses an extremely ancient culture, going back some three thousand years. The art of the present day has deep roots in that culture – to an extent often missed by western observers. The second is that Tehran, the largest city in the Middle East, with a population of nearly 8 million, has a lively indigenous art world. Most of the leading Iranian artists still live in their own country, at least part of the time and are proud to do so. The third is that, despite the Iranian Islamic Republic’s reputation for moral repression, the Iranian art of the present is often paradoxically very much concerned with the human body, and is frequently subtly infused with sexual connotation. The present show is designed to illustrate that fact.
Its contents will come as no surprise to anyone who has either visited Tehran, or who has any acquaintance with earlier Persian art and literature. Safavid miniatures from the time of Shah Abbas (1588-1629) often illustrate erotic subject matter. Hafez, Iran’s best-loved poet (ca. 1320-1390), as the entry on him in Wikipedia notes, “took as his major themes love, the celebration of wine and intoxication, and exposing the hypocrisy of those who have set themselves up as guardians, judges and examples of moral rectitude.” Striking features of today’s Tehran cityscape are huge propaganda murals. Many celebrate the tragic heroes of the bloody Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. They are linked to an age-old Shia cult of martyrdom, but the protagonists are represented as if they were Hollywood film stars, looking out from the billboards on the Los Angeles Sunset Strip. With their handsome features and swimming eyes, these handsome young men seem designed to have an erotic appeal to men and women alike.
The exhibition offers the work of five artists, two men and three women. The work of the men, Fereydoun Ave and Ramin Haerizadeh, demonstrates clearly how firmly rooted Iranian contemporary art is in Iranian popular culture.
Fereydoun Ave’s series of digital prints, Rostam in Late Summer Revisited, refers to one of the heroes of the great Iranian epic, the Shahnameh or Book of Kings, written by the poet Ferdowsi around 1000 a.d. As Iranians know, Rostam's symbolic attributes of manly strength and martial valor reappear today in the wrestlers known as pahlavans, who are practitioners of a traditional Sufi cult of physical exercise. This cult of wrestling permits a greater degree of male nudity than is usually permitted in Iran, and encourages an admiration of the male body.
Ramin Haerizadeh’s Men of Allah series, with its lubricious, effeminate mullahs, based on self-portraits of the artist, is inspired by a kind of Iranian folk theater called Taaziye, popular in the 19th century and still current today, where women’s roles are played by men. In one scene, much liked by the Iranian public, the brother of Imam Hossein, the founder of the Shia branch of Islam, is married to a chador-clad female who turns out to be a bearded man. The result, in Harizadeh’s hands, is a sly satire on clerical manners and morals. It is worth noting that Iran is the only Islamic nation with a strong theatrical tradition, which often relates, as here, to an equally strong tradition of figurative art.
This tradition embraces images of effeminacy as well as images of strength, as is witnessed by the numerous portrait miniatures of seductive page-boys from the time of Shah Abbas.
The images offered by the three women artists are even bolder than those offered by the men. Aficionados of contemporary art who know little or nothing about Iran are always surprised to discover how many gifted women artists the country produces. Yet the Iranian artist with the biggest international reputation is undoubtedly Shirin Neshat, who remains true to her roots though she has now lived for many years in America. Another reaction, when westerners discover that women create a good deal of the most interesting art now being produced in Iran, is to assume, despite this, that women artists are constantly inhibited by a struggle against the conditions Iranian society imposes on them.
The truth is that Iranian art made by women does have a strongly feminist streak, but that this feminism is different from its western equivalent. In particular, women artists living and working in Iran do not want to give up their roots in Iranian culture, and are offended to be thought of as being victims perpetually preoccupied by victimhood. The three artists featured here have been chosen to illustrate the boldness of their approach. Nikoo Tarkhani deals with the female body, and her sometimes fragmented nude self-portraits powerfully convey her sense that women in a contemporary Islamic society are struggling to piece together a contemporary identity. They can be compared, in this sense, with the very different self-portrait images of Ramin Haerizadeh. Mitra Farahani, who is a film maker in addition to being a painter and a maker of graphic works, tends to focus on the naked male body, which she treats on occasion with a boldness that easily exceeds most of the treatments of this subject one sees in the West. The sculptor Narmine Sadeg seems to refer to the strong tradition of puppet theater in Iran. The Iranian director Behrouz Qaribpour has become internationally famous for his puppet opera presentations, and recently received a major Italian award for his work. The puppet plays are closely related to the Taaziye school of live theater. The word Taaziye means ‘elegy’, and productions are typically presented in connection with the Day of Ashura, when Shia Muslims lament to death of the Imam Hossein. They can be thought of as the equivalents of Christian Passion Plays, yet, like the Passion Plays of the Middle Ages, tragic subject matter does not exclude an element of robust humor. It is noticeable not only that Sadeg’s figures can be swung about at will on the rods that pierce and support them, but also that her nude males have conspicuously small genitals. As a result they seem like images of powerlessness - a retort to Fereydoun Ave's images of strength. Iranian contemporary art is constantly in dialogue with the society that surrounds and supports it. Like art in many Middle Eastern and Far Eastern societies, it invites the spectator to read visual images on several different planes, both linear and temporal. This gives a resonance and depth that is now often lacking in western equivalents.
Edward Lucie-Smith

Werkstattgalerie Eisenacher Str. 6 10777 Berlin Germany Phone: +49.30.21002158 Opening Hours: Tu-Fr 12 - 8pm, Sa 12 - 6pm
Fereydoun Ave



Despite Tightening Up Of Society, Iranian Art Sees A Boom

An artwork by Nikoo Tarkhani, titled "This Is Not A Woman"

May 25, 2010
By Kristin DeasyHannah Kaviani
The Persian word for "love" is spelled out in Swarovski crystals and glitter, with a small footnote from the artist: "A picture is worth a thousand words and a word a thousand pictures." The estimate wasn't high enough. 

When the acrylic painting on canvas sold at Bonhams in Dubai two years ago for a historic $1,048,000, the Iranian creator Farhad Moshiri became the first artist from the region to break the $1 million price barrier at auction.

It was a breakthrough moment -- not just for Moshiri, but for Iranian art, which for the last few years has been experiencing what experts say is a "golden age." Largely attributable to the stabilization of the Dubai art market and strong ties between the United Arab Emirates and Iran, the boom is also being fueled by a younger generation of artists attempting to push the boundaries of freedom of expression. 

Lebanese-Iranian Rose Issa, a gallery owner and art dealer, has spent the last 30 years championing artists from Iran and the Arab world. These days, she says, there's "a real buzz" in Tehran.

The mass demonstrations that broke out following the disputed reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad last June are related to a growing demand for self-expression among Iranians, Issa says. She says it is no coincidence that since the protests "many new galleries have opened" in Tehran, calling them "even trendier" and "more luxurious" than before. These galleries, she says, have started publishing catalogues, something she hasn't seen "for decades." 

For Iranian artists, the growth of the Dubai art market over the last five years has been a boon. Iranian artists working inside the country now have the ability to network, exhibit, and sell their works in a fine-art market much closer to home. As a result, they have seen the value of their works steadily appreciate. 

Sales of Arab and Iranian art in Dubai increased from $2 million in 2006 to $35.7 million in 2008. Iranian artists now represent 74 percent of artwork sales in Christie's Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian auctions and 64 percent of sales at Bonhams. 

Edward Lucie-Smith, a curator of Middle Eastern art (a category in which Iranian works are often mistakenly placed), writes in an e-mail interview that currently Iran boasts "more artists [and] bigger talents, many [of them] still firmly rooted in Tehran despite the current political situation." 

Dubai's high prices for contemporary Iranian art "obviously find an echo in Europe," Lucie-Smith writes, "not least because collectors feel that there is now an established market if they need to sell," but also because "Iran has the richest contemporary visual-arts culture in the region." 

Forty-six new galleries have opened in Iran over the last two years -- 26 of them in Tehran, says Mahmud Shaloie, the director of the office of visual arts for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. There are about 300 art galleries in all of Iran.

Postwar Generation

Some of the artists now achieving success are part of Iran's burgeoning younger generation born after the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Many of these young artists came of age under the 1997-2005 presidency of Mohammad Khatami, a relatively moderate leader who allowed greater freedom of expression and promoted cultural and artistic dialogue between Iran and the West.

Postwar Generation

Some of the artists now achieving success are part of Iran's burgeoning younger generation born after the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Many of these young artists came of age under the 1997-2005 presidency of Mohammad Khatami, a relatively moderate leader who allowed greater freedom of expression and promoted cultural and artistic dialogue between Iran and the West.

(Gallery Walkthrough: "Iranian Bodies" exhibition in Berlin's "Werkstaffgalerie," featuring figurative art from five Iranian artists.)

Hamid Dabashi, a culture critic and award-winning author who was born in Iran, says the young generation of artists is bringing something new to the contemporary art scene. 

"The impact of the revolution, eight years of war, and the subsequent theocracy is the political and social context in which the current generation of Iranian artists define their own particular mode of artistic expression," Dabashi explains.

Compared with the previous generation of Iranian artists, the works coming out of Tehran today "have aspirations, they have frivolity, playfulness," he says. He also sees a new trend in their work: disillusionment with ideology. "Ideology is no longer as valid, significant, as it used to be," he says. Among young Iranians, "ideological differences have come to a dead end."

The recent boom is also providing Iranian artists who gained notoriety in the 1960s or 1970s, in the years that Iran first opened up to the international art scene, with something of a renaissance. "Finally," Issa says, "credit is being due to people like [Mohammed] Ehsai, like Monir Farmanfarmaian, who is now in her mid-80s and yet is [still] doing fantastic work that she was doing in the late 1960s and early 1970s." Issa calls Farmanfarmaian "the Louise Bourgeois of the Mideast."

Or 73-year-old sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, who made a record-breaking Dubai auction debut in 2008 with the $2.8 million sale of "The Wall (Oh Persepolis)" at Christie's. There is also renewed interest in 69-year-old Tehran-born abstract expressionist Kamran Katouzian, some of whose paintings are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

The Iranian artists of this generation remember the 1977 founding of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art at the initiative of the last empress of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi. The museum houses valuable collections of post-Impressionist, and modern and contemporary art -- some of the finest outside the West. 

The interior of S.M.'s studio in Tehran
In 1979, two years after the museum opened, Iran's newly installed Islamic leaders said the works of art symbolized the shah's obsession with the West. The collection has since been opened only rarely to the public. (Watch a rare tour.)

During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, most galleries and museums closed in Tehran. The art scene turned its attention to "survival," Issa says, "but the years following the war were highly productive for documentary arts." 
"The film industry moved forward, the photographers moved forward," she adds, explaining that the emphasis was on loss: Eight years of war cost the country at least 300,000 lives and left some 500,000 injured. 

By the mid-1990s, the art scene in Iran was slowly opening up, helped along by a more moderate cultural policy on the part of the government. In 1991, Iran held its first painting biennale since the revolution. Galleries reopened and started holding exhibitions, the private sector started to invest, and artists started to form unions. The Iranian Graphic Designers Society first formed in 1997, and is now known as one of the largest in the region. 

Political Dilemma

Life in Iran today is much harder on artists. The government responded to the demonstrations last June with a severe crackdown, and artistic activity is now closely monitored. 

The combination of an artistic boom and renewed government interest in the art scene has brought new dilemmas. S.M. is a young artist living in Tehran whose work is frequently exhibited in the city as well as galleries in Europe. (Because her artistic credentials inside Iran prevent her from using her real name, she asked to be referred to by the pseudonym S.M.) 

She says many artists in Tehran face hard choices over the best way to remain true to their work, seek international recognition, while still being welcome in Iran.

"The question becomes whether I should do some very simple works -- ones that are not socially or politically provocative -- and have the advantage of being able to come home to my country," she says, "or do the works that I want, deeply, to do myself, but be unable to come back home." 

Iranian artists who have produced more socially or politically provocative works while living inside the country face a host of problems. Many are unable to show their work, and some are harassed or even imprisoned. Others resort to smuggling pieces across the border in order to exhibit them in the West. 

The authorities typically ban works on subjects the Islamic republic finds offensive -- anything from showing kissing or nudity to works treating Islam, or the politics of the Islamic republic, in a critical manner. Despite the restrictions, artists continue producing such work. Often, a gallery will exhibit an artist's moderate works and keep the more controversial pieces out of sight, to be discreetly shown to interested buyers and collectors.

One prominent Tehran-based artist, who has been politically active since June's disputed election and who wishes to remain anonymous, says that he perceives art "as a form of resistance." Now, he says, artists like him are "back to work, holding private gatherings to see what we can achieve [in the country] through art," since it is a medium that "can suggest and point to overlooked sociopolitical issues." He says every time he organizes an exhibition in Tehran, it is closed down or some pieces are removed by the government. 

But some art critics say artists are producing overtly political works in order to take advantage of the international attention focused on Iran following its internal turmoil last summer.

Culture critic Dabashi warns that Western observers risk overly politicizing or "anthropologizing" the work of Iranian artists. He says their work "is being taken as an indication of social, political, or ideological aspects." "It is not that their art does not represent those aspects -- it does -- but...there's a difference between a work of art and a political manifesto," he says.

Nasim Manuchehrabadi, a young Iranian artist now working in Berlin, says "the fact that I'm Iranian" makes her works political "whether I like it, or not." She thinks the work of the younger generation reflects the difficulties it faces in Iranian society, as modern ideals face off with conservative values promoted by the Islamic government.

Iran's 2,500 years of artistic history does influence her work, Manuchehrabadi says, but "it's not only [traditional Persian paintings of] flowers that we've grown up with," it's also the fact that "we are the MTV generation."