Noroozetan Pirooz

Iran 2011 from Cyrus Dowlatshahi on Vimeo.


1390 begins tomorrow. Happy Norooz to you and yours.

This video of beautiful images from Iran was created by Cyrus Dowlatshahi.

(Thanks, Cyrus!)

Ala Ebtekar

Here’s a great (Persian only) video profile of Iranian-American artist Ala Ebtekar, from VOA. Ebtekar has produced some really interesting work across various media, and in this video he lays out his background and what inspires his art. I’m partial to his drawings on book pages, like this one.

(Thanks, Charlie James Gallery!)

Coming in June – Document: Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles

Maryam Mottahedeh, poet (photo by Arash Saedinia)

Poet Maryam Mottahedeh, photographed by Arash Saedinia

Opening June 6 at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, “Document: Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles” is the first big photo project documenting L.A.’s Iranian-Americans since Irangeles (which is an amazing book, but nearly 20 years old and no longer in print, time for an update!). The exhibit, produced/curated by Amy Malek, will show the work of four Iranian-American photographers who shot a very diverse list of hamvatans – doctors and engineers, natch, but also poets, artists, cops, and moms – which should make for a super-cool show.

From the release:

“In cultivating this collaborative project,” said guest curator Amy Malek, “I wanted to examine documentation as a representational process by offering four Iranian American photographers’ perspectives on who we are, stressing the importance of including multiple voices in documenting our own Los Angeles communities.”
Sounds pretty awesome, right? The Fowler is also putting together some really interesting opening day stuff that sounds like it will provide some helpful context for these images. Details:
Sunday, June 6, noon–6 p.m.
Opening Day Programs
“Document: Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles”
A panel of scholars will discuss issues relating to the Iranian diaspora and visual anthropology. Next, exhibition curator Amy Malek will be joined by the four documentary photographers whose work is featured in the exhibition — Farhad Parsa, Arash Saedinia, Parisa Taghizadeh and Ramin Talaie — who will discuss their experiences documenting the everyday lives of second-generation Iranian Americans in Los Angeles. A gallery tour with Malek and a reception follow. Please check for a detailed schedule.
The photos will be on display at the Fowler through August 22 – don’t miss them!

More details:  ‘Document: Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles’ opens June 6 at Fowler Museum at UCLA

“Iranian Memoir” – Paolo Pellegrin’s Photo Essay

Magnum Photos posts Iranian Memoir, a photo essay by Paolo Pellegrin, which is layered with Iranian-Americans who grew up outside Iran talking about their memories/conception of Iran. (It looks like many of the photos are from a photo essay he did for Newsweek, The Changing Face of Iran.)

Pellegrin’s images are unsettling – especially the black-and-whites, which have a kind of bleak, industrial, post-apocalyptic feel – not an image of Iran I am used to seeing, especially since the advent of Life Goes on in Tehran.

None of the speakers identify themselves, and the only other audio besides ambient noise is a snippet of Googoosh’s Hejrat. It’s pretty interesting to me that Pellegrin/Magnum chose to title this “Iranian Memoir” – where memoirs usually address a life that was actually lived, this one centers on lives that could have been lived.

What do you think of “Iranian Memoir”?

(Thanks, Maggie!)

Etsy-Irooni: Schauleh Sahba’s Azadi Print

Azadi Tower - Schauleh Sahba

I love seeing Iranian things on Etsy. This is an Azadi Tower print by Schauleh Sahba. The lines are made up of the word “freedom” in five different languages. Pretty sweet!

The Art of Mona Shomali


Iranian-American artist Mona Shomali paints lush, vibrant images of Kahlo-esque nudes in Iran-inspired settings. We asked her about her art.

Pars Arts: Your work was featured in the all-female, SoCiArts-produced show, feminine, where it stood out because of its interesting use of nudity. Your current series is called “Naked Folklore.” Can you discuss your use of nudes and why you decided to pair nude women with Iranian motifs?

Mona Shomali: Naked Folklore is a series of paintings that pairs together brazen nude females with Iranian cultural artifacts of great significance. The women in the paintings can question and transform ethnographic taboos, assumptions, and traditional rites of passage of both Iranian and American culture without fear of repercussions. These women are surreal and provocative as they experience their own self-defined identities- regardless of what is possible.


Shab-o-Sher & Samovar - Mona Shomali

Shab-o-Sher & Samovar - Mona Shomali


The use of nudity was my way of challenging the images of Iranian women I saw in the American media—black shrouded formless sexless women. Besides the paintings, books and photo albums of my family members, the only contemporary images of Iranian woman that I came across were with a “chador”, literally translated from Farsi to English as “tent”. I wanted to explore the sensuality, volition and complex desires of the authentic woman who was underneath the tent.

Nudity is also very significant taboo within Iranian culture and Iranian art history. Although cultures from Europe, Africa and the Pacific Islands have had their own figurative art movements featuring nudity, Iranians have not yet enjoyed their own figurative movement. A figurative art movement becomes even more difficult within the contemporary Iranian state. The Islamic government’s position is that nudity in art violates the limits of Islam – it is prohibited and shameful. This is an ironic part of my identity because the Iranian position on nudity could not be more in contrast with the bohemian “American-ness” of where I was raised: the San Francisco Bay Area.

PA: You emphasize that your work is not Iranian but Iranian-American. What distinguishes Iranian-American art – your art – from that of your Iranian counterparts? How would you define or describe the characteristics of Iranian-American art vs. Iranian art?

MS: This series is a narrative expression of what it is to be an Iranian-American woman, an illustration of societal “Iranian-ness” and individualistic “American-ness” that is experienced from adolescence to womanhood. It is about finding a personal balance between modernity and tradition – sorting through clashing cultural ideas of what it is to be a “good woman”, “good wife”, and “good daughter” and choosing a standard for oneself. It is a story that reflects a very distinct and specific period in history. My narrative also reflects the era of globalization, both the benefits and disadvantages.

Iranian-American art can not be collapsed with Iranian art because the histories and narratives are completely different and must be honored in their own right. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iranians who live in Iran have had their own rich and difficult experiences that translate to their own collective and personal narratives. Contemporary Iranian narrative art reveals politically charged stories from the Iran-Iraq war, the divide of close-knit families, harassment by the Islamic police, the unfolding of the hostage crisis, student riots, protests, imprisonment, and so much more.

It is essential that I distinguish myself from Iranians that live in Iran. My cousin recently emigrated to the U.S. from Iran two years ago and she keeps a blog for her Iranian friends. She writes, “My friends in Iran do not know what it is like to go outside and feel the wind blowing through their hair”. Her story is of an Iranian living in America. My story is of being Iranian-American. I have never worn a chador and I have no idea what that must be like for all my Iranian female counterparts.

My Iranian-ness was experienced in the Western world – not based on contemporary Iran, but based on stories of immigrant nostalgia and American media images. Growing up with Iranian immigrant parents in the suburbs in the 1980s, it was impossible to escape the tension between Iran and the United States. I remember that at age 11, it was the first time I sensed from my friends that being Iranian was not a good thing. Unfortunately, I even asked my mom to not speak to me in Farsi in public out of embarrassment and fear of my young classmates. This was because I had internalized the negative images of Iranians I had seen in the American media. The hostage crisis had resulted in a lot of resent and hostile feelings towards Iranian immigrants.. In my early teens, I remember feeling defensive when asked questions about being Iranian. I felt as though I was always trying to compensate and trying to show alternative and positive perspectives of Iranian culture. Personally, I found it very difficult to operate and behave within two opposing cultural standards. I felt most comfortable somewhere in between rebellion and renaissance.

Iranian-American artists express the tension between the two countries of our diaspora identity, and as a result, our “Iranian-ness” becomes more accessible to the non-Iranians in the countries we live within. For example, one of my favorite artists is Iranian-French. Marjane Satrapi’s storytelling is through her comic styled books and widely acclaimed movie “Persepolis” has allowed for non-Iranians to have such a deeper understanding of Iran. Her stories are authentic and personal, but they can also be universally re-affirming for Iranians all over the world that can recognize themselves in her art.

PA: In the last few years, there’s been an inordinate amount of attention on Iranian female writers, particularly in the United States and Europe, and it’s become a bit of a fetish. Is this happening in the art world, as well? If so, how does this affect you in your work?

MS: With the current American focus on the Middle East/Iran, there is an teachable opportunity that writers can take advantage of. Especially for members of the Iranian diaspora living in America, writing a personal novel is a very revealing and non-threatening way to introduce the issues that Iranian women face.

Furthermore, writers, like artists, are interested in creating their own stories and versions of history. Unlike a textbook that deals with the orientalist version of Iranian culture, Iranian women’s art can provide a much needed indigenous perspective of culture and identity. Unlike the exact and reductionist nature of science, art is not “wrong” or “right” when it recounts events and stories that have taken place.

PA: In “Naked Folklore,” only one painting depicts a man – the rest are all of women. Can you describe the meaning of the painting with the man, “The Strength of a Vulnerable Man”?

MS: One of the reasons my mother left Iran during the Islamic revolution was because she did not want to wear the chador that would soon become mandatory Islamic rule. I always was aware of the official stated reason for the chador: that the bodies and head are covered so the women do not tempt men other than their husbands, etc. In the Koran 24:31, it states, “Tell the faithful women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not display their beauty except what is apparent of it.” The idea that women “tempt” men is not only restricted to the Koran. In both the Bible stories of Adam and Eve and Samson and Delilah, it is a woman that tempts the man towards sin, or betrayal of God.

In many Islamic governments, it is law that the women cover up and keep hidden in order to “prevent” the man from sinning. The restraints are not on the men’s desires, but on the object of their desires. This stems from an assumption that the sexual desire of a man is not controllable, that men are reduced to savage animals that can not control themselves. Simultaneously, it becomes the woman’s “fault” for tempting or provoking the sexual acts of a man.

I am aware that women globally have fought long and hard to shed the outdated patriarchal restrictions that have been imposed on women by men. What I can not comprehend is how the state imposed chador helps create more value and respect for women. I do understand that all of us are a product of our gender socialization and conditioning. From whatever cultural vantage point that may be, we ask, “what makes a strong man?” and “what makes a strong woman?” To what extent do we “naturally” behave like our own gender? For certain cultural belts running through the world, behaviors such as machismo, possessiveness, protection or even violence may be expected of strong men. For other cultures, male strength may be illustrated through sensitivity, rational choice, due diligence, and in the measure of self control. Personally, I acknowledge that women possess sexual power, but I also acknowledge the restraint that the modern man is capable of. This respectful restraint should not be underestimated.


The Strength of a Vulnerable Man - Mona Shomali

The Strength of a Vulnerable Man - Mona Shomali


These ideas of strength and weakness are so deeply embedded into our cultures that we rarely question them – until these ideas clash. Gender politics are most heated when the norms and expectations for gender and sexuality are in transition. Because of these juxtapositions and contradictions between male and female strength, I wanted to illustrate the opposite of a classic image between Adam and Eve. What if it was Adam that was really tempting Eve by offering her the forbidden fruit? Would the ideas of “strength” and “temptation” change? Who would be vulnerable, and who would have to resist whom?

“Blazing Grace” in London

© concept: Shoja Azari, Painting: Shahram Karimi, Coffee House  Painting 2009, still from video installation East Central/London and LTMH/New York

© concept: Shoja Azari, Painting: Shahram Karimi, Coffee House Painting 2009, still from video installation East Central/London and LTMH/New York

For Londonites: The work of Iranian artists Shoja Azari and Shahram Karimi will be shown at the East Central Gallery from January 15-February 27. From press materials:

The show, entitled “Blazing Grace”, reflects on the futility of war and the trauma of a violated land, focusing on the Gulf war in 1990 and the Middle Eastern region more broadly. The exhibition is the result of an ongoing collaboration between the painter Shahram Karimiand the video artist Shoja Azari.

Five artworks from the so-called “Oil Series” will surround viewers, re-creating a cinematic experience through the canvases’ glow of mesmerising colours. Referring to the first Gulf War, and presented in the darkened subterranean floor of East Central, the “Oil Series” depicts scenes of deserts aflame, with fires scorching the skies, smoke billowing in the wind, a soldier disappearing into misty horizons and tanks reining over ashen land. When the Iraqi troupes retired from Kuwait they set afire 737 oil wells, which burned for months and months.

The works sample images from Werner Herzog’s film “Lessons of Darkness”, with scenes slowed, edited and reframed by Azari, projected as brief looping videos onto Karimi’s hyperrealist paintings which are literally brought to life, while Karimi also interweaves on the canvases barely decipherable lines of his own poetry written in Farsi, evoking intuitive thoughts lying underneath the surfaces.

Exhibited in its own enclave in this seminal show is the video projection “Coffee House Painting”, another creative collaboration between Azari
and Karimi, which was then recreated as a video projection by Azari. Rich in political and historical references, and equally critical of global
politics, the work is inspired by the traditional Persian coffee house paintings that were popular in early 20th Century Iran and which spoke of
heroes and villains from Persia’s epic history of myth and legend.

Gallery details here.

Ann Curry’s Inside Iran

Nice job, Ann Curry!

Thirty Years On: SOAS Conference on the Iranian Revolution

SOAS conference Thirty Years On: The Social and Cultural Impacts of the Iranian Revolution will be held in London this Friday and Saturday, featuring films and panels that delve into the aftermath of the revolution. Here’s a schedule, and if you can’t make it, there are abstracts on the SOAS site that are definitely worth a read.

(Thanks, Leili!)



This Friday, SoCiArts opened an exhibit of all-female artists, “feminine,” which will run through April 17 (by appointment) here in Los Angeles. SoCiArts has been quite successful in producing and promoting arts and film events, particularly those that feature Iranian artists. Of the eight women included in “feminine,” three are Iranians – Negin Karbassian, Shagha Ariannia, and Mona Shomali.

The show’s paintings and photographs hung on brick walls and from pipes, the concrete floor bouncing the noise of conversations and the sound of footsteps around the room. Outside, well-heeled smokers made wisps of toxic air that hovered at nose-level, a kind of olfactory entry badge that attached itself to your hair and clothes and followed you into the room. The woman at the door worried about running out of price lists, and the bartender poured and poured.

It was a beautiful and very sensory scene, almost to the point of being overwhelming. I met two artists, and only talked at any length with one – Mona Shomali, who had come in from New York and walked me through her portfolio (she only had two works hanging on the wall; look for an interview with her here soon). Though I looked for a thread beyond gender to tie some of the art together, I didn’t really find it – it ranged from prints of Bush-era political commentary to portraits of pop-culture figures, abstracted Persian calligraphy to abstract line drawings, clothed photographic self-portraiture to nude photographic self-portraiture. (Incidentally, the nudes were by the only artist whose work was not immediately visible from the entrance of the gallery; they were tucked on a wall next to the DJ, also female and very beautiful, who was working a Macbook from the back of the room.)

Perhaps the show’s thread is sheer variety, but maybe a thread beyond the feminine is not really necessary; a couple of days after the show, I found a Blackbook article from late last year, which cites a study by the National Endowment for the Arts that reports female artists make, on average, $0.75 for every dollar male artists make. According to the same NEA report, more female artists work part-time than male artists do, so perhaps an entire show devoted to female work is intended to narrow these disparities.

For more on the show and its eight artists, see the SoCiArts website.