Zaman Zamani’s Awesome Line-Drawn Nudes

Zaman Zamani’s art in this Iranian.com gallery is really, really amazing. First, his style has a really great range, from this lebas-mahali-with-attitude portrait to this cute plate of what look like dancing dervishes to this more illustration-like painting of a girl in a green chador. Ladies, check out the line drawing/painting of the woman above, with her miniatur-style elongated torso, and tell me that does not make you wish it was the 1970s right now, so you could tease your hair to that size and get away with it?

But wait, it gets better! There are totally awesome nudes. more »

World’s Oldest Animation

In the 1970s, a team of Italian archaeologists discovered a goblet in Iran’s “Burnt City.” Only recently, however, was it discovered that the goblet’s visuals create an animation.

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According to an article from “The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies”:

The artefact [sic] bears five images depicting a wild goat jumping up to eat the leaves of a tree, which the members of the team at that time had not recognised [sic] the relationship between the pictures.

It goes on to discuss certain levels of controversy this goblet has brought up:

CHTHO’s cultural authorities claimed the image is a depiction of ‘Assyrian Tree of Life’: the earthenware bowl, which is wrongly known as ‘The Burnt City’s goat’, depicts the myth of ‘The Assyrian Tree of Life’ and a goat.

Depiction of ‘The Assyrian Tree of Life’ on this bowl which was made at least 1000 years before the Assyrian civilisation [sic] even appear in historical records is one of the most preposterous claims by the new breed of experts in post-revolutionary Iran.

Grow, Watermelon, Grow: Interview with Iranian Author and Illustrator, Charlotte Noruzi

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In her first children’s book, Grow, Watermelon, Grow, New York-based Iranian designer/illustrator Charlotte Noruzi uses both Western and Iranian themes to tell a story from her childhood. The resulting work is bright, cheerful drawings about a little girl who insists on growing her own watermelon.

Because much of the book relies on an elegant mix of styles and some pretty innovative tools (see below for Noruzi’s description of using actual watermelon slices to make prints), it’s also arguably one of the most sophisticated children’s books on the market, especially among those with an Iranian theme. Which is not all that surprising when you consider that Noruzi is a design/illustration professor at Pratt Institute and has a host of other accolades to her name.

I first saw this book and met Charlotte at Mehregan last year, where my friend and I bought her book even though she wasn’t at her booth at the time – we left our money with the sweet Iranian ladies in the adjacent booth and came back to chat her up later. After keeping it to myself for so long, fi-i-i-i-nally (as she writes in her book), here’s a Q&A with Charlotte Noruzi. You can buy the book here.

Pars Arts: Grow, Watermelon Grow is about a little girl’s (your) desire to grow her own watermelon. Why did you choose this particular story for your book?
Charlotte Noruzi: I never thought much about this event in my young life until I mentioned it to my friend, Ronnie Lawlor, three years ago. She was so taken by it and it was after her suggestion that I seriously took into consideration bringing this story to life. Little did I know that I would be starting on a journey of reconnection with my childhood, sometimes painful and sad and sometimes funny and joyful. In a way this book is about sharing myself with the world, bringing to light something kept hidden. On the cover, the girl’s face is half-hidden by the watermelon slice. The desire to plant the seeds, to have them sprout up out of the earth, is the desire to be seen, heard, to feel validated, and also, to see the “fruits” of perseverance, belief and determination. It was very important to prove to my parents that I could grow something too. I realize now the great significance of this simple desire to grow something of one’s own. It’s my hope that these messages come through in the story.

PA: The illustrations in this book really make it quite sophisticated… did the illustrations come first, or the words?
CN: Thank you. I started making one or two line drawings of myself as a child. I was taken aback by how natural this process was, of drawing myself and my family as we once were. The resemblance was shocking. The drawings flowed out as if it had been waiting for a very long time. After that I started writing. Somehow
words create an anchor from which the illustrations can flow. They create the imagery. I remember working this way even as a kid, always illustrating words.

PA: Do Iranian themes or motifs, either classical or contemporary, influence your other work? How about in the classroom, where you work with students as a professor at Pratt?
CN: Iranian themes and motifs influence my work quite often. I love hand-lettering and calligraphy and this comes right out of my Persian roots. The book is very much based on the patterns, colors and designs in Persian art and I was also inspired by Persian children’s books I grew up reading. I often introduce Persian and Middle-Eastern design and calligraphy in the classroom. There is a freedom of expression and strength of language that students seem to respond very effectively to and their work, in turn, becomes freer and more expressive, more unusual. The mix of Western and Middle-Eastern mark-making and graphics always creates rich and unusual results, in my opinion. I guess you can say that about people as well, who are a combination of those “graphics.”

PA: What’s been the response to your book from Iranians? What about non-Iranians? Do they recognize the Iranian elements in the story?
CN: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think people, both Iranian and non-Iranian, are truly touched by this story. I never imagined such a heartfelt response. There have been numerous moments of recognition/relating to the story when a person will exclaim after reading the first page: “My mother also told me never to eat seeds… I remember that!” or “I tried growing my own seeds once, too.” It’s so great.

Non-Iranians are more curious about the writings in Farsi that I’ve integrated into the illustrations. One person impressed me so much by recognizing the Farsi interwoven into the earth, leaves and worms of the illustration where the little girl is watering the seeds. I think I had an unconscious motivation to “secretly” place Farsi into the art. I did not think anyone would notice so much, which reflects the way I thought growing up, keeping my intrinsic identity a secret so that I was not criticized or looked down upon because of it. But now, people are open to, curious and impressed by my heritage and that is a good feeling. Iranians ask if the story is written in Farsi as well, and that has got me thinking about doing a Farsi version.

PA: Can you describe the process of illustrating this book? I read that you used actual watermelons for some of it…
CN: Yes, I dipped watermelon slices into pink ink and created mono-prints from it. I was curious to see the impressions that the watermelon surface made, the texture and the areas that remained white (where the seeds once were). There’s one print that contains a small “heart” shape, purely by coincidence. I also used the watermelon rind and intertwined my drawings in with them, to make the end pages.

The illustrations are a combination of pen and ink drawings and watercolors. All the art was done by hand. Then I experimented with them on the computer, where I layered patterns creating different visual effects, like batik or silk screen, for example.

Some of the drawings were done at the Secret Garden Conservatory in Central Park, NY, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I gathered artistic inspiration.

PA: You’ve self-published this book; what was that process like, and is it something you’d recommend to others who are looking to enter the children’s book market?
CN: The process of self-publishing was challenging, fun and extremely rewarding. I had initially priced the printing of the book in New York/the States, which at first discouraged me by being exorbitantly expensive. But then I googled printers overseas, choosing one in Hong Kong whose reputation, quality of work and service I was confident with.

I visited Book Expo America (BEA), a publishing event held in New York last summer that brings large mainstream publishers and indie publishers to one place, along with distributors, wholesalers and printers. Luckily, the printer I was going with had a booth there and I was able to talk about my project with their New York rep, who put my mind at ease. It was a little nerve-wracking to think of my book being produced somewhere so far away, where I had little control and no way of going on press to check the outcome! I had to trust it and there was much releasing (of control) I had to do in the process.

The whole process is pretty magical: you send a PDF across the world and a get a bound book in return. And the end result was better than I ever expected.

I would definitely recommend self-publishing as a viable alternative. Attending BEA was an encouraging experience as it gave me the opportunity to talk to several people that had taken that route successfully.

Initially, I wanted my book to be published by one of the big publishers and had it looked at by a few. Although
I received very positive feedback, they wanted me to change the story line and, having several colleagues that
published their work traditionally, I was well aware of the compromising I’d have to do with my artwork and
writing. I was not interested in doing that. I wanted full control. It is important that people also realize that a
publisher will give a nice advance when they agree to publish the book, but you’re book is one of many, and
most of the marketing responsibilities and initiatives fall on the artist/author. So it’s up to them to keep promoting it, not the publisher.

Self-publishing is a harder road, in a way, and there are times where I get discouraged and lose momentum and motivation. But you have to just keep going with it. This book so far had put me in contact with such a diverse group of people. It’s about connecting to others through your art and letting it take you where it will.

PA: Who are your artistic inspirations?
CN: Picasso has probably been the most influential artist in my life. His endless experimentation, curiosity and sense of play is something I have been very inspired by. For this book, I looked at Picasso, Paul Klee and of course, my own culture: Persian miniatures, calligraphy and children’s books, mainly an old one from the ’70s called My Room’s Lizard.

PA: Any plans for other books, either for children or otherwise?
CN: Yes, I have a couple of other books that are in the works and next on my list to be published but for now I am focusing on Grow, Watermelon and seeing where it takes me. I am interested in expanding the book into an animation, teaming up with watermelon farms, and even creating a clothing line, but all that is very much in the future and it’s one step at a time…I have to remind myself of that.

[Image: Grow, Watermelon, Grow book cover, Charlotte Noruzi]

9 Jan 2008, 10:51pm
Art & Photography Design
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Not Another T-Shirt: The Xerxes Alliance Combines Clothing and Storytelling

No disrespect to all the hustlers, but every kid with a computer is starting his own T-shirt line these days, throwing some “ancient Persian” motifs or Persian words on those horrible American Apparel shirts that run really small in the first place and then have the audacity shrink to nothing the first time you wash them. Nearly every other booth at 2007′s Mehregan was hawking t-shirts, most of them fairly boring ones, so I’m hoping this trend is on its way out.

Though I’m vehemently opposed to/annoyed by message shirts, including Iranian ones, I appreciate the appeal of wearable art. But because the arty t-shirt category is so saturated, much of it is actually more visual noise to me anyway. Thankfully for the t-shirt designers, I don’t really know anyone else that doesn’t go crazy for these things.

That said, I’m not categorically against t-shirt art, especially when it’s done well. So I am really intrigued by the new project of illustrator and graphic designer Pendar Yousefi, aka Legofish, whose Xerxes Alliance treats the clothing as part of an epic saga: each design generated is accompanied and inspired by related Persian myths, which Yousefi and his business partner are collaborating on re-writing in a short but lofty style reminiscent of American comics. I do wish the stories were a little bit longer, but I think it’s a genre thing. And what’s innovative is that the site is equal parts e-commerce and e-book-in-progress, something I don’t remember seeing anywhere else.

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Yousefi is a big proponent of Persian culture: he also spearheaded the Project 300 campaign that encouraged pro-Iranian art to counterbalance the bad karma coming from the movie 300, and a Google-bomb campaign to recognize the Persian Gulf’s name.

The next installment of the Xerxes Alliance, Chapter 3, goes live in February 2008.

[Image: Shahin Edalati/Xerxes Alliance]

Persepolis, the Film

Persepolis opened yesterday. Have you seen it yet? It’s quite good. Bebin.tv has a fantastic interview with author/co-director Marjane Satrapi:

Children of Persia 2008 Calendar

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Merry Christmas. Here’s a last-minute gift idea for people celebrating today: the 2008 Children of Persia calendar. The $20 donation goes to that organization’s many educational and relief efforts
in Iran and among global Iranians. And the calendar’s theme for ’08 is Persian architecture, which makes this gift useful, beautiful, and altruistic. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Persepolis, the Movie: A Review

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Persepolis may be the most highly anticipated film in the Iranian community since 300 (and we all know how well that went). The critically acclaimed animated feature, based on the autobiographical comics by Marjane Satrapi, will probably not incite protest when it opens in Los Angeles and New York on Christmas Day this year, though.

I saw the film a couple of weeks ago and I liked it very much. Satrapi’s pretty much a genius and her movie is a beautiful work of art: hand-drawn, with excellent voice work by a very talented cast. She coached each actor separately, acting out all the other parts, and that sort of attention is evident in the performances.

But to hardcore devotees of the book (and I count myself as one), I have to warn you not to expect the best movie of your life. That’s the exact thought I had leaving the theater: “This was really good, but not, as I expected, the movie of my life.” Then I realized, well, that’s probably because it’s the movie of Marjane Satrapi’s life. Duh.

For you this may not be the case, but the same sort of connection I felt reading the books was not replicated for me in watching the film. There are probably a few reasons for this. First, I watched it in a theater full of strangers; obviously reading is solitary, more intimate. Second, there’s the whole classic book-to-movie thing: When you really love a book, it’s always hard for the movie to measure up. I nearly had the Persepolis books memorized, and the movie left out some things I loved and emphasized others I hadn’t noticed as much. It isn’t as funny as the books are, and a lot scarier and more graphic. Ultimately, books turned into movies are almost never as good as the movie you have playing in your head when you read… it’s dorky and obvious but true, and I think it happened for me with this movie. Third, music is a big part of any film, and Persepolis missed the mark: the compositions had an Eastern vagueness about them, and besides an off-key rendition of “Eye of the Tiger,” there wasn’t any other music from the era – the ’70s and ’80s – that I can remember (there’s an awesome Gole Yakh cover on the soundtrack album, though). And finally, on the way out of the theater, I overheard a girl behind me saying, “You guys, why didn’t they just leave Eye-ran when the revolution happened?” That put kind of a damper on the whole thing, so be prepared to correct misperceptions and fill in the inevitable history gaps.

Still, at the end of the day, you should go see Persepolis and you can safely expect it to be spectacular and wonderful. If you’re in San Francisco, you can see it on December 12 and see Marjane Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud (it’s a benefit for the San Francisco Film Society).

The First Iranian Literary Arts Festival and ICARUS/RISE

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Niloufar Talebi and The Translation Project are the forces behind a really cool event going on in San Francisco this week: the inaugural Iranian Literary Arts Festival, which features film screenings and the world premiere of ICARUS/RISE, a multimedia play inspired by contemporary Iranian poetry. Entry to the festival comes with buying a ticket to the play (tix are $50 if you’re not a student – a little steep but the play looks amazing). Beyond Persia is also sponsoring the event; see their page on it for the best info and links to buy tickets.

Interviews with Young Iranians: Azad, Life Goes on in Tehran Photo Blogger

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The photo blog Life Goes on in Tehran highlights ordinary Tehran life in an effort to dispel Western myths and poorly slanted media coverage about Iran. It has a very insider quality that makes you feel like you’re on your own Tehran visit. The man behind the site, 28-year-old Azad (last name withheld for reasons outlined below), documents his life there on a camera phone and updates the site with new pictures and captions each month. We sent him some questions by email, and here’s what he had to say.

Pars Arts: You are anonymous on your photo blog; without revealing your name/identity, can you tell us more about who you are and where you grew up? Can you also talk about why you’ve decided to be anonymous?
Azad: I was born and raised in Tehran and then moved to the Los Angeles area when I was 14. Following the awkward assimilation period of high school, I attended USC where I got my BA in Cinema-Television in 2001. After graduation I paid my bills doing web design, while affording myself the opportunity to make short films and travel for months at a time.

There are multiple reasons for wanting to stay anonymous. For one, I don’t want the website to become about me. I like it as it is; Tehran from the point of view of a former Los Angeles resident, regardless of who that resident is. Plus, I often point my camera at unsuspecting friends and family members at private gatherings and parties. In order to hide their identities, I feel like I should first hide mine. A more dramatic reason would be staying away from either Evin prison in Tehran or a secret CIA prison somewhere in Eastern Europe! But really, if someone tried hard enough, they could find out who is behind the photo blog. So what it comes down to is me trying to stay out of Tehran’s spotlight.

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PA: Why did you move (back?) to Iran?
Azad: Ironically, I moved (back) to Tehran to jump-start my film career. Most people go to Los Angeles to do this; I left. I think the Hollywood film scene is for when you’ve already made it. You don’t fare well in Hollywood as a struggling filmmaker. In order to meet my personal goal of making my first feature-length film before I’m 30, I weighed my options and felt that I would be more likely to do so if I were to move to Tehran. Plus, if I get started here, I will always have a base to come back to.

PA: What’s been the biggest surprise about living in Tehran for you? What’s been the most difficult part of adjusting to life in Iran? What do you miss most about your LA life?
Azad: I tested the waters with a couple of short-term stays before finally making the big move. So I had an idea about what life in Tehran might have in store for me and I can’t say there were any surprises. If anything, the fact that it’s similar to living in LA, for the most part, is a surprise in and of itself. It’s more about moving from one big city to another. I have, however, narrowed down the differences to three main things, the absence of which makes life in Tehran a tad more difficult: respect, trust and freedom to choose. Most everything that might annoy someone who has lived abroad fits in one or all of the above categories.

This is not to say that Iranians are disrespectful or untrustworthy. On the contrary, in personal interactions and relationships with people you know they’re perhaps more respectful, kind and trustworthy [than people in Los Angeles]. But when it comes to dealing with “them,” things get shady. And the place where this is most apparent is the relationship the government has with its people. All three are missing in that particular marriage. Needless to say, the three things I miss most about LA are: respect, trust and freedom to choose. I won’t get into specifics, but if I have done my job right, you’ll see examples of this on my site.

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PA: I’ve frequently wondered whether being Iranian-American (or any other sort of Iranian hyphenate) is a barrier or instead lends a certain cachet to those that grew up abroad and then move back to Iran for work/to live. Any first-hand observations/thoughts on this? Is there a sizable community of people who have moved back to Iran?
Azad: It’s definitely not a barrier. For some reason, people here take Iranians coming from the U.S. very seriously. Perhaps too seriously. This is surprising considering the type of junk-TV a handful of Iranians in Los Angeles beam to their living rooms. If my only image of Iranian-Americans were those of the LA pop stars and TV anchors as seen on satellite TV, I would question anyone who associated with anything American. But fortunately most everyone — at least among the middle-class Iranians — has a relative in the U.S. Because of these relatives, lines of communication are always open and the general public is aware of what life in the US can be like. So there’s this thought process of “Oh you lived in the US? Lucky you! Want to run my company? You single?!”

I am sure a medical degree from Harvard deserves the type of respect here as it does anywhere else in the world, but as for my own degree, well, my film degree means nothing to me or to anyone in Hollywood. But here, they introduce me as “So and so, who studied film in the US.” Before I have a chance to discredit my degree, they already take me for some genius that I am not. This I find amusing. Some people use this to their advantage. I’ve run into folks who have taken courses at Santa Monica City College who consider themselves “U.S. educated,” and you’ll be surprised to see how it opens doors for them. This is not to bash on SMC or any other community college, for that matter, but it perfectly demonstrates the type of weight being Iranian-hyphen-anything carries.

I have also decided to keep my U.S. citizenship a secret. What is shadier than being taken more seriously at what you do because of some U.S. education is finding yourself in a relationship with someone who likes you for your passport! Luckily I haven’t experienced this, but I am told to be cautious. It would be really sad to have that be a qualification (but unfortunately some fellow Iranian-Americans do).

PA: Several of your images capture and comment on Iranian media consumption (satellite dishes, newspapers, film, art). Are the art, culture, and media produced in Iran – and the various means of consumption that defy censorship – vastly different from what you thought they would be?
Azad: This is too broad a topic to try and tackle with a general statement on what art/culture/media Iranians produce and consume. I personally never had any expectations or pre-conceived notions of what this may be like in Iran. But because there are many more obstacles and bans on creation and consumption in Iran, people tend to not take for granted what is readily available in the U.S. For example, in the US you can watch any movie your heart desires, have access to any website or go to any play, but you don’t necessarily take advantage of this. Because you take your freedom for granted. When you come to Iran, you start to seek that which the government wants to keep from you. Suddenly watching a banned movie or going to a blocked website becomes a more valuable (and pleasurable) experience. Then in the process you feel more “cultured.”

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PA: A lot of your photos appear to be shot in northern Tehran – a more affluent part of the city. Much of the lifestyle press coverage coming from Tehran seems to be focused on this area also (or it’s very much the opposite, looking at abject poverty), but I think you do a good job pointing out the economic context of your photos in your short captions, which is where a lot of mainstream reportage about Iran fails. I assume you shoot mostly things happening around you, but do you have plans to venture further south in the city and capture a different socioeconomic scene also?
Azad: I am not a reporter and therefore I don’t go out of my way to report on life in Tehran (unfortunately many mainstream Western reporters do the same!). My main goal is show that life in general, my life in particular, goes on in Tehran. So I point the camera at my immediate surroundings, which happens to be that of the more affluent middle-class northern Tehran. There’s no shame in this. Because it is exactly this socioeconomic scene that is under-represented — by both the Iranian media as well as the Western press coverage. One could take away from this the very fact that Tehran is so large a city that you could live your whole life in one neighborhood and never cross paths with other less or more fortunate souls in other neighborhoods. Same is true with any large cities. Many Iranians living in Beverly Hills have never set foot in Compton or South Central LA, even though they’re only a few miles apart. That said, I do have a few photos from South Tehran. One in particular is of an elderly man near Khorasan Square in the south who had lived his whole life there and had never seen Pasdaran or other neighborhoods in the north.

PA: What kind of feedback have you gotten from people that follow LGOIT?
Azad: So far I’ve only received positive feedback. Many Iranians abroad write and tell me that the site brought tears to their eyes. They thank me for finally portraying life in Tehran in such a way that they can proudly share with their non-Iranian friends. I can relate to their sentiments, because I think when you live outside of Iran, the situation is such that it becomes really difficult for you to prove to your non-Iranian friends and family that Iran isn’t all that bad, that there’s more good than evil, more positive than negative, and most importantly that we are not backwards, but similar to them, that we share many of the same values and ideals.

I also get many emails from Americans and Europeans who thank me for showing a side of Iran they had no idea existed. One American visitor even joked about me receiving a Noble Peace prize for my efforts. Because he thought it would be much tougher for the Bush White House to start a war with Iran if the word on my site were to get out and more tax-paying Americans were to see it. And the word is getting out. As of this interview I have had thousands of unique visitors from 97 countries in over 1700 cities. I for one find all this very inspiring and with each new visitor I get more motivated to continue what I’m doing. What started out as a simple site to assure my friends back home that I’m safe in Tehran has gotten a life of its own. Hopefully I will one day look back at the archives of Life Goes On In Tehran and feel that I did my small part in changing world public opinions about Iran and stopping a catastrophic war.

(Photos courtesy of Life Goes on in Tehran)

CinemaEast 2007

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The 2007 CinemaEast film festival, which features quite a few contemporary Iranian movies, is happening right now in New York City at my favorite theater, the IFC Center. The festival ends November 15, so catch what you can this week.

I highly recommend “Tehran Has No More Pomegranates” (Tehran Anar Nadarad), by Massoud Bakhshi; it’s a really sophisticated, satirical faux documentary (you have to see it to get it) and tonight’s showing features a Q&A with him. See the full schedule and list of films for more. (And while you’re at the IFC, be sure to visit the basement bathrooms… they’re easily the most beautiful public restrooms in the entire city.)