Art & Photography Culture Iran & the World: Amirali Ghasemi Bri Olson Iranian art Pariyoush Ganji Send Love to Iran Tehran MoCA traveling to Iran Vahid Sharifian
by BriAnna Olson
Bri Olson is an American artist who wrote about her project, Send Love to Iran, on Pars Arts several months ago. She was recently able to achieve her goal of visiting and seeing the real Iran. Here’s what she saw:
After a year or so of saving up and several months biting my finger nails while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered my visa request, I flew, arm-in-arm with my better half, to Tehran to experience Iran firsthand. Having only a general idea of what to expect, Michael and I felt a bit like we were exploring uncharted territory when we stepped off our Emirates plane at Imam Khomeini International Airport.
Two years ago, I never would have considered that Tehran might have a contemporary art scene worth mentioning, until my new Iranian friend Raam (of rock band Hypernova) started to tell me stories of the “real” Iran: Basement shows, desert festivals, and private parties that gave artists and socialites outlets to express themselves. Cut to: Me; covered in hijab, guidebook in hand and ready to see for myself a world whose media and images are filtered by both U.S. and Iranian governments.
Owing to Persian hospitality and our unique foreign status, we were given the diplomatic treatment for the entirety of our stay. Though our time was limited, I’m particularly pleased with the spectrum of artists and curators we were able to meet and the ground we were able to cover. For the sake of brevity, I’ll give you the short short-list.
The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
The Tehran MoCA is definitively an “institution,” therefore subject to governmental supervision (after the revolution, Dali, Picasso, Warhol and others where relegated to the basement) and bureaucracy. That said, it’s always telling to see what sort of creative things the humans on the inside can do to keep people in their wings. When we went to meet with the International Director, they were showing works from instructors at Tehran’s art schools. The place was full, a testament to how much art education is happening in the city. After touring the museum, my favorite find was actually a Magritte’s Le Therapeute, a sculpture from their permanent collection – ironically, it’s neither Iranian nor contemporary.
Vahid Sharifian, Art Star
I first saw Vahid at an opening at Artist’s Forum (Khaneh-ye honarmandan). He and his posse, looked like they were lifted right out of the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (is there such thing as Iranian Apparel?) and I tried to sneak a candid picture of them (unsuccessfully, when I reviewed the snapshot – it was clear they were all posing for me). The next time we ran into him was at Silk Road Gallery – a worth-the-search photography gallery in North Tehran – and from there we spent over an hour in a taxi to see his current solo exhibition at Ave Gallery. The show, entitled “My father is a democrat and through his chimney there are always hearts flying to the sky,” was a collection of holographic prints, an unveiled Sophia Loren in a series of instructional cooking poses. He even showed us the two prints the gallery wouldn’t hang (showing too much sternum), and I delighted in how tame they seemed compared to most things I’d find in a Manhattan gallery. Vahid is so clearly Lower East Side material but for now can’t leave the country, owing to his refusal to serve in the military.
Pariyoush Ganji, Painter and Lecturer, Tehran University
Whereas Vahid is very much “new school,” Pariyoush is clearly “old school.” The instant I stepped into her home studio was the first time I truly relaxed while in Tehran, and in no other meeting did I feel the power of the moment so intimately. At 63, her matriarchal presence was soothing and we sipped tea surrounded by the traded works of her contemporaries.
Pariyoush studied painting in Tehran and across Europe in the 1960s, where students witnessed Che Guevara’s revolution, resisted the Shah, and constantly debated and studied political ideas. It was no wonder then, that she expressed concern to me that her students at Tehran University today are void of philosophy, and saw that lack in the exhibitions they held. We discussed the absolute importance of my generation and she lauded me for my willingness to take risks and “move through narrow doors.” By the end of our lunch, it was clear that I had made almost as much of an impression on her as she had on me – score one for an American girl in Tehran.
Amirali Ghasemi, Curator, Biennial Tehran
Amirali Ghasemi founded the 1st International Roaming Biennial of Tehran with Serhat Koksal because, he says, “It seems impossible to have a proper Tehran biennial in Tehran,” and with so much talent (their roster includes something like 300+ artists) it’s no wonder Ghasemi wants to take his exhibition on the road. Their first stop (opening late last May) was Istanbul, and they are slated to open in Berlin this November and continue through 2010 [Ed. note: Bri was invited to be part of the Berlin show!]. His concept of an “independent, low-budget, traveling exhibition” able to be carried “on any cheap flight” makes him the winner of my admiration and someone you should keep an eye on as a defining member of Tehran’s contemporary art scene.
More about Bri’s trip: