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Asia Society: Bridging Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art

On October 25h, 2010,  Asia Society brought together a panel of experts in the art world to discuss the lines of continuity between modern and contemporary art in the last half a century in Iran. The panel:  Mitra Abbaspour (Associate Curator of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art), Hamid Keshmirshekan (Chief Editor of the Art Tomorrow Journal in Tehran), Linda Komaroff (Curator of Islamic Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and Venetia Porter (Curator of Department of the Middle East at the British Museum) was moderated by Layla S. Diba (independent scholar).

In their introductions, the panelists recalled the biennial created by Ehsan Yarshater in 1958 as a crucial moment, ushering in modernism in Iranian art. As Hamid Keshmirshekan observed, new traditionalism in the art of the 1960s and 70s and in the saqqakhaneh movement of the period, was concerned with the question of imitation and appropriation in national art and consciousness. These preoccupations waned in the aftermath of a decade of revolutionary works in the 1980s and '90s and by the start of the reformist period in the mid-1990s, Iranian art emerged, embedded in global trends.

In this context, Mitra Abbaspour argued that Shirin Neshat's is an ideal case-study of a work that bridges the gap between the 1960s modernist era and contemporary global art. Neshat uses source materials from the 1950s and '60s, such as the poetry of Forrough-Farrokhzad in the calligraphy-on-skin photographs of the "Women of Allah" series, and the social-realist documentary works of Kaveh Golestan,  that continue to inspire even her more recent film practice.

The emphasis on script and calligraphy, present in the art of the region (Dia Azzawi, Suad Attar,  Shaker Hassan al-Said (Iraq), Burhan Dogan├žay (Turkey) and Etel Adnan (Lebanon -- and the first modernist hurufiyya artist)),as Venetia Porter pointed out, has given way to digitally altered photography in Iranian art. This too is evident, and especially so, in the contemporary artwork acquired by LACMA, the British Museum and the Tate Modern.

Linda Komaroff introduced the collection of Iranian contemporary art at LACMA, as work made largely by women such as Shadi GhadirianHoura Yaghoubi  (Who is my generation?), with the notable exception of Sadegh Tirafkan.
What we see as the anti-ideological stand taken by contemporary Iranian artists, is in part a response to the pre-revolutionary generation, and a position taken against the orientalist look, as Iranian art attempts to lodge itself in the global art world.

Negar Mottahedeh
Program in Literature
Duke University
Via International Society for Iranian Studies
Thanks for reading Asia Society: Bridging Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art

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