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Shifting Boundaries

by Adheesha Sarkar

The recently concluded exhibition of contemporary Iranian art, Drops (December 6-31), organized by Ganges Art Gallery, was an important event in many respects. The exhibition gave art-lovers of Calcutta a rare glimpse of Middle Eastern, and specifically Iranian, contemporary paintings. But the showcasing of these paintings became all the more significant in the light of the current political scenario in Iran.

Art in Iran has always been conditioned by politics. But art and politics have been particularly, and remarkably, linked in the 2009 presidential elections of Iran. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the presidential candidate whose disputed defeat against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prompted mass protests across Iran, is a well-known artist himself and has several important Iranian artists and filmmakers as close friends, including Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It is important to note that Iranian artists started gaining international attention in the 21st century, but Ahmadinejad’s regime imposed restrictions on their free spirit, most notably when it reacted with hostility to an exhibition of contemporary Iranian paintings at the Saatchi Gallery in London and started banning art galleries in Iran that showcased “un-Islamic” art. So, the hope of a cultural movement similar to the one that took place in the 1970s had been kindled in Iran’s intellectual circles with Mousavi deciding to contest the elections. Mousavi’s wide support base draws on this hope to a great extent. Rebellious and experimental art has therefore surfaced with renewed vigour among present-day Iranian painters.

However, repression becoming a catalyst for artistic expression is not a new phenomenon for Iranian art. This has not only given it a distinct character, but also inflicted too much context into the visions of the artists. The exhibition, Drops, features the works of new-age artists who have espoused a wide range of influences — from traditional miniature and calligraphic styles to postmodern techniques, including new media, video and digital animation. Their art comes across sometimes as a passionate celebration, defying and challenging restraints, whereas, at other times, it exudes a poignant sense of suffocation and pain.

Nasim Davari’s work draws the eye — two canvases asymmetrically joined to produce a quaint and deformed human body with several limbs. Most artists in this exhibition have used abstraction, but Ali Gasemi deserves mention for his innovative attempt to merge abstraction with the traditional calligraphic form. The works of Ebrahim Mohammadian express a surrealistic darkness, slightly illuminated by fluorescent tinges; the rounded and obscure figures add to the sense of gripping fear. But the paintings of Miri truly stand out (picture). The simplicity, and yet the overbearing stature, of his paintings display a certain careless haughtiness and produces awe in the viewer. They have a transcendental quality and come across as a rebellion against the influence of context.

Via The Telegraph - Calcutta 

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