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An art from the far edge of illness

In his best-known works the iconic Iranian artist Fereydoun Ave has constantly investigated historical turning points, ancient motifs and the social aspects of his ancestral mythology – aspects that move through historical and contemporary narratives. 

Through his 2003 series, “In search of Heroes,” Ave merges the figures of Iranian wrestlers with ancient reliefs of Persian kings and warriors, a selective collage that conflates the relationship between ancient Persian heroes and those of our own time.

In a more metaphorical approach to the same method of investigation, the next two series, “Rostam in late summer” and “Rostam in the dead of winter,” betray a strong continuity with “Heroes.” As he unifies the ancient masculine personage, Rostam, he introduces a criteria he calls “macho-mystic” as a means of opening up the interpretative range of the work.

Though his works use Persian mythological discourse as their codex, Ave has also used more global paradigms. In his “D-Art boards For Tibet,” he depicts the Chinese-Tibetan conflict in twin dart boards, Maos and Mandelas. Throughout his oeuvre, Ave has often interwoven local fable and history with memories of a wider world.

“Recent Works,” Ave’s latest show in Khak Gallery, represents something of a departure from this earlier work, illustrating his own personal history – a tale of survival after a long battle with illness.
“Recent Works” consists of 11 mixed-media pieces and seven sculptures. Each of the mixed-media works begins with haphazard schemas and splashes of watercolor. The artist then prints familiar snapshots of daily life. Finally he over-paints them with new watercolor splashes.

Based on the evidence of this show, Ave’s personal history includes a half-naked figure, flowers and wreaths, colorful world atlases with bunches of flowers, a still photo of a chair and a closed window with blinds, a reclining figure of the artist, a chalice, furrowed pillows and family portraits. 

From one standpoint, at least, these motifs represent the artist’s personal history. But they are also universal, in that they can evoke images that would spark in any spectator’s imagination.

Born in 1945, Ave belongs to the first generation of Iranian contemporary artists who in the 1970s challenged the art of the Middle East and western Asia generally. His works are often intuitive responses to Iran’s social and political conditions. The work is hardly parochial, though, since ancient mythology and history are not limited to the Iranian experience alone.

Ave is one of those figures whose oeuvre has been characterized as an extreme form of contemporary art. He strongly believes in the “pure idea of [the] arts.”

The artist has said he regards his new series of work to be akin to a poem. These works create words and clauses, as if the poetic lexicon were located within this world. Like a poem, Ave’s art is capable of provoking multiple readings. 

A nude figure may depict the champion of ancient Persian mythology, or symbolize an inter-textual indicator for critics – or even a link to his older works. For Ave, the figure is a diary-like realization of a Turkish wrestler he once met in Paris. An antique Persian photograph surely relates to Qajar-era photography, though it is a family portrait of Ave’s ancestors in Yazd.

Ave’s “Divas” both address an era of fear and stability, as referenced in “Haftan Amshaspandan” (“Amshaspand” means “blessed immortal”) and gigantic sphinxes. Ave builds a contemporary legion of sphinxes in which fear and security are nurtured in a parallel and equal fashion. 

As he names these creatures, he tends to depict the paradoxical nature of fear and security, a mixture that is born in an inconsistent organism, that has pushed its way through aeons, surviving in the socio-political patterns of our time.

Ave exhibits these works without an appendix. He releases anonymous lived experience to blend itself into our common history. Just as these pictorial clauses are reinterpreted from time to time, different senses of these anonymous memories transform into a sort of poetic text.

Archaeology and reliance on the encounter of similes makes this body of work a set of “chansons imaginaires.” Ave’s works tend to divulge oblivion, an oblivion where things are neither forgotten nor remembered, where the wax idol of his contemporary life, and common sense, melt and congeal under the sun.

Fereydoun Ave’s ”Recent Works” is up at Tehran’s Khak Gallery until May 16.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 05, 2011, on page 16.

 Divas 6, Fereydoun Ave, composite + gold leaf 1/10, 2011, 50 x 30 x 110 cm

 Divas 7, Fereydoun Ave, composite + gold leaf 1/10 , 2011, 100 x 60 x 25 cm 

 Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm

Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 95 x 77 cm 

Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm

Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm 

Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm 

 Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm 

 Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm  

Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm  

 Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm  

 Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm  

 Fereydoun Ave, mixed media on paper, 2011, 120 x 84cm 

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