Moments of truth

An exhibition of Iranian art
Pouya Parsamagham's CCTV-like Chase installation. Courtesy Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

by , The National

Farrokh Mahadavi is a painter and a boxer. He says that he hears nothing when he fights because his entire being is focused on moving and weaving about the ring.

He brings a similar tautness to his canvases, too; images of bare torsos that he has worked and pummelled into a paired-down pink mass against a white background. The flesh is raw and tenderised, it slopes to indecorous contours and sinewy folds.

“The thing is crystal clear,” says Rokni Haerizadeh, one of Iran’s most eminent contemporary artists, who has selected works by Mahadavi for a group show – What Lies Beneath, Second Edition – of emerging Iranian talent due to open on September 10 at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde.

“There is no spirituality or spiritual meaning around his bodies: if he shows a heart, for instance, it’s just the heart that is inside your body. It is rough, tough work,” he says.

What Lies Beneath, Second Edition has been conceived – not curated –by Haerizadeh and is a continuation of a project that was initiated last year.

Haerizadeh makes a clear distinction on his role because the exhibition seeks to present the development of a group of six young artists that he, together with his brother, the artist Ramin Haerizadeh, has provoked and challenged since their last showing.

Rather than individual works curated for the show, the second edition of the project features, with the exception of two, the same artists presented at the gallery in February last year. “I don’t believe that you should keep on introducing new artists all the time,” says Haerizadeh. “There have been so many new names passing through galleries here that you can’t necessarily trust them on just one exhibition. It’s important that the audience see the evolution of an artist’s work.”

Several shows touting the next big thing in Iranian art have taken place this year in Dubai alone. Galleries and collectors may well be looking for a new generation of Iranian artists that can take up the baton of those like Haerizadeh who, in part, drove the late 2000s boom in recognition and attention for Dubai’s art scene.

Names come and go and today it can become a little hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

“I think if you are more simple and honest in how you approach your work then that’s more radical these days,” says Haerizadeh, as we look over the works included in What Lies Beneath. He says that Mahadavi’s tenderised torsos are an attempt to get at the straightforward truth of things: the body rendered visceral without a convoluted theoretical back story. 

The same goes for Javad Azimi, a painter of lyrical, simplistic scenes – the sort one might find daubed on the bowl of well-worn ceramics – as well as demons’ heads wrought in riotous colour. He paints with his hands, giving the works their roughness and pleasant imprecision. These bodies of work have a slight outsider quality to them. Azimi left Iran’s capital for the rural north-eastern city of Gorgan a year ago, absorbing the Turkomen folk art found in that part of the country. The vivid embroidery that exists there has seeped into his palette. The unabashed way he compounds colour in his paintings of demons bears hints of this tradition’s influence.

Haerizadeh says this style has led to accusations of provincialism and a childish style when Azimi has previously exhibited back home. “But he keeps doing it. I like that idea of the artist having the breath of their surroundings in their work,” he says.

Encouraging these artists to stick to their guns, even if acclaim for their way of working remains elusive, has been at the centre of putting this second edition together. Haerizadeh is drawn to exactly their indecorousness, their refusal to veer into the practice of painting by projector that has become widespread among many young Iranian artists.

Iman Raad, who has subtly but significantly developed on what he showed last year, represents exactly this craft concern. A graphic designer of repute, he has spent a lot of time also learning from the artisans who weave and embroider tapestries in Iran.

The result is a subversion of the black tapestries often paraded through the streets of cities during the Ashura festival that mourns the death of Imam Hossein. But scenes of playful mythos play across them here instead.These tapestries could almost operate as mourning banners for the narrowing of a tradition of embroidery to a purely religious function.

Craft surfaces in other ways: Pouya Parsamagham is embroiled in cinema, having studied with the likes of the Iranian master auteur Abbas Kiarostami. For What Lies Beneath, Parsamagham has assembled a collection of moving images that almost look like CCTV stills. Upon examination, these are actually scenes from existing films and Parsamagham uses his camera to “chase” minor characters who loiter in the background.

The success of What Lies Beneath, and the six artists featured, remains to be seen once the show opens next week. But Haerizadeh says that working with the group and a multitude of voices has also had a positive effect on his own practice.

“Too often, a curator has something in their mind and starts to find works to illustrate that way of thinking,” he says. “I want to trace the artist, instead.”

September 10 to October 10, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Al Quoz 1, St 8, #17, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai; open Saturday-Thursday 10am-7pm; 04 323 0502,

Via The National
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