by David Carkhuff, Portland Daily Sun
The universal character of art is one of the revelations offered by an exhibit of Iranian photography at University of Southern Maine.
The lesson: "It's not so foreign after all. Art does flourish, it's part of our aspect of being and it will flourish even at times of repression," said Carolyn Eyler, director of Exhibitions and Programs at University of Southern Maine in Gorham and Portland.
"Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran," on display until Dec. 8, gives visual clues to life in Iran, a nation also known as Persia with deep roots in ancient Asia. For years, Iran has dominated the news cycle in America for different reasons, generally as a result of policy tensions and political conflicts. Yet, the photographs reach into a deeper understanding of Iranian life, Eyler noted.
"It's interesting that the country that we knew as Persia still exists, there's a place, a people, a culture, there's a particular sensibility," said Eyler, describing a "very refined aesthetic sensibility," as illustrated in ornate tapestries and other works of art. The photography often cuts against the grain of tradition. albeit with subtlety and nuance.
"From over a dozen artists, 58 works, you can see a variety of personal expressions, which in totality gives us a glimpse, at least a slice of the overall cultural sensibility," Eyler said.
Reza Jalali, American-Iranian scholar and writer, and coordinator of the USM Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, explained in a press release, "Modern Iran, the heir to the 2,500 year-old Persian civilization, is home to a vibrant artistic community, which despite state censorship and decades-old sanctions, continues to create and express art that demands our attention."
Aimee Petrin, executive director of Portland Ovations, said the group has sought out Kalhor for some time. "He's been on our wish list for several years," she said.
The "Persian Visions" exhibit helped spur Saturday's concert into becoming a reality, Petrin said.
"Once we heard through our partners at USM that this exhibit was coming, we thought this is the perfect timing," Petrin said.
The Gorham Art Gallery will be open noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday (at presstime, indications were the Portland gallery would be open Friday but not Saturday, per normal hours). So, with a little bit of planning, for those embarking on an art-and-music combination, the photography exhibit could be the first part of a multi-pronged experience.
"I think if someone goes to the exhibit, and then comes to the preconcert lecture and then the performance they would get a pretty instant and diverse immersion in Persian art," Petrin said.
"I think they provide different insights into Persian art," Petrin said of the images and music.
Eyler said the Persian photography has parallels in history.
Speaker Pamela Karimi, assistant professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, at a lecture earlier this year in Portland, expressed an analogy of African-Americans whose art often held masked meanings.
"All countries have had their moments, with the music of African-Americans, looking back to the 1920s and '30s there are a lot of coded words and things they couldn't say directly," Eyler said.
Likewise, the photography exhibit features "cultural references and perhaps a sense of repression that can only be pointed toward," she said.
"It appears it's a very important culture particularly right now to get to know better," Eyler said. "Isn't it wonderful that here's an opportunity to bypass all the middlemen, the media, and stand face to face in front of a personal expression of an Iranian or Persian artist?"
At USM, the multicultural population is one of the growing populations of students, reflecting changing demographics of the Portland area, Eyler said. This trend, she said, adds significance to the USM art exhibit, the Portland Ovations concert and a Portland Museum of Art exhibit, "Ahmed Alsoudani: Redacted," from American-Iraqi artist and Maine College of Art graduate Ahmed Alsoudani.
For more about Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran," visit http://www.usm.maine.edu/gallery.
• "Unveiling Contemporary Iranian Arts" at Hannaford Hall, University of Southern Maine, Portland. Saturday, Nov. 23, 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Writer and community organizer, Reza Jalali introduces examples and explores the context of contemporary Persian performing and visual arts.
• Master of Persian Music: Kayhan Kalhor, at Hannaford Hall, University of Southern Maine, Portland. Saturday, Nov. 23, 8 p.m. Internationally acclaimed virtuoso on the kamancheh (a four-stringed, upright Persian fiddle, ancestor to the violin), four-time Grammy nominee Kayhan Kalhor is a major creative influence in today's global music scene. His performances of traditional Persian music and multiple collaborations have won him fans around the world. Recognized for his classical playing and compositions, Kalhor has appeared in solo recital at Carnegie Hall and as part of Lincoln Center's MostlyMozart Festival. He is a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project. In Portland, he will be joined by additional musicians, to be announced, for an evening of masterful music.
• A University of Southern Maine art exhibit of 58 works of photography and video installations reflecting life in contemporary Iran is now open and on display until Dec. 8. "Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran," noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday, Art Gallery, Gorham Campus, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Friday, AREA Gallery, located in the Woodbury Campus Center, Portland Campus. "Persian Visions" was developed by Hamid Severi for the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran, and Gary Hallman of the Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C.
Via Portland Daily Sun