Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Young Iranian artists display works in London, using creativity to circumvent constraints

An Iranian art exhibit in London is proving so popular it's run has been extended. "Made In Iran" is on display at Asia House and has attracted much attention due to the recent civil and political unrest in Iran since the presidential elections.
The exhibit is unusual as it features artists who have all chosen to stay in Iran rather than relocate to Western cities. Many of the works can not be seen in Iran though, as they would not pass strict censor tests.

Curator and art consultant, Arianne Levene, said: "There is an element of censorship in Iran, but I think that just encourages artists of finding other ways of expressing themselves to say what they want to say, to say what they need to say."

"It encourages creativity because you have to work within a system, work with a culture, work with an environment that doesn't necessarily allow you to express yourself in a way you would initially like to express yourself," she added.

Unveiled women, nudes and political themed works are banned in Iran.

But these artists use modern mediums and take tongue-in-cheek approaches to comment on modern Iranian culture as it clashes with the ancient traditions of the past.

Shirin Aliabadi's hybrid photographs are striking and a playful take on the condition of the Iranian woman. They feature women with peroxide blond hair peeping out from under head scarves, heavily painted eyes, facial piercings and plasters over their noses - a comment on plastic nose surgery being all the rage in Iran. In "Hybrid Girl 6" the woman holds a mobile phone to her ear, whilst sucking on a bright red lollipop with bright red lips.

Simin Keramati's mask-like paintings of women are more glum. Her serious looking self-portrait called "Make Up" shows her with red lipstick smeared across her mouth, like a bloodied gash. The artist says it is a comment on not being able to say what you want in Iran.

Nazgol Ansarinia cleverly contrasts strict Persian traditions with the exuberance of modernity through her rug style digital drawings. At first glance the drawings look like typical traditional patterns, but on closer inspection the intricate patterns are made up of cartoon images of modern Iranian life. Television sets, men chatting on the street and motorcycles feature in the designs.

"Nazgol's work, even though she works alot with traditional Persian motifs of the carpet, she is bringing contemporary life into that work. So contemporary life and life today for these artists really comes out in their work which is what I think makes it really interesting," said Levene.

The artists circumvent censorship by finding their own ways of self-expression, the works show that sub-cultures are flourishing in Iran, said Levene.

She believes that is because Iran is such a young country, with 70 percent of the population under the age of 35 years.

"All of the artists are extremely young, most of them were born around the time of the revolution, around 1978 and 1979 and they are in their early 30's or in the late '60's and they are in their mid-30's, and they are more influenced by what they see and experience around them as opposed to what the traditions were, which is not something they've experienced because Iran's changed a lot and the Iran they know, the one where they live is Iran today," said Levene.

None of the artists managed to leave Iran to attend the London show, due to the unrest in their homeland. Levene is now trying to arrange for "Made In Iran" to be taken on tour to France and Canada. The show in London ends on July 10.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (JULY 7, 2009) REUTERS