This week on Six Pillars to Persia we speak with titan painter Khosrow Hassanzadeh, one of 29 Iranian artists showing at the SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) Brunei Gallery exhibition “Recalling The Future: post revolutionary Iranian art“. We also hear from Aras Amiri, one of the four curators of this large show, which spans two floors of the SOAS gallery space, open and free to the public until March 22.
While it’s generally a given that Iranian contemporary works exhibiting in London today are post-revolutionary, the purpose of making such a pointed distinction, of ‘post-revolutionary art’ is clear here. The exhibition curators write that they are “calling for a complete rethinking of modern Iranian art history, and its significance alongside the dramatic social upheavals of the last century experienced by the country.” It is certainly time to look at the ways in which Iranian art plays part to a global art scene, rather than relegate it to being just “art from Iran“, because artists rarely set out to deal with, and even less to represent what our ideas of Iran are. However the art world’s investigation into what Iranian art is and how it sees itself remains inconclusive. Recalling the Future, though for its part seeks to redefine the meaning of what Iranian art is to us, and thus includes work that is self-consciously Iranian in interesting and unexpected ways, speaking to keen observers and also practitioners of the arts of Iran and even the wider region.
With wall text of a length and density that could compete with any museum, the exhibition states its aims “to demonstrate artwork that radically shakes up the basic conception of the country’s modern canon.” This is a show for art lovers, familiar with current perceptions of the country’s modern canon as posited or constructed by curators, critics, students and writers and sometimes artist themselves. And if anyone else wanders perchance into the show at Russel Square, they too would at least begin the thought process about how Iran is perceived and is even constructed to appear via its art. It’s impossible not to, which is an achievement for the organisers of the show.
We last interviewed Khosrow Hassanzadeh in 2009 when we he took part in a much smaller group show, including an awe-inspiring print from one of Shirin Neshat’s films, at Waterhouse & Dodd. At that time he was showing his Iranian wrestler series Ya Ali Madad, all silkscreen and acrylic on canvas. How has his worked progressed since then and does he see himself as a creator of specifically post-revolutionary art within the context of this show?
The title, Recalling the Future, is one of many recent constructed art events dealing with notions of the future. We’ve had Future of a Promise at Venice and Future Imperfect in November 2013 at Tate run by Ibraaz, this month there’s the Archives for the Future, art and visual culture conference here in London and of course the reoccurring show last on during Frieze late last year The Future Can Wait. The overriding concern of this kind of interest in the future is to posit and deconcstruct ideas of how we can learn from the past and do something now to shape a better future. A worthy cause no doubt, but too much theory and no action ends up having as much impact as liking something on Facebook or a one-off pamphlet calling for radical change. It may influence thinking, it may shape the thinking and the language of those attending, but changes nothing in itself. Thus prevails a kind of optimism around discussion and exchange (although often it falls into mere presenting) that allows for microcosmic change. In short, the art world has a very indirect, one might say even organic view of change and the future. What’s different about this show is that it looks to the past, and asks us directly to reassess.
Recalling the Future states that the selected artists reject notions of ‘Iranian-ness’ as a fixed, timeless entity. We can confirm this is true having spoken to some of these artists in the past particularly Ghazeleh Hedayat. But do the artists ‘investigate the social and historical construction of identity, and the contribution these make to problematic political situations‘? Or are they simply investigating their everyday lives without being conscious of notions of identity, are they open to suggestion allowing us through their art, to infuse their work with particular meanings? If an artist leaves a conceptual work untitled, perhaps, but the titles in this show and the wall notes are clear. Facets of Iranian history and social dynamics they have resulted in are being examined.
The exhibition contains painting, sculpture, photography, video performance and installations and is guest curated by Aras Amiri, David Hodge, Hamed Yousefi, and Rozita Sharafjahan. Artists exhibiting are:
Reza Abedini, Bijan Akhgar, Nazgol Ansarinia, Mehraneh Atashi, Fereydoun Ave, Navid Azimi, Mahmoud Bakhshi, Masoumeh Bakhtiari, Shahrzad Changalvaei, Homa Delvarai, Parastou Forouhar, Shahab Fotouhi, Farhad Fozouni, Kaveh Golestan, Ghasem Hajizadeh, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Ghazaleh Hedayat, Bahman Jalali, Rana Javadi, Katayoun Karami, Aria Kasai, Amir Mobed, Mehran Mohajer, Masoumeh Mozaffari, Iman Raad, Neda Razavipour, Hamed Sahihi, Rozita Sharafjahan, Sadegh Tirafkan
Catch the show at 19.30 tonight GMT online or on air (across London) on 104.4FM