Iranian Contemporary Art
The Curve  12 April – 3 June 2001
Free Admission

Iranian Contemporary Art is the first exhibition in Britain to examine the development of contemporary Iranian art in the 20 years before and after the Islamic revolution of 1979. Representing key moments and significant trends of the Iranian art scene, it features over 50 works by about 20 artists some of whom have spent time in other countries, or live abroad, and others who live and work in Iran. The works on display range from the calligraphic, abstract and figurative, to video, photography and installations by well known, as well as emerging young talents. The works have been selected from public and private collections from both inside and outside Iran, and include works never previously shown from the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

The exhibition plays an important role in introducing British audiences to the scope and quality of recent art from Iran, which has received little or no attention in the past 20-30 years. It takes the early 1960’s as a starting point when artists from Iran, fully acquainted with artistic developments in Western Europe and the USA, began to see inspiration from their own rich cultural heritage to produce distinctive and individual forms of modern art. These artists of the neo-traditionalist Saqqakhaneh school [‘Spiritual Pop Art’] were the first to explore popular religious rituals, cultural and folk symbols with an experimental, modernistic approach.

Some looked to Islamic sources, talismanic numbers and symbols, or to the essence of calligraphy such as Zenderoudi, Ehsai and Pilaram, others were innovative in sculpture, which for centuries had been disapproved of, for example Tanavoli’s sculpture, Heech, meaning ‘nothingness’, was a voice of protest against derivative work.

Some are known as poets and painters including Sepehri, who was inspired mostly by nature and Zen philosophy, while Arabshahi’s cityscape drawings refer to a pre-Islamic, Zorastrian past. Others such as Grigorian and Kalantari chose to make reliefs with mud and straw, deliberately selecting materials that evoked Iran’s desert landscapes.

At the height of the modernist effervescence and the opening of public galleries in Iran, the Islamic revolution brought to a standstill the buzzing art scene and from then on all international links, whether political or artistic, were broken. For ten years, only posters, militant propagandist murals of martyrs, photos and commissioned films documented the change.

Once the Iran-Iraq war ended (1980-88), a younger generation started to express itself more openly. ‘Forbidden art’ began to be exhibited in private galleries and homes. Liberal changes demanded by the public, attested in the election of 1998, encouraged artists to be more daring in public exhibitions. Today, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is bringing out the pre-revolutionary collections of Iranian and Western art that had been hidden. A fragile and threatened liberal wave is giving the courage to all to test the edge of the undefined line of ‘permissiveness’.

A pertinent criticism is found in works of recent years by artists such as Kalantari or Aghdashlou. The shocking impact of war is evident in Hassanzadeh’s body bags from his War series (he was one of many who volunteered during the Iran-Iraq war), that have resonance with the equally disturbing installation by Fayyazi of 1000 ceramic cockroaches. Photographic images from the past are adapted by some artists to comment about the present (Hadjizadeh and Shakhiba); the Qajar period is recalled in Surrealist vein by Qajar women but with modern, often forbidden accessories – a radio or a can of Pepsi – to play upon questions of permissiveness.

Related, but more light-hearted is the video installation by Ghazel who explores with humour the paradoxes that are experienced by women in Iran in a series on the day-to-day practicalities of wearing the Chador (robes worn by women in Iran). Ave by contrast, who belongs to the Zoroastrian minority, explores pertinent pre-Islamic epics of the 11th century from the Book of Kings, where the legendary hero, Rostam, kills his son, highlighting a conflict between modernism and tradition.

Iranian Contemporary Art has been selected by Rose Issa, Guest Curator and Carol Brown, Head of Exhibitions, Barbican Art, and organised by Barbican Art in association with the Iran Heritage Foundation and Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. A 144pg book, co-published by Booth-Clibborn Editions and Barbican Art accompanies the show. It covers a wider scope and illustrates work by more artists that it would be possible to include in one exhibition, and includes texts by Daryush Shayegan (philosopher and author) and Rose Issa and Ruyin Pakbaz (artist, art critic and teacher). Retails price £19.95.

Supported by Asia House, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Iran Society and Visiting Arts.

Film Season
A film festival – Women and Iranian Cinema – taking place in Barbican Cinema from 4-10 May complements the exhibition. The work of approximately seven directors will be showcased including The Day I Became A Woman (2000, dir. Marziyeh Meshkini), Two Women (2000 dir. Tahmineh Milani) and The House is Black (1962 dir, Forough Farrokhzah ).   It is organised by the Barbican in association with the Iran Heritage Foundation.

Opening Times: Mon, Weds, Fri, Sat 10am-7.30pm; Tue & Thu 10am-6pm; Sun 12noon-7pm

Press View 11 April 11am-2pm

LISTINGS:       Public Information: 020 7638 8891

For press information contact: Lisa Collins, Barbican Press Office

t: 020 7382 7169         f: 020 7382 7252         e:
For film season press information contact: Sarah Harvey Publicity
t: 020 7703 2252         f: 020 7277 2356

From press release dated 11 January 2001