The Asian Art Museum store welcomes the Tibet Artisan Initiative and Dropenling Handicraft Center of Lhasa, Tibet, for a special two-day sale of dolls, toys, textiles, and other traditional items hand crafted by Tibetan artisans living in Tibet. The Dropenling (“giving back for the betterment of all sentient beings”) Center helps support the Tibetan artisan community. This event benefits both the Asian Art Museum and Tibetan artisans.
Founded in the 1960’s, during one of the more tumultuous decades in American history, The Intersection for the Arts continues to showcase works that question the existing zeitgeist. One aspect of the current political discourse is to demonize Iran and the Iranians, just as the Vietnamese were demonized and denigrated during the war in Vietnam. The project was organized by two artists: SF-based Taraneh Hemami, and Tehran-based Ghazaleh Hedayat, who, along with the other contributing artists, want to demystify their life, challenge current stereotypes and promote cultural understanding (a huge agenda for such a small show!). It is a sad commentary on contemporary politics that these Iranian artists want to emphasize their similarity to “us” rather than to Iran’s rich cultural heritage; the work suffers from a generic modernism and a bit too much "tell" and not enough "show." Some of the photographs could be made in any urban wasteland; there doesn't seem to be anything specifically Iranian about them. Nevertheless, the artists hope that we view the work as rooted in Iran’s struggle for political freedom and a better life.
But, note that Iran is home to one of the world's oldest continuous major civilizations, with historical and urban settlements dating back to 4000 BC. It is the homeland of Zoroastrianism, considered to be one of the oldest religions in the world. The founder of the Bahá'í Faith, one of the newest of the world’s religions, came from Persia (Iran). Persian poetry has a tradition that reaches back to pre-Islamic Persia and an artistic culture that is equally ancient. The various Persian kings fought Rome for over six centuries, showing that East/West conflicts over that portion of the globe are long-standing and destructive for both parties.
Iran was once again reunified as an independent state in 1501 by the Safavid dynasty that established Shia Islam as the official religion of their empire, marking one of the most important turning points in the history of Islam. Shia Islam holds that Muhammad's family, the Ahl al-Bayt ("the People of the House"), and certain individuals among his descendants, who are known as Imams, have special spiritual and political rule over the community. Shia Muslims further believe that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad. Ali's murder in 661 CE, created the rupture between the two main bodies of Islamic belief, which continues to this day. Iran had been a monarchy ruled by a shah, or emperor, almost without interruption from 1501 until the 1979 Iranian revolution, when Iran officially became an Islamic Republic on 1 April 1979. There was a destructive war between Iran and Iraq which is little known in the west but which claimed half a million causalities. Nothing changed through this brutal conflict except for the families of the dead. Iran is still controlled by a ruthless theocracy and the current demonstrations may have shaken them, but change is a long way off.
Currently, Tehran is the 16th largest city in the world, with the same sort of urban issues common to any other city with huge extremes of rich and poor and ruled by a repressive dictatorship with illusions of world domination. The eight artists represented here want to show their everyday experience within the larger social and cultural contest of the city. One part of that experience – messages from Radio Tehran – is being broadcast as part of the show. The messages are written in Persian script on the walls, the flowing script at variance with the chilling messages, right out of any right-wing government, anywhere in the world, exalting those who die for religion and promoting their religious and political agenda. “Tonight the calls of Allah o Akbar for the Supreme leader Khomeini will fill the skies of the city.” “We are going to show our strong fist to the world.” (Installation by Nina Alizadeh, translated by Alizadeh).
Abbas Kowsari's three long, large format photos of the city move from generic urban smog of any city anywhere to more chilling images of Iranian political power – the center photograph is of black-clad, anonymous police rappelling down the sides of the police station as part of a public display. The last image, of people passing by each other, ignoring each other could be any city, anywhere except for the women, draped head to foot in black, another sign of the repressive misogyny of the current regime.
The traveling maps of Ghazaleh Hedayat, made before the current demonstrations, now have a “second reading as the routs of the public gatherings that became violent throughout the city.” (Taraneh Hemani). The lines were drawn on grid paper with different colored inks when she was in transit through out the city. Red stands for highways, the blue for main roads and the green for back roads and alleys; each zig, zag and jerked line another place where the car or bus hit a pot hole, bumped along in traffic (or not as the case may be) or jolted the artist on her journeys.The work would have been stronger if the tiny scribbles in Arabic script had been translated or if it was clear, without the explanation, what was being communicated. The same goes for the laser cut out of a felt map of Tehran. Placed in the middle of the room, it's unclear what point, if any, it makes.
Mehran Mohajer used a pinhole hole camera to take his photos of empty urban spaces. Inspired by Atget, his work is far bleaker, apocalyptic rather than elegiac, an allusion to the social situation they are living in. Mohammad Ghazali’s gelatin silver prints carry a nightmare message of entrapment and fear, "no way out."
Not every artist who participated in the original project was able to show their work. Kevin B. Chen, Program Director for Visual Arts told me that one of the women artists involved in the project had to drop out. She had been taking photos of herself throughout the city, some of which were against the back ground of the current demonstrations. As she was easily identifiable from the photos, it was more prudent for her to withdraw rather than run the risk of being arrested. One of the installation pieces honors 72 people killed in the recent demonstrations.
John Lennon sang so long ago to "give peace a chance." We haven't done so yet but understanding is always better than misunderstanding, honoring cultures better than demonizing and hope, always, better than dispair. Regime change is always fraught with uncertainty and danger. Revolutions often eat their young and artists who take a stance against a police state are always vulnerable.
The artists' state that they hope for a better future. I hope so too. Insha'Allah
Thanks to Kevin Chu for the images and his time.
Events associated with the project:
Sat, Nov 21. 2 PM: Readings by the Association of Iranian American Writers
Sat, Jan 16, 2010, 7 PM: Artists talk.
446 Valencia (Between 15/16) – be warned that the area is under construction but you can still access the gallery.
San Francisco, CA 94103
The show is up until January 23, 2010
The Flaming Lotus Girls (FLG) are a group of artists that create large scale sculptures made of steel, stainless steel, copper, bronze, glass, wood, resin, LED lights, variable speed motors, and propane fed fire. The flames shooting out from the sculptures can be from 2 inches to over 150 feet in length. FLG has built installations for events around the world, including Burning Man, the Fire Arts Festival at the Crucible in Oakland, Festival of Lights in Sausalito, Robodock in Amsterdam, and the Big Day Out in Australia. The sculptures utilize computer-controlled flame and sequenced LEDS to create colorful moving patterns of light. Some of the effects are interactive, created and controlled by observers.
Flaming Lotus Girls also offers training in welding for other artists looking to expand their knowledge in the helmeted arts.
See also: http://twitter.com/flaminglotus http://www.facebook.com/flaminglotus
San Francisco street artist Chor Boogie was working on a project on Market Street between Sixth and Seventh street (in image at right) when he confronted four people who were trying to steal his spray paint. They stabbed him and took off on a Muni bus, but he hopes surveillance cameras will help police track them down. Boogie's mural is part of San Francisco's Art in Storefronts project launched last month. The arts commission selected 20 artists to come up with art installations aimed at revitalizing Market Street and other neighborhoods.
"Chor Boogie along with all the other artists who were invited to the Art In Storefronts program were only paid $500 to help defray some of their expenses associated with these installations, so they're really providing a gift to the city," says Luis Cancel from the San Francisco Arts Commission. Naturally the arts commission hopes this was an isolated incident but recommends that artists painting murals for the city work in teams. (via ABC News)
Is it November already? 2009 has, well, not exactly flown by but certainly moved more quickly than I anticipated. Thanks to Anna and Sandy Yaga, who Anna wrote about (see below), I was able to get to Hunter's Point and saw a lot of great art. The day was warm and beautiful, the vibes mellow and welcoming and the rib sandwich (which I snagged a bit from Sandy) was utterly delicious. I saw several artists that I want to write about but first, some interesting upcoming shows which are opening this week, on in the case of Lost Art Salon, opening next Thursday.
Artists from Tehran at Intersection for the Arts:
Abbas Kowsari; Police
Featuring the work of eight artists living in Tehran, Iran – Nima Alizadeh, Saba Alizadeh, Mohammad Ghazali, Ghazaleh Hedayat, Abbas Kowsari, Mehran Mohajer, Neda Razavipour, and Homayoun Sirizi – alongside new work by San Francisco- based artist Taraneh Hemami, this exhibition compiles a collective narrative of everyday Tehran, the largest city in the Middle East and the 16th most populated city in the world with close to 8 million residents. Representing the current unpredictability of each day in Tehran and also the hope that comes from imagining a better future, the artists chronicle narratives of place and time, demystifying life in a country that has been misunderstood and maligned for decades. http://www.theintersection.org/
Walter Robinson at Catherine Clark (Opening November 4th
Lost Art Salon: Opening Thursday, November 12 - another in their continuing rediscovery of lost and forgotten artists:
Woodcuts on paper by Hope Brooks Meryman made during her art career in New York City in the 1960s will be on display and for sale. Meryman was a master at capturing the feeling of a moment, the atmosphere of a particular place or the character of an individual. She cut little moments into large-scale woodblocks, giving them a timeless and iconic presence. Her life in New York City, her vacations to New England and her travels to the Mediterranean informed much of the imagery in her work. http://www.lostartsalon.com/