docs//M Iran

Februari 2007 was Eefje gespreksleider bij docs//M Iran, twee publieke bijeenkomsten over de interactie tussen kunst, journalistiek en politiek, met betrekking tot Iran, in NP3, Groningen en Gemak, Den Haag. Zij ging in gesprek met de Iraanse kunstenaars Parastou Forouhar en Atousa Bandeh Ghiasabadi. Voor de speciale publicatie van nieuwe tekeningen van Parastou Forouhar schreef Eefje de tekst. Docs//M Iran was een initiatief van Violet Bureau.





Iran, red lines

The Tehran art scene is booming. In the last ten years, more than a hundred new galleries have opened in Tehran. The take-over of power by the ultra-conservatives (2005) has had its impact on the art scene, as it has on people’s every day life. Control on ‘moral conduct’ has increased noticeably, the regime has cracked down on dissidents more severely, and censorship is enforced more rigorously again. The museums and larger galleries that are in official hands focus on ‘religious art’ again. But many artists and art collectives still find a way to set up their own spaces of self-expression. And it is definitely not just the ‘Islamic art’ sanctioned by the government that can be found there. On the contrary; daring, innovative, individual, critical and sometimes outright political works of art can be found.

To survive as an artist, as anybody living in Iran, you will always have to take the ‘red lines’, the limits to permissible criticism into account. As one filmmaker described it: ’everyone in Iran walks a tightrope. You are constantly balancing between what you can and what you can’t do.’ One way to trespass these red lines is to utter criticism in an indirect way. This has created a whole set of metaphors, subtle references in Iranian art. 

In recent years also western audiences have become increasingly acquainted with the works of Iranian artists, both of artists living in Iran and works of artists living in diaspora. This increase in interest for Iranian art coincides with a general tendency in the art world of showing a special interest in ‘Middle Eastern’ or ‘Muslim’ artists, especially after 9-11. Western audiences have trained themselves in understanding this art that is alien to their frame of reference. However, this sometimes leads to the misreading of Iranian art. Because of the notion of censorship, we feel that we have to look for metaphors, a hidden message. Moreover, we look for a message that suits are own presuppositions of what ‘Iranian art’ should be about. In reading Iranian art, the personal experience of the artist is often looked over. As a reaction, many artists now feel that there is often more interest in the political connotation than in the artistic qualities of their work. They even feel that because Iranian political art has become ‘fashionable’, some artists create art solely for western audiences: tourist art that is full of clichés abou Iranian society that can easily be read. 

Parastou Forouhar’s work confronts the audience both with their presuppositions about Iranian art, as with harsh political criticism.  Forouhar lives and works in Germany. Unlike her colleagues in Iran, she can work much more freely, not having to take the ‘red lines’ set by the Iranian regime into account. But she too is confronted by the way western audience read Iranian art. The artist plays with this notion, using metaphors and clichés from oriental art in an innovative way. She uses well-known images from oriental societies, such as ornaments, but ascribes a new meaning to them, thereby undermining our notion of reading ‘Iranian art’. In her new work ‘Iranian fall’ the beautiful pattern reminds us of the patterns we can find in mosques, but upon a closer look the true meaning of the repetitive images are revealed. The beautiful becomes the horrific. 

Forouhar has always felt that as an artist you have to convey your positioning in the world trough your artwork. Still, for years she shunned away from politics in her art. That radically changed in 1998. That year Forouhar’s parents and four others, all outspoken critics of the regime, were found dead in their homes in Iran, brutally killed by the Iranian secret service. 

After the horrific event of the murdering of her parents, politics more and more became an inseparable part of Forouhar’s life. Since 1998 she has worked to bring the case before the court, has kept on investigating the murders, and struggled to keep the memory of her parents alive. It became the center of her life. Forouhar was forced to redefine herself as an artist as well. She either had to find a way to connect, or separate the political murders from her work as an artist. She decided to connect it. Her installation Documentation was her first step in doing so. It was a risky project, for Forouhar feared she would become known solely for her biography, not for her artwork. But she felt it was essential for her, on a personal, political and an artistic level. The three had become inseparable.  Documentation confronts the audience very directly. By showing letters, newspaper clippings, interviews, and correspondence with politicians, officials and institutions, the artist offers an insight into the events and their aftermath. 

In her new series of drawings ‘Iranian fall’ Forouhar has returned to the subject. The images are both based on information she has gathered about the circumstances of the killings, such as the photographs of her parents murder scene, as on her imagination of what must have been the feeling of the victims. 

The drawings are beautiful in an awful way. The attractive dazzling repetitive patterns, just as the positioning of the bodies, reinforce a sense of disorientation. The victims are surrounded by the people that want to kill them. They are powerless under the gazing eye of the perpetrators. ‘Iranian fall’ refers directly to the time of year Parastou Forouhar’s parents were murdered. In that sense her work is very personal. But it is as much work that addresses the injustice of political murders in general, the powerlessness of victims of a repressive state. Forouhar makes the personal tragedy universal, in such a way that it concerns us all.