“Tehran Now” is presented in a space staged by the Tehran-based graphic artists of Studio Kargah to evoke the sinuous, shop-filled labyrinths of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar. (NYT)

October 25, 2021

The usual list of galleries from China, Japan and Korea is remarkably thin, so the fair has expanded its scope to bring a selection of Iran’s contemporary art galleries to a dedicated platform called “Tehran Now”.

“We explore the richness of the art scenes of the Asian continent, and it was important that we looked at art from Iran,” said Alexandra Fain, co-founder and president of Asia Now.

This fair has 40 participants in a personalized format that runs through Sunday in its usual venue, the Salons Hoche, a mansion on Avenue Hoche, a few blocks from the Arc de Triomphe in the eighth arrondissement of Paris. An online viewing room is available.

In addition to those from Iran, many European galleries and two art foundations fill the stands to show art by artists from, or with a connection to, the Asian continent.

Three major Paris-based galleries are back: Perrotin, Templon and Nathalie Obadia. They first came on board last year, when FIAC was canceled due to the pandemic. This year they have booths at both Asia Now and FIAC.

Templon showcases new work by Indian artists, including Jitish Kallat and Atul Dodiya, both of which were featured at the 2019 Venice Biennale. Perrotin has handcrafted tapestries in Nepal from designs by Japanese artist Aya Takano; Nathalie Obadia has an intercultural show of Indian, Chinese and Iranian art. As Chinese travelers face the prospect of quarantine — if not in Europe, at least on their return — many Chinese galleries have stayed away. Among the participating Asian galleries are Yavuz, from Singapore, and two from China, HdM and Over the Influence, which operate spaces in London and Los Angeles, respectively.

Asia Now collaborates with the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, nearby in the 16th arrondissement, which also hosts two external shows by Paris-based Vietnamese artists, Thu-Van Tran and Huong Dodinh.

“This is our seventh edition, and we have reached maturity accelerated by the health crisis,” said Ms Fain.

That maturity, she said, is evidenced by the fair’s “engagement with social and environmental issues” and its full schedule of roundtables, music performances and special projects, all of which seek to raise public awareness through the arts.

One project, “Making Worlds Exist”, a selection of works curated by Kathy Alliou, director of the “Oeuvres” department of the Beaux-Arts de Paris, questions identity, regeneration and tradition through the eyes of nine artists. Another, compiled by historian and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud, explores the Chinese concept of “Shun” (“going with the flow”) and the divide between nature and industry.

A third project opens the door to the Iranian platform. Entitled ‘Burning Wings’, it is a 70-minute video projection curated by Odile Burluraux, a curator at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris. It is dedicated to Iranian poet and writer Forough Farrokhzad, a symbol of artistic and personal freedom in Iran who died in 1967.

It is a single projection consisting of several videos of three to ten minutes made by ten female artists from Iran. A verse from one of Mrs. Farrokhzad’s poems sets the tone for “Burning Wings”: “Do not close my lips with the padlock of silence, for I have an untold story in my heart.”

“These are personal histories told by women, some with subtlety and poetry, others in more radical ways,” Ms Burluraux said.

“These women are repositories of a collective memory,” she said.

“A sense of nostalgia for the landscapes, tradition and architecture of Iran, and a powerful evocation of abandoned places runs through their work.”

One of the artists featured in “Burning Wings” is Tahmineh Monzavi, who lives in Iran and often tackles issues related to women and marginalized populations, including addicts and transgender people. She shows three videos: “Dance in the Ruins”, “Secret of Dismissal” and “Lullabies” from her series “Past Continues” (2016), each featuring a woman singing, dancing or playing the cello in the ruins of a former grand building.

“Tehran Now” is presented in a space staged by Tehran-based graphic artists Studio Kargah to evoke the twisty, store-filled labyrinths of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.

Iranian artists are rarely the center of attention at a Western art fair. For artists living in Iran, their exposure has been largely regional, if not local, in part due to sanctions imposed on the country exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic.

“Artists working in Iran have been largely cut off from the western world for 40 years,” said Jean-Marc Decrop, a specialist in Chinese contemporary art and a member of the fair’s artistic committee.

“Iranian culture dates back millennia and filters through all layers of society,” said Mr. Decrop. “Poetry informs the work of many artists from Iran who interpret today’s world from a unique perspective.”

Eight galleries from Iran – Aaran, Ab Anbar, Azad Art, Bavan, Etemad, Mohsen, +2 Gallery and Saradipour Art – braved an obstacle course of visa and vaccination requirements to make the trip to Paris.

They showcase works by some 60 Iranian artists, including groundbreaking works by Farideh Lashai, who died in 2013, and what Mr Decrop called “fresh and surreal” new work by Hoda Kashiha. At the Etemad booth, Maryam “Mimi” Amini, a multidisciplinary artist from Tehran, features several mixed media pieces from her colorful, soul-searching “Hidden Landscape” series that combines gold leaf and collage on wood and industrial fabric.

Gallery Ab-Anbar shows digital prints by Arash Hanaei, based on a real photograph of a landscape or a still life, saturated with colors to suggest a floating reality.

The human form, deconstructed and at times cartoonish, is the subject of works by Mrs. Kashiha, an artist from Tehran, presented by Galerie Nathalie Obadia, which also displays works by Shahpour Pouyan.

“I like airbrushing for the flatness effect, but my pieces have many layers on top of each other,” Ms Kashiha said in an interview from Tehran. “The airbrush places a tool between me and the canvas. It removes the ego from the painting process. It is a more feminine way of painting.”

“For me, this scholarship is not about selling my work,” she said. “I want people to see it and talk about it.”

“The Secret” by Sepand Danesh, a French-Iranian artist based in Paris, is also cartoonish, but in a pixelated painting style. Inspired by Giotto’s “Annunciation to the Virgin”, the work is presented by Nouchine Pahlevan, a gallery that opened last month in the Marais district of Paris.

“My inspiration comes from curiosity, which in Persian is ‘konj-kav’ and literally means ‘to dig in the corner’,” said Mr. danesh. “My fragmented figures are trapped in a corner, trying to escape.”

Mr. Danesh is also a sculptor. He was commissioned to create 25 outdoor sculptures, with the same “digital” quality as his paintings and some usable as public benches, for the French Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, which opened this month.

“If you look at my work, it’s not necessarily Iranian, but it has something of my personal story,” said Mr Danesh. “Nationality is important, but I’d rather people look at the art and what the artist has to say.”

The New York Times

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.