September 2013: What You Do Not Ask Iran!

 Vahid Sharifian, Angelina & Jolie, 2012. Courtesy of the aritst. 

What You Do Not Ask Iran! by Shabahang Tayyari


Due to its existing political and social upheavals, Iran has never benefited much from its cultural potentials and artistic resources as well as it could in the recent century. As a matter of fact, no tangible artistic incident or progress has been accrued in Iran during the last century. 
Although there are some talented artists living in Iran, Iranian artists haven't succeeded in playing important or influential roles in the international contemporary art scene. And if they sometimes had, it was more as a subcultural, stereotyped and "other" Middle Eastern phenomenon. Therefore, talking about the art of Iran in general may seem illogical.

Oriental and political art generated in Iran, which superficiality is its main characteristic, is an ordered gift by the West that attempts to highlight the miserable and poor face of Middle-Eastern world. Indeed, it is a banal art that has been created for the Western desire and undoubtedly it has never had any serious position or role in today's art scene, and it may never will.

A closer look shows that any substantial phenomenon which may have happened in Iranian art was created far away from the border, it was abroad. Indeed, this type of art can be read more as an 'individual' or an 'independent' action in the art scene. For example, Iranian-born artist Siah Armajani, living in the USA, was influential in the 80s in America. There is also Shirin Neshat, for instance, who established herself as an international artist. In addition, Tony Shafrazi is another example of an Iranian individual who is one of the world's best-known art dealers living in America. However, the fact that Iran directly lacks major international art-scene players is very discouraging.  Of course, we can name some other Iranian-born artists such as Y.Z Kami and Nader Ahriman or, from a younger generation, Kamrooz Aram and Nairy Baghramian, but, again none of them achieved fame or aknowledgement while in Iran. Living abroad in a Western society, using the opportunities which are available in a first world country, and most importantly possessing talent and intelligence all create these opportunities for these artists to improve and establish themselves in today art scene. That is why I believe that talking about the art of Iran in ''general'' or as a ''total idea'' looks illogical. And if we want to be more accurate in considering this issue, then we need to talk about the ''individual''  in art and not focus on a ''group," ''movement,'' or  "wave'' that do not exist.

Vahid Sharifian, Angelina & Jolie (detail), 2012. Courtesy of the aritst. 

One of these artists who I would like to introduce is a young Iranian multimedia artist and writer. Vahid Sharifian is known as many things: "Iran's Jeff Koons," "Persian Andy Warhol," ''Antic Punk Rock Nihilist," and a ''Papaist'' (a compound of Dada & Pop as he says). Although he lives in Iran, his art work does not directly signify any specific geographical location, nor does his writing, which is created from his own timeless, location-less imagination. He makes art that challenges the media, religious taboos, post colonial theories, and the left party's ideas.

In his recent critical sculpture, titled Angelina & Jolie he tries to challenge and criticize the issue of power relations  in Hollywood, American politics, and the capitalistic de-identification of the "third world." Here, he enjoys playing with all of these ideas ironically and finally making them his own in a humoristic way. In Angelina & Jolie, which is a hyper-realistic sculpture, naked Angelina leans on the red sofa and a taxidermy Peacock gazes between her legs. Here, both the piece and its title are provocative. Sharifian cuts the name of the celebrity,which is produced by both ''media'' and ''authority,'' into two parts: Angelina and Jolie. By breaking the title in to the two separated words, the artist is actually questioning the generated identity produced by media. As Sharifinam says:

"Angelina Jolie'' is simultaneously both the ambassador of peace and the symbol of erotism in Hollywood. She appears among the poor people in Pakistan and Africa and at the same time she is also the ''dream,'' the ''ideal,'' the ''gift'' that the  media tries to present on the red carpet. So with this in mind, how is it possible to separate her two different dual characteristics from one another? ''Angelina Jolie'' is a name composed of two words; ''Angelina'' and ''Jolie'' which are meaningless without one another. So when I, as a citizen of the '' third world,'' embrace this present from the media, do I have any option to differentiate? Do I have the ''authority'' for the separability at all ? Does capitalism give me the power to criticize? However, I do my job and produce my art.

Vahid Sharifian, Queen of the Jungle (If I Had A Gun), 2007. Courtesy of the artist. 

Yes, he actually does his work. Although he lives in an isolated society of Iran, he releases his mind to whatever which comes to his mind. He embraces whatever comes to him in order to create a piece. His work  Talk To Me from the Last Part series done in 2010, for example, is a taxidermy parrot from the "Ara" race trapped in something like a pink telephone booth. Or, his other work titled What happend to you my lover, 2010, is a sculpture in which a beloved dog of aristocrats is decapitated and his head attached to a plastic car. Here, the super freedom is criticised by the artist. Sharifian's best criticism on freedom of '' third world'' can be seen in series of photo montage titled Queen Of The Jungle(If I Had A Gun). 
Ben Davis mentions in Art Net Magazine :

"The biggest splash in "Iran Inside Out" is probably made by Vahid Sharifian (b. 1982). While not explicitly political, his work expresses an antic punk-rock nihilism. Tehran-trained and Tehran-based,{...} In "Iran Inside Out," he is represented by Queen of the Jungle (If I Had a Gun), a series of doctored photographic self-portraits depicting the wild-haired, underwear-clad artist cavorting with animals -- in a pasture boxing with a rearing black stallion, breathing a plume of fire at an attacking bald eagle in a kitchen and, yes, making sweet love to a lion. You can’t help but interpreting this work as a visceral cry against cultural conservatism."

Yes, his works can be read as a cultural criticism which automatically have a mutual relation to the  "third world'' that at the same time criticizes both freedom and limitation. However, Sharifian is not a ''social artist''. He is always criticizing and making ironic statements through whatever he makes. we can call him a ''free artist'' as you may become his next target with sincerity!

Vahid Sharifian, Forestree of my Soul, 2007. Courtesy of the aritst. 

Vahid Sharifian, Martyr, 2011. Courtesy of the artist. 

Vahid Sharifian, My Father is a Democrat and There are Always Hearts Flyin to the Sky,
2008. Courtesy of the artist. 

Vahid Sharifian, Queen of the Jungle (If I had a gun), 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

Vahid Sharifian, Talk To Me, 2010. Courtesy of the aritst.  

Vahid Sharifian,Waiting for Jeff Koons, 2006. Courtesy of the artist. 

Iran Inside Out, Installation View.  Courtesy of Iran Inside Out. 

 

 

 

 

Shabahang Tayyari is a visual artist and video gamer based in Iran. He recived BA in Painting from Soore Art University and has exhibited in Maryam Harandi Gallery, Etemad Gallery, Asar Art Gallery and etc. His work also has been reviewed in Golestane Magazine. He is the co-founder of Secretaries Vs Securites which is an independent group working with multiple media. http://secretariesvssecurities.com http://shabahangtayyari.tumblr.com

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