recent acquisitions of works on paper
26 November 2016 –
2 April 2017
Recommend this exhibition
Bahman Mohassess (1931–2010). Untitled. Lithograph, 1971. Reproduced by permission of the Estate of the artist.
A display of works by Iranian artists Bahman Mohassess, Parviz Tanavoli, Mitra Tabrizian, Parastou Forouhar, Ahmad Aali, Nahid Hagigat, Mohsen Ahmadvand, Shahpour Pouyan, Afsoon, Fereydoun Ave, Ali Akbar Sadeghi, Shideh Tami, Bahman Jalali, Ali Banisadr, Tarlan Rafiee & Yashar Samimi Mofakham.
The modern and contemporary art of Iran tells a multiplicity of stories. Made by Iranian artists of different generations, the works in this display include a variety of media from collage to artist books and photography. The narratives highlight an engagement with Iranian history from the legendary tales of the Shahnameh or Book of Kings (an epic in verse written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi in about AD 1010) to insights into the politics of recent decades. Between them, they present a series of vivid snapshots of the art and preoccupations of some of Iran’s most significant artists.
These acquisitions have been possible thanks to the British Museum Patrons’ group CaMMEA (Contemporary and Modern Middle East Art), Maryam and Edward Eisler and a number of other generous donors.
Thanks to the support of the Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art acquisitions group (CaMMEA) and other generous donors the Museum now has a growing collection of over 200 established and emerging artists from across the region, either living in the countries of their birth or in diaspora.
Bahman Mohassess (1931–2010) was one of Iran’s leading Modernists. Working in painting, sculpture, collage and theatrical stage design, Mohassess became increasingly well known outside Iran, participating in various Biennales including Venice and Paris in 1955 and 1962. Alongside his paintings and sculptural works, from the late 1950s Mohassess produced prints. From 1989 until his death in 2010, by which time he was mostly resident in Rome, he began to work with collage on a series he described as ‘Assemblages’. Made from cut-up magazines, often overlaid by drawing, these works express a personal philosophy and vision of life, sometimes quite brutal in outlook. Striking among the collages are Pour Munch, referencing The Scream by Edvard Munch (d. 1944), and the figure of the turbaned shark. This is a playful allusion to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (President of Iran 1989–1997) who bears the nickname kuseh, Persian for shark.
Bahman Mohassess (1931–2010), Pour Munch. Collage made from cut out magazines, painted, 1991. Funded by Maryam and Edward Eisler. 2013,6050.1 - Bahman Mohassess (1931–2010), Untitled. Collage made from cut out magazines, painted, about 1989. Funded by Maryam and Edward Eisler. 2013,6050.8
Mitra Tabrizian (b. 1959) is an Iranian-British photographer and film director who examines contemporary social and political issues in both her native Iran and her current home, Britain. She studied film and photography at the University of Westminster, where she now lectures. Tabrizian uses a range of techniques, including documentary and stage photography, and film. In 2008 her work was the subject of a retrospective, That is That Place, at Tate Britain. Her feature film Gholam, about Iranian exiles in London is currently in production.
Surveillance uses three periods of Iran’s recent history to indicate the roles of the West and the clergy in Iranian politics. The left, 1953, represents the coup backed by Britain and America against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (d. 1967). The two figures in front represent British and Americans (indicated by British and American flags in the form of pocket handkerchiefs). The centre, 1982, represents the early years of the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988) and the full establishment of the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini (d. 1989). This is dramatically highlighted by women in chadors (enveloping garments that have been worn by women in Iran since the revolution) and the figure of a soldier. The right, 1979, represents the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile. The symbolic handshake brought him to full power as supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Born in Tehran in 1962, Parastou Forouhar studied art at the University of Tehran and later in Germany, where she has spent much of her life. Using photography, digital illustration and installations she tackles subjects of displacement, political criticism and gender in Iran. She was initially exiled from Iran after her parents, intellectuals and activists, were assassinated in 1998. This loss fuelled much of the content for her works.
At first glance, these works appear to echo wall paper or furnishing fabrics. Seen up close, faceless figures, representing either victims or transgressors, appear within the colourful repeating patterns.
Studying art at Tehran University, Hagigat moved to New York in 1968 to continue her art education at New York University. Specialising in printmaking, she was one of the few female artists to address political issues in the 1970s in Iran. Art historian Fereshte Daftari writes: ‘Increasingly as the 1979 Revolution approached, women were expressing their opposition to the Pahlavi regime by wearing head scarves. In Hagigat's 1975 work Escape, however, a woman is freeing herself from her veil as a gesture of longing for freedom and a protest against the patriarchal society. Hagigat was among the few women artists active in the period under scrutiny who dealt with issues of gender and politics.’ Surveillance captures the atmosphere of fear that was created by the secret activities of SAVAK, the state security organisation during the late Pahlavi era before the revolution of 1979.
Ali Akbar Sadeghi
An award-winning book illustrator, painter and animator, Sadeghi’s work draws on the rich historical and cultural traditions of Iran. The works illustrated are made from the celluloid frames of original animation films. The Sun King is loosely based on a tale from the Iranian epic poem Shahnameh. It follows a wealthy king who has everything a man could possibly want, except for love. One day, while exploring his palace, he discovers a painting of a beautiful woman with a blue rose, and becomes smitten. The film follows his journey in search of her, including an encounter with the demon known as the White Div. The animation can be viewed at Ali Akbar Sadeghi's website and on YouTube. Boasting comments on Iranian politics of the time. Different factional groups line up, ready for battle. Before the fight, each warrior steps forward boasting ‘I am the one who…’
Ali Akbar Sadeghi (b. 1937), The Sun King. Animation Celluloids, 1973. Funded by the Farjam Foundation. 2016,6042.2 - Ali Akbar Sadeghi (b. 1937), Boasting. Animation Celluloids, 1975. Funded by the Farjam Foundation. 2016,6042.1
Mohsen Ahmadvand is an avid draughtsman who received his BA in painting at Tehran University Faculty of Fine Arts. His Rustam is an ironic rendering of the mythical hero Rustam from the national epic of Iran, the Shahnameh. His name is written in individual letters at the top of the page. Rustam appears as an everyday man, but his t-shirt is decorated with tiger stripes (as he is always depicted in Persian miniature painting) and his helmet is made from the head of the White Div (the supernatural monster killed by Rustam).
Born in Isfahan, Shahpour Pouyan completed an MFA in Integrated Practices and New Forms at the Pratt Institute in New York, and an MFA in Painting from Tehran University of Art. Pouyan is one of the finalists for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Jameel Prize 4, 2016. This work shown here is part of a series in which Pouyan strips celebrated historic Persian miniatures of their central figures, instead exploring the unspoken in their backgrounds. By removing the characters in works such as After ‘Rustam Slaying the White Div’, Pouyan draws attention to the subtleties hidden in these paintings. On his hazardous journey to find the White Div, Rustam underwent repeated tests of strength, known as the 'Seven Courses'. Told that divs (demons) sleep at midday, Rustam entered the White Div's cave and engaged him in a ferocious battle. The hero Rustam emerges the victor after plucking out the div's liver.
Rustam Slaying the White Div. Manuscript painting, 1576–1577. 1937,0710,0.327 - Shahpour Pouyan (b. 1980), After ‘Rustam Slaying the White Div’. Mixed media, 2015. Funded by the Farjam Foundation. 2016,6043.1
Tarlan Rafiee and Yashar Samimi Mofakham
This portfolio is a collaboration between Tarlan Rafiee and Yashar Samimi Mofakham. Both trained printmakers, together they set up the Tehran-based printmaking studio KA:V editions. In his silkscreen prints, Samimi Mofakham references iconic works in art history such as the Venus de Milo and Dürer’s St Sebastian at the Column. In Samimi Mofakham’s version, this classical symbol of feminine beauty is beheaded and her breasts are censored with Iranian stamps celebrating the anniversary of the revolution. The martyr St Sebastian symbolises all the young men who died in the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988). In her hand-coloured prints, Rafiee depicts Middle Eastern divas, pop singers, actors and actresses in order to remind us that the region has a cultural dimension far removed from the cliché of being the land of oil, complete with related internal/external strife. The personalities include Iranian singer Googoosh, the Lebanese singer Fairuz, the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif and the Egyptian singer and diva Umm Kulthum who, Rafiee believes, acted as ambassadors for Middle Eastern culture in the wider world and helped advance their respective societies.
Tanavoli bought an old printed book from a flea market in Tehran and ‘was impressed by the beauty of the inscriptions written in fine calligraphy… I decided to have my share of these beautiful pages for the memories.’ The drawings are his own interventions. Parviz Tanavoli is Iran’s most renowned artist, best known for his sculptures of which his bronze Heech in a Cage is currently displayed in the Museum’s Room 29b. He studied in Italy with sculptor Marino Marini (d. 1980) and is credited with the revival of sculpture in Iran. Living between Vancouver and Tehran where he teaches, his work is inspired by elements of popular culture. Also a cultural historian, he collects and publishes on subjects such as locks, amulets and rugs.
Tami, a self-taught artist and poet, makes work in a variety of media. These pages are from an artist book placed in a loose leaf binder. The figural and abstract designs are accompanied by verses of poetry. The lines below the yellow face include the words ‘when we take steps, there is darkness. There is darkness in the two bright eyes the heat of which scratches the skin’. The lines below the white face include ‘I draw two black lines in my eyes. I blink, the shadows have disappeared. I am colouring my face.’
Afsoon was born in Tehran where she lived until the 1979 revolution, then moved to America where she completed her studies. She describes herself as nomadic and this is reflected in her work: ‘East merges with West and the result is at once familiar and foreign.’ In this series Afsoon includes figures from old family photos and addresses the notion of nostalgia: ‘How do you explain feeling nostalgic? An earring, a shade of colour, the fall of a curtain, a badly cut suit, and unfashionable word, the past can show itself in anything. We have an expression in Persian for missing something which translates loosely as “my heart has shrunken for it”. I created this series to stretch my heart.’
Born in 1945 in Tehran, educated in England and the United States, Ave is amongst the first generation of Iranian contemporary artists. He developed a close relationship with Cy Twombly, which influenced a rise in abstraction in his usually socio-political driven mixed-media works. The lower part of the photograph features two Iranian wrestlers (pahlavan), a frequent image in his work.
Of this work, he has said ‘it was an attempt to take an established form (the miniature) and reinterpret it for today. For me the miniature is in fact an illustration that accompanies text.'
Ali Banisadr was born in Tehran in 1976 and moved to California as a child. He received his BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2005, and his MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2007. He is best known for his monumental paintings in which he introduces a surreal world drawing on Persian mythology. In his work on paper, the technique he uses involves a roller loaded with colour over which are drawn tiny figures that emerge out of the landscape. ‘Within these repeated images’ he writes, ‘I hope the viewer will get a chance to investigate the scenes like a forensic scientist discovering some long forgotten roll of film from the past’.
Jalali is a key figure in the history of Iranian photography and was fascinated by and collected 19th century Qajar era photographs. Combining old negatives in his dark room, this image is made up of several different elements: a group of bare-chested tattooed pahlavan (wrestlers or athletes), a smartly dressed young man, a shadowy figure of an archetype of Iranian beauty and traces of letters.
Bahman Jalali (b. 1945) Image of Imagination (Zurkhana series), C -print, 2012. 2009,6036.1 Acquired through Art Fund support, The Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.
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