Persian Heritage for the World Show
Persian Heritage for the World is a title that implies movement, the underlying and intertwining motion of a culture spreading outwards. Almost as a metaphor for this, the medium selected for the art show celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Cambridge Shahnameh Centre for Persian Studies* is the moving image. A chamber nature of the exhibition has limited the amount of works to be shown at the live screening, but to keep the event open for more artists and a broader audience interested in the contemporary moving image art practices, some of the show spilled out to the virtual space of Ephemereye gallery. In the body of this introduction you will find the links to video work of three artists that virtually are a part of the event: Anahita Norouzi, Amin Roshan, and Zahra Zavareh.
From the first year of the Centre’s opening, the ‘Shahnameh Forever’ art series was conceived to carry the power and inspiration of Ferdowsi’s great epic into the new millennium and beyond. Political climates change, as do perceptions and art styles, but human nature evolves more slowly, thus making art the most poignant means of communication, resonating through time and space with passions, foible and triumphs. Inspired by the Shahnameh’s stories, artists for many centuries put their skills to use by illustrating, paraphrasing, appropriating, commenting and interpreting the poetics of the Persian epic.
Video art is one of the most swiftly spreading phenomena of the last twenty years. Launched into existence by the introduction of the Portapak video camera in 1967, it exploded together with analog and digital technology and became as ubiquitous. About seventy percent of the art shows at the 2019 Venice Biennale consisted of or included digital media artwork, including in the Iranian pavilion. Ali Meer-Azimi’s work “The witness of the song” video was part of the installation.
Ali Azimi’s work in the Iranian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Artnet image
Time-based media art populates computer screens, expands into museums and galleries around the world, and art from Iran and by Iranian artists is not an exception. Although video was a newly established medium for making art in Iran, according to the Congress of Aesthetics 2007 paper, “Aesthetics Bridging Cultures”, twelve years later more and more artists have turned to video, the versatility of
which allows all forms of artistic exploration from self-reflection and visual abstracts to storytelling and live performance.
Dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the Shahnameh Centre, the exhibition ‘Persian Heritage for the World’ is of a global nature. The treasures of Persia’s ancient culture and the culture of contemporary Iran are appropriated and interpreted by the artists. At the live show, you can see a small collection of animation work: ‘Rostam in Wonderland’ by Pouya Afshar in collaboration with Soroush Rizaee;
Still from ‘Rostam in Wonderland’. Pouya Afshar in collaboration with Soroush Rizaee
‘Fake: The Idyllic Life’, an interpretative mixed media film by Shoja Azari that uses stylized aesthetics of Persian illustrations for his tongue-in-cheek piece that can be traced to the story Nizami, or even of Bahram Gur.
Still frame from ‘The King of Black’. Shoja Azari.
Digital presentation of Farah Oussuli’s paintings, and
‘The Role of Each Fret’ by Maryam Farahzadi,
Still frame from ‘The Role of Each Fret’. Maryam Farahzadi
Meanwhile, contemporaneously, live performance-based video work is presented in the virtual space of ephemereye.
You can see the work of three artists from Iran: Anahita Norouzi, Amin Roshan and Zahra Zavareh.
‘100 cypresses’, Anahita Norouzi
Anahita Norouzi’s ‘100 cypresses’ was inspired by the story of king Zahhak, and she explained her aspirations in the brief Q&A session.
Q&A with Anahita to learn more about her work.
E. How you connect Shahnameh to your work?
AN. In the June 2013, I traveled to Mount Damavand where I planted 100 cypresses. The work thus consists of a land art project and a two-hour documentation of the performance. Inspired by the Shahnameh story of Kaveh and Zahhak (the tyrant that was chained in Mount Damāvand after being defeated by Fereydun), in my work, Damavand symbolizes resistance against despotism. It calls for active participation in the process of preserving what identifies oneself in the era of decay. Here, I view the process as the material reality wherein nature juxtaposed with History. I investigate how a physical place transforms to a mystical space, a space whose epic swings between the two poles of history and myth.
E. What was a major source of inspiration for your work?
AN. I think my generation’s experience of time and history has always been jostled with its very erosional and destructive nature; so in some ways, this work mirrors the era that I live in, I’m talking about this specific historical time when everything is receding. In the text accompanying the artwork, I wrote that the rings of history in a tree’s trunk symbolically carry the very material of history. If we have to read this in the symbolic way, I’m planting new possibilities for making a new history, although limited. It’s interesting to think: I’m using my body as means of creating something that lasts longer than ‘I,’ a monument, immune from the secular experiences of time. My act is historical so is the video.
E. Where are you from? When have you started to make art?
Where were/are you studying? What media you used before starting to do live performance and video?
AN. I’m originally from Iran and now live in Montreal, Canada. I’m an academic holding advanced degrees in Fine Arts and French Literature from Concordia University in Montreal. I have exhibited and lectured extensively on the subject of my own art in relation to identity, migration, trauma, and memory studies. My conception of art is closely related to social, political, and cultural issues, that I aim to critically explore in my works. Since 2010, I’m traveling frequently to Iran to conduct my research and gather material for my work.
I began taking part in art —mostly photographic— exhibits since 2007. But now I’m associated more with film and video installation work (time-based media).
After starting my masters, I became fascinated by the notion of time and all possible ways to use it as a component of a piece. But in general, as an interdisciplinary artist, I’m curious about working with a broad range of materials and media. For me, the process of art making as an experience is as important as the piece itself. I’m very interested in the interrelation of different materials, and how, ontologically and art-historically, one medium affects another. I chose a particular medium whose effects would help in the communication of my artwork.
Amin Roshan’s ‘Prizes from the Fairyland’ live performance with historical imagery superimposed on a backdrop of fire-spitting oil derricks.
‘Prizes from the Fairyland’, one channel video. Amin Roshan.
Amin Roshan was born in Masjed Soleiman, southwest Iran, where Iran’s first oil well was discovered. His grandfather, father and elder brother have all worked in the oil industry. Amin’s work focuses on capturing the relationship of culture, which emerged from the discovery of oil, and its experience with modern and contemporary Iran. He brings together traditional and modern artistic practices. Growing
up in a traditional yet industrial environment has deeply influenced Amin’s body of work; he has drawn on his experiences to produce work through the use of different media: performance with gas cylinders, the Iranian bagpipe, engravings applied to safety hats worn by oil industry workers, silk screen painting with crude oil. At the age of fifteen, he studied graphic design for two years at art college in Ahwaz and continued to study and graduate in graphic design from the University of Tehran. After university, he did advertising work for the National Oil and Gas Company in Ahwaz and then moved to Tehran where he has lived and worked to this day.
Recently, he has been working on a project which draws on Iranian mythology and history; this project
reflects on issues such as humanity, its concerns, dependencies and attachments. In this work, he is
using an ancient Iranian art form called ‘khatam kari’ (Persian micro-mosaic).
Zahra Zavareh’s animated interpretation of the ‘Seven Labours of Rostam’ ‘Keep Right’ is a metaphor for a modern international family life struggling with bureaucracy (fighting with demons). She uses her cut-out drawings in the animation.
Keep Right. Zahra Zavareh. Animated film.
“This movie shows our story through the story of Rostam and Rakhsh as told from Rostam’s seven labours in Shahnameh. Rostam and his faithful companion Rakhsh sets out to save the King. Doing so they need to complete seven trials. This film depicts 6 of them, as we have yet to complete our trials.This move is a coping mechanism. That is why I made it, and by showing it I hope it will contribute to shed some light on the negative results nationalist policies and complexities of international marriage.”**
Adding to the media used in the show is an original music by Fouad Samiei that was inspired by Shahnameh’s stories. The snippets of which can be heard during the show opening. Answering to our question about his musical passion Fourad said: ” I was born in 1989 in Tehran. I started to play Tombak when I was a child, however, I [began my formal training] learn Tombak and the Percussion in a music institute when I was 15 years old. At that age, I also had my first performance at a concert, which was held in my school. […] My interest in melodies caused me to learn Tar instrument for 5 years. During the years I was learning Tar and complexities of Persian music, I had the chance to perform my first official concert. My passion to learn about music did not end and it led me to music composition for big orchestras, learning harmony from Mastero Kiawasch Saheb Nassagh and film music. At the moment I am composing music for films series.”
Being the quintessence of Persian culture, Ferdowsi’s epic is a timeless inspiration expanding into yet another century. This exhibition showcases its influence in an art form as dynamic as it is fundamental for an understanding of our time, in the context of Persian heritage and its contemporary art vision.
We hope that this show will open further opportunities for the artists working with digital media that is a product of art evolution just as it is a reflection of the current moment.
* Lead by the Director of Research Dr Firuza Abdullaeva.
** From the artist’s statement.