The contemporary arts of Iran have yet to live across many zones of criticism, debate, and philosophical understanding on the way to more widespread and long-term notice. Nevertheless, at this crossroads, Iran’s contemporary arts––especially photography, the genius of its artistic expression––bespeak a wholly different frame of vision and production than that of any other time or place. Although a great deal of research and work is necessary to determine the aesthetic and historical significance of this current display, we may be assured that the so-far-generated polemics regarding its place and meaning have laid the foundation for its enduring significance not only in Iran but also worldwide.
This book exemplifies the nontranscendent, unpretentious, and liberated path of contemporary Iran’s art production and indicates an inward freedom from conventions and academic aesthetic themes. The honesty and authenticity of most of Iran’s contemporary productions, be they in the works of Shirin Aliabadi, Mohammad Ghazali, Sadegh Tirafkan, Parastou Forouhar, Taraneh Hemami, Mandana Moghaddam and others discussed in this book is, when compared to Iran’s earlier art, phenomenal. For, rarely has so much of a period’s art appeared so simple yet turned out to be so complex. Mohammad Ghazali’s “Where the Heads of the Renowned Rest” and Shirin Aliabadi’s “Miss Hybrid,” among many others discussed in the book, prove this point. Ghazali’s urban images appear at first to be ordinary, quotidian photography, until after some scrutiny, one enters the horizon of his profound metaphysical subversions. Aliabadi, who may be viewed as playful and even superficial, represents one of those interstices of play where the paradox of desire and control, of simulation and dissimulation, have made transparent both the microcosm and macrocosm of Iran’s culture. Her images are filled with remembrances of past psychologies that can be measured, albeit subtly, beneath the façade of the work’s modern females.
This book also explores how contemporary art should be viewed in terms not only of what is there but also of what is allowed to be there. The prescriptions for artistic expression are to a great extent shaped by the proscriptions of a period of time, that is, by the sociopolitical reach of governments and their traditions. Neda Razavipour and Shahab Fotouhi have shown profound awareness of this fact in “Census” by posting at Gallery 13 all the documentation required for the official permit to go through––a feat not that different from many of Christo’s recordings, which intended to show that the final product or the signified content is to a great extent a byproduct of institutional rules.
It is amazing that within the strictest of institutional proscriptions, the contemporary artists of Iran have, for the most part, managed to chart new aesthetic and iconographic paths. The complexity of Iran’s contemporary life and thus its art is necessarily sodden with tensions and conflicts that, given the context’s rigid proscriptions, have produced a theatre of signs, evading and avoiding official obstacles. Therefore, as in the works of Tirafkan, Yunessi, Danaeifar, Kowsari, and Golshiri, though they demonstrate a variety of methodologies, we find a radical reformulation of signs as theatrical symbols. In these works the epistemology of cognition is bypassed so that meaning, highly discursive, may not be easily codified. Though political demands have vitiated freedom of expression, new tactics and strategies of communication have both overcome the State’s demands and enriched the various arts and their meanings.