Iran’s flourishing contemporary art scene will be the focus of Opera Gallery’s upcoming exhibit, allowing visitors to gauge just how much the meaning of true art has evolved from the days of Persia.
The “Art of Iran” showcase features 30 Iranian artists, including works by celebrated professionals such as Mohammad Ehsai, Nasrollah Afjehei, Khosro Khosravi and Koorosh Shishegaran but also upcoming contemporaries such as Negar Varasteh and Shima Esfandyari.
The Opera Gallery Group, with founder Gilles Dyan at the helm, and curators Leila Varasteh and Vida Zaim have been actively involved in promoting Iranian art across the globe. With their years of experience and well-developed networks in the country, they were able to gain access to unique pieces of work that make up the upcoming exhibition.
The collection focuses on two main aspects of the contemporary art scene in Iran: the transformation of calligraphy as an art-form (from being thought of as just a traditional writing style) and an emerging sense of Iranian identity that distinguishes itself from what is considered ‘Western’ art.
Calligraphy is the cornerstone of Islamic art. However, while its main purpose was once to convey a message, it is what is done with the visual aspect that dominates in modern calligraphy. The words are no longer the key but rather it is the way they are presented - with the right colours, brushstrokes and fluidity - and this has led to replacing the written word with the painted one, or what is referred to as naqqashi-khat.
Moving beyond the traditional notion of calligraphy, artists like Mohammad Ehsai have turned their focus towards colour and form, pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. Ehsai, for one, was actually trained in traditional calligraphy but chose to use the Persian script to create art that was inspired by visuals found in religious works. Nasrollah Afjehei is another contemporary visual artist that experiments with the calligraphic form and is hailed as being one of the few who helped usher in this new era of art. His pieces are highly coveted and one of his works, Wave, was sold at Christie’s Dubai in 2011 for $218,500.
The new wave of art in Iran is also characterised by a shift in perception of Western art. While previously the West was looked towards for inspiration, this movement, known as ‘new Art’, has seen artists turning inwards and exploring their own surroundings.
Calligraphy, the veil and the chador are examples of Iranian cultural symbols that suddenly became popular subjects with artists of the era in their attempt to explore their own social landscape.
For artists like Khosro Khosravi, it is the medium of art that enables him to highlight politicaland social criticisms that are prohibited otherwise. Using the chador as an example, he looks at the implications that societal impositions have on individuals.
Meanwhile, Koorosh Shishegaran uses an abstract mix of colour and form to highlight myriad cultural legacies of his native Iran. He doesn’t restrict himself to any particular style, experimenting with pop art, graffiti and calligraphy - all resulting in bold tapestries of profoundly human moments.
While these renowned artists have been making waves in Iran for years, this new wave of art has also promoted a burgeoning art culture and Opera Gallery will also be highlighting works by some of these up-and-coming artists.
Negar Varasteh has been a pioneer in highlighting the outlook of the modern Iranian woman.
She uses a comical facade when broaching these controversial issues; however, the sociopolitical message underneath the humour is still just as apparent. Another relatively new female artist, who uses a more symbolic approach to her artwork, is Shima Esfandyari, who has already taken part in exhibitions both in Iran and across the world.
The ‘Art of Iran’ exhibition will be held from March 19th to April 11th at Opera Gallery, DIFC.