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Abstraction and Empathy at the Deutsche Guggenheim
Joseph Beuys and his Students - Works from the Deutsche Bank Collection at the Sabanci Museum
Back to the Garden at the 60 Wall Gallery
Deutsche Bank Art Space Showing Artistic Perspectives from Iran
Att Poomtangon: Portikus under water


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Raad O Bargh
Deutsche Bank Art Space Showing Artistic Perspectives from Iran

Since the unrest following the last presidential election, the political developments in Iran are being followed around the world. This current background makes the exhibition "Raad O Bargh," which the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is presenting at Deutsche Bank’s Art Space in Salzburg, particularly topical.

Just a fleeting look at the exhibition shows that the Iranian art scene is surprisingly varied. And some of the works are extremely provocative – for example, Ramin Haerizadeh’s bizarre mixed media collages. In his series Today’s Woman, the Teheran-based artist born in 1975 adds self-portraits to magazine pictures from the period before the Iranian revolution. He attached his head to women posing in miniskirts, and his full beard makes the effect particularly absurd. In a self-willed way, Haerizadeh combines Dadaist collage techniques with an inclination for ornaments and patterns. He cites ancient Persian motifs and Matisse in his mannerist cosmos. At the same time, Haerizadeh’s bearded odalisks serve as commentary on the Iranian regime’s strict moral precepts. While his satirical, often computer-generated pictures have caused him problems with the country’s censorship authorities, these works have garnered attention in the West. In the spring they were on view in the exhibition Unveiled: New Art from Middle East at the Saatchi Gallery in London, and works by Haerizadeh are included in Iran Inside Out, a current exhibition at the Chelsea Chelsea Art Museum in New York. The show attempts to take stock of contemporary Iranian art. Around half of the artists presented in Raad O Bargh (which means "thunder and lightning") at Deutsche Bank’s Art Space are also represented in New York.

In a globalized world, these exhibitions reflect the growing importance of new art scenes stemming from countries that were long marginalized by the Western art industry. But the short-lived hype around young Chinese art reveals the dangers of this development: Many works were produced based solely on the laws of supply and demand in a seemingly boundlessly receptive market. At the same time, the Western interest strengthens local art infrastructures, includiing galleries, institutions and project spaces showing young artistic attitudes. Since the 1990s, biennials have been held in Dakar, Shanghai and Gwangju. And there is also a biennial in Sharjah, the capital of one of the United Arab Emirates. The focus of the latter, like that of the Guggenheim Museum planned for Abu Dhabi, is contemporary art from the Middle East. Numerous works by artists from the region were purchased for the Deutsche Bank branches in Qatar, Rhiyad and Dubai, for example photo works by Mohammed Kazem and Shadia Alem. And Ebtisam Abdul Aziz’s series Numbers & Lifetime is on exhibit at the Deutsche Bank headquarters in Berlin. In her color photographs, the Sharjah-born artist shows hands of Arab women, thus archiving a large number of lives.

In the meantime, Iranian artistic positions have become part of global art discourse – and not only because of prominent representatives like Shirin Neshat who have left the country, Raad O Bargh demonstrates how vital the Iranian art scene is even within the Islamic republic. A typical protagonist is Mahmoud Bakhshi Moakhar, who exhibits in Teheran as well as Athens and New York and with his conceptual works reacts to the social situation of his home country. Moakhar’s installation Tulips Rise from the Blood of the Nation’s Youth (2008) alludes to the shape of the emblem that has been in the center of the national flag since the end of the Islamic revolution. It represents both a simplified form of the Arabic word "Allah" and a stylized tulip. The symbol is deeply rooted in Persian mythology, according to which a tulip grows in every place where a man fighting for the country sheds his blood. Exhibition visitors can switch turning neon tulips on or off themselves. This gives the work, which now is being linked to the bloody demonstrations on the streets of Tehran, a playful dimension.

Shirin Aliabadi investigates the role of women in her work. She became well known for Miss Hybrid, her photo series of Iranian women wearing bleach-blonde wigs under fashionable headscarves. The bandage on the nose indicates that a beauty operation was performed recently. In Eyes Only, her new series of drawings, the artist (born in 1973) also deals with the beauty ideals of young women. She shows the eye areas of brides who before their weddings have specialists apply lavish make-up to their faces. This trend not only annoys conservative guardians of public morals, but also reflects the process of individuation in Iranian society. It is above all young people – more than 60 percent of Iranians are under 30 – who are trying to free themselves from the religious shackles regulating everything from clothing to the relationships to the opposite sex.

As the Iranian philosopher Daryush Shayegan points out, the coexistence of contradictions has been deeply rooted in the Iranian psyche since the time of Zoroaster, the ancient Persian founder of Zoroasterism. It is perhaps for this reason that many works in the exhibition defy quick categorization. The 17 artists represented in the show successfully question widespread stereotypes of Iran. There is nothing that suggests an "Islamic image ban"; none of the artists limits him- or herself to calligraphy. Whether it’s Behrouz Rae, who visualizes personal traumas in his photographs, or Y.Z. Kami, whose large images transport portraits of ancient mummies to the present – each of the artists represented in “Raad O Bargh” reacts in a very individual way to a hybrid society in a field of tension between Islamic tradition and Western influences. In spite of governmental restrictions, they continually develop new strategies for expressing their artistic visions. Like seismographs, they register the processes of transformation in their country and find striking pictures that reflect their experiences.

Raad o Bargh - 17 Iranian Artists
July 21 – August 31, 2009
Deutsche Bank Art Space, Schwarzstraße 30, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
Mon – Sat, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Achim Drucks

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