TEER ART, Contemporary art in Iran

TEER ART, Contemporary art in Iran

We’re in Tadjrish, in the very hype northern part of Tehran where the chic people of the city meet.

After getting out of the car, I need to stop for a second and enjoy just one more time the view that I love the most of Tehran, the snow-covered Elburz Mountains watching over the city imperturbably. I enter this old building from the 30s and even though it’s quite run down it reveals still at certain spots its beauty from the past. A slight breeze of nostalgia is blowing through the staircase. While walking up the stairs, the sound of electronic music brings my attention back to the present and guides me to the studio of the artist Mimi Maryam Amini.

Everything here is art, Ready Made or her own creation, from the fridge to the armchair in the living room and the large panels of colored leather lying everywhere recovered with graffitis in fluorescent colours. I’m struck by this creative energy, it’s fresh, dynamic, experimental, spontaneous, almost quite punk. I can see these young people, in their coolest hipster outfits, art lovers, designers, curators, all around this apartment discussing intensely, and there is Mimi, the artist with these sparkling eyes and smile,  standing in front of her artwork and swaying to the music. For one moment I forget that I’m in Tehran until my gaze falls on Khomeini’s portray outside the window on the house wall just opposite of Mimi’s studio. I pinch myself. I realize that I’m in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran…

It’s January and I’m in Tehran to participate at Teer At Week, organized by Hormoz Hematian, founder of the influential Dastan gallery, and by Maryam Majd of Assar Art Gallery. Dedicated to contemporary Iranian art this event takes place at the same time as the Tehran Auction that breaks all the records in the last years in Iran even though the country’s economy is squeezed by the US sanctions.

Teer Art Week is an extraordinary and unique art experience among international art events: It’s a great invitation to discover galleries in Tehran and meet Iranian artists at their studio.
It focuses on this unknown art scene that I’d like to bring to light. 

Since the Trump administration hit Iran with sanctions in May 2018, the Iranian currency has lost 60% of its value, and inflation reaches almost 35%. The country is economically and politically isolated, all the exchange offices are closed. However in this difficult context art becomes and investment of the rich of this country. But mainly established artist benefit from this evolution, most of them are even already dead.

Young artists, for their part, are rather victims of this political and economical situation: Extremely increasing prices concern also their work tools such as paint, canvas, painting brushes, paper, film rolls and the development of photos, etc. that are mainly imported from abroad. In addition to that rising housing prices force them to live at their parents’ house or leave the city.

“The Iranian art scenes, from the most confidential artist to the more mainstream, is extremely interesting and exciting and breaks all the rules and boundaries.”

Jean Marc Decrop
Expert in contemporary Chinese art and collector of contemporary Iranian art

“The contemporary art scene in Iran has extremely evolved in the past years. It’s very creative and has definitely an international level and credibility.
However, the artists are confronted with limits that they need to subvert every day. It’ll be important to reinforce the international relations in order to gain recognition and conquer new markets outside the country.
That’s the goal of Teer Art Week and the German Embassy likes to support this project.”

Justus M. Kemper
Head of Cultural Section at the German Embassy in Tehran

“I believe that one day Iran will be the center of Art in the Middle East, but currently the contemporary art scene here is like the rest of Iran, a mixture of many narratives. Even though a few galleries are attempting to give more attention to contemporary art, happenings and events still concentrate mostly on modern art.
Fortunately there are many contemporary artists and there is a huge potential for growth in this area.
Teer Art can be very helpful, especially in educating art patrons and push collectors more towards contemporary art.”

Maryam « Mimi » Amini
Contemporary female artist who lives and works in Tehran

“As the number of galleries has increased a lot in the last years, the art scene in Iran has become more mature, more divers, with more interest from top international collectors as well as top institutions. This confirms that the contemporary art scene in Iran will be the next scene to keep an eye on.”

Arian Etebarian
Founder of the platform of Iranian art www.darz.ir

Photos by Anahita Vessier and Roxana Fazeli
Text: Anahita Vessier and Nada Rihani Teissier du Cros
Translation: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

SÉPÀND DANESH, Art is a corner of creation

SÉPÀND DANESH, Art is a corner of creation

Persisting, almost obsessive, eager for knowledge and attached to the art of painting the French-Iranian artist Sépànd Danesh nourishes his artistic mind with literature and history. Fascinated by the corner, this hollow space often filled with melancholy and nostalgia, has become the main theme in his work.

With an intense desire to understand and to discover and inspired by the hyper-connected space of a hub, he has launched his latest project Hubtopia, a research program with the goal to create a bridge between art and science.

The creative universe of Sépànd Danesh is rich and lively where imagination and memory merge perfectly well.

You have a very eventful life, moving from Iran to the US and then to France. What was the reason why you’ve started to draw?

I was around 13 years old when I moved to France with my family. I didn’t speak any French, so I’ve started to draw. My art teacher noticed my talent and supported me. Drawing became an opportunity to advance in life, and so I decided to go to art school.

And you have managed to enter the Beaux Arts in Paris which is one of the most prestigious art schools in the world. How was it to be an art student there ?

After studying product design at the ENSAAMA Olivier de Serres in Paris, I was really lucky to get a scholarship to this prestigious art school and to have teachers such as Giuseppe Penne or Philippe Cognée. The entire ambiance, being far from the Parisian microcosm, the huge and exceptional library, being close to Louvre Museum, Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou allowed me to concentrate on my studies and to discover my passion for art during those five years of study.

Looking at your work, it reminds me of Emile Zola words « Art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament ». Does this correspond to your work where corners are the main subject ?

Marcel Proust once said,

“A painting is like the appearance of a corner of a mysterious world. We know fragments of this world by looking at other paintings of the same artist. You can also have this kind of sensation when you’re talking to people in a salon, and all of a sudden you look up and your eyes are drawn to a painting that you don’t know but that evokes something so familiar in you, like a memory from the past.”

You’re by the way a huge fan of Marcel Proust and you observe for a very long time almost obsessively the way people express their thoughts. The encyclopedia of imagination, a special grid system that needs to be filled with drawings, has been the result of your observation, which allows you to break language barriers and apprehend the world without using any words.

I’ve often felt stuck, stuck in a culture, in a language, in a country, in a relationship, in a thought, in a body, on a planet.

The only solution that I’ve found to get out of this, is to change immediately my way of thinking, to switch quickly from one thought to another, to renew and update the flow of ideas that are going through my mind.

When I was younger, I had this constant urge to escape. This has pushed me to invent this grid system in order distract myself constantly from my thoughts. But I wanted to find the perfect grid and so my research has been divided into three concepts: domestication, connection and dispersion.

That’s how I started to paint corners. I wanted to draw attention to this vertical and hollow space, without neither a floor nor a ceiling, that blocks you and obliges you to escape.

The question of how to get away from the human condition keeps being the center of my obsession.

You’ve pushed this almost obsessive observation of the corner, or as we call it nowadays « of the hub »,  even further by creating « Hubtopia », a multi-disciplinary platform inviting people of very different professional backgrounds in order to show in a more scientific way the different perspectives of a hub.
Could you define a little bit more your concept of « Hubtopia »? 

Hubtopia is a neologism that I’ve invented by connecting the word « hub » (the effective center of an activity, region or network) and « topos » the classical greek word for space or a method for developing arguments.

Hubtopia is a research program split into three platforms: web (www.hubtopia.org), events and publishing always based on the studies of the « hub ».

You organize a lot of conferences around Hubtopia and educational workshops which creates an interesting access to your creative universe.
Is it important for you that your art is easily accessible?

Schools, hospitals and prisons are places where people feel stuck more than anywhere else. I felt the urge to share this feeling of being blocked with other people. That’s why I have organized these art workshops where I give other people (around 900 people until now) the opportunity to draw by using my grid system.

Art has always helped me and still helps me to break out of my human condition. Why not creating this easy access to my art if it can  have the same positive impact on other people.

I’ve been also contacted by a stage director to transform my workshops into performances. To be continued…

Inspired by your own life story you’ve created the comic figure « The Little Persian ». Any plans to share this project on a bigger scale and make a comic strip out of it ?

Yes, I’d like to publish a comic strip.
I have a lot fun drawing this comic figure that is getting more and more conscious about himself and his existence, that is constantly switching between reality and imagination.
Working on « The Little Persian » helps me to work on myself but in a very amusing way.

You’re playing the oud, the arbic lute. Is music another loophole in your constant urge to break-out? 

If I was on an isolated island in the middle of the ocean, music would be like the parrots in Chateaubriand’s book « Memoirs From Beyond the Tomb ». In this novel they continue repeating the dead language of the aborigines who have been exterminated by the invaders.

At the end of this month you’ll have a solo show at the Dastan Gallery in Tehran. What’s your opinion about the contemporary art scene and the young artists in Iran today ? 

Virginia Woolf once said,

“The big achievements among women novelists came with a change of attitude. They’re not angry any more, no claiming, no recrimination in their writing any more. We get closer, or have even already arrived, to the point where female authors aren’t affected or influenced anymore  by exterior elements. They can entirely concentrate on their vision without being diverted from their goal. That’s why today the work of women novelists is so much more authentic and interesting than hundred or even fifty years ago.”

I think that the Iranian art scene, in and outside of Iran, is waiting for a big change. But changes can only be achieved when you look for it. This means also breaking out of traditionalism and avoiding fantasizing about the West.

Is there a quote that guides you through life ? 

My father often used to repeat Berthold Brecht’s words,

“We often talk about the violence of the rivers that carries away everything, but we never talk about the violence on the riverbanks.”

All photos by Anahita Vessier
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

GIDEON RUBIN, Craftsman of faceless memories

GIDEON RUBIN, Craftsman of faceless memories

Gideon Rubin is a contemporary Israeli artist and a rising star in the international art scene.

His work is about the memory of something that is at the point of fading away. By blurring identifying details, erasing the facial features of human beings, he invites the viewer to complete these unexisting details by using his very own memories. This “dialogue” creates a very personal relationship between the artwork and the audience and evokes a feeling of intimacy and nostalgia.

Being the grandson of Reuven Rubin, the famous Israeli painter, did this influence your decision to become a painter?

Looking back obviously it did but it took a long time for it to come out.

I was about 22 years old when I started painting and if you’d ask me before what’s the least possible career or job prospect, painter would have probably topped the list, mainly because of my grandfather and the position he occupies within the canon of Israeli art. For years, for me, viewing his work was actually tainted by the fame his work carries with it back home.

“It was not just a flower, a house or a portrait, it was a “Rubin” first.”

I guess this was probably the main reason that when I finally did find ‘painting’, a life long commitment, I chose to do it outside my home. It was only then that I discovered so much of his work; sensitivities, paint application, tonality and how much of it actually filtered to my DNA.

You were in New York on September 11th, 2001. Did this experience have an influence on your work?

It changed my life so it definitely changed my work as well.
Before 9/11 I used to paint from observation, focusing on full figure self-portraits that took months to finish.

When I got back to London on the first commercial flight to leave NY, it felt as if I escaped hell. I was so happy to land in London, I wanted to kiss the ground but I just couldn’t paint like before. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore so I began making these small toy still-life paintings.
Instead of one portrait, painted for three months, I painted now three paintings a day. It felt as if I was unloading a huge burden. As artists we are lucky, we have our work in order to deal with all the shit that happens around us.

Being a sort of « craftsman of memories », each of your paintings has this incomplete detail of faceless human beings. What is the reason, the intention behind these portraits without features?

More than anything it’s an abstraction tool, a way I enjoy directing and dissecting what I see and the surface of the painting. Simplifying it.
Growing up I was fascinated by the little figures in my grandfather’s landscape paintings; just little blobs of paint to describe a face, limbs or body. In my work I try to strike a balance between the general and the specific, the ‘public’ and the ‘individual’, which I find fascinating.

When I began erasing the facial features it was something altogether different. Painting old toys I was reacting to the physical erasure of the doll features after years of being handled and played with kids. As my work shifted back to portraiture, I found out fairly quickly that I can describe what I need without the features.

“I was and still am fascinated by how much information we gather between us that is outside the face.”

Our mannerism, style, the way we dress, walk etc. We ‘read’ each other and any human portrait, by first and for-most our facial features and then everything else. I’m interested in reversing this process, everything else comes first and then leave an opening, a question mark. an untold story. For me the act of erasing is as important and positive as a mark making.

While working on your paintings, how do you perceive time in these very intense and creative moments?

It’s difficult to put these moments in words, especially, if words are not your thing and you don’t want to sound cheesy.
But if I have to I can say that I learned not to look for these moments. Just work and work. When they come, it’s great, you are in the action itself and there is nothing else, but as soon as you begin to think about it, acknowledging you are or were in “it”, it is gone.

Is there an author, an artist, a musician that has changed your perception of art and inspired you in your process of creating?

Velasquez, Goya, Rembrandt, Chardin, Soutine, Guston, Manet, Bacon, Freud, Morandi, Alys, Richter, Rotheko, Matisse, Picasso, Diebenkorn, Hemingway, Kerouac, Camus, David Grossman, Primo Levy, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, Dylan, Allen, Tarantino, Almodovar, Nina Simone I can go on and on…

What do you feel when you’ve just finished a painting and you look at it?

Disappointment, as if I could have done it better. Sometimes it’s true, luckily sometimes not.

Is there a quote, a proverb that guides you through life?

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” (Pablo Picasso)

“An intellectual says a simple thing in a complex way. An artist says a complex thing in a simple way.” (Charles Bukowski)

Do you work with music? What’s your favourite musician that you listen to at the moment in your studio?

It shifts, at the moment I’m listening to a bit of soul like Erica Badu, Lauren Hill and my usual outdated Jazz, Nina Simone, Coltrane, Miles Davis to a bit of Bowie and Leonard Cohen. Lately, I find I listen more to classical music. Piano, a lot of piano…

You were recently invited by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chengdu in China to a group exhibition under the title “Memory Goes As Far As This Morning”. This invitation also gave you the opportunity to visit the province of Xinjiang which is home of the Uyghur, an ethnic minority that primarily practices Islam. How was this experience for you?

It was really quite remarkable, a once in the life time experience. I was specifically interested, as my wife, although mainland Chinese, was born in Xinjiang, in Korla and I have heard much about the Turkic peoples where she was born. Their look is closer to Israeli than Chinese she used to tell me and that I would like the food.

“She was right in many aspects and I could find quite a few similarities between the Uyghur people and people from the Middle East.”

It was a very different experience than traveling in China, mainly due to very tight security, a result of years of political unrest, which I have to say added to an uneasy feeling throughout but this huge area has so much more to offer, a unique history of the ancient silk road which is incredibly preserved due to the dry weather conditions, to the highest snow peaked mountains that look as if they were taken from the Swiss alps.

From the vibrant markets full of spices to the beautifully hand crafted artifacts, and the beautiful scarfed women, it all seemed to belong to a different time and a magical place.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

Generally I always think of how I enjoy meeting Iranians since I moved to NY and then London. I find so much in common and much to appreciate, from my point
of view, food and cinema come first to mind. ‘A Separation’, ‘About Elly’…
I also think it’s a shame that I can’t visit.
I see the meeting points, the dialogue, the art.

Portray by Shira Klasmer
All other photos by Richard Ivey
“Boy”, 56x51cm, oil on canvas, 2011
“Untitled”, 66x71cm, oil on linen, 2012
“Pond”, 200x150cm, oil on linen, 2016
“Class of 1947 (Prom)”, 12 paintings each 25x20cm, oil on linen, 2012
“Yellow Blindfold”, 107x102cm, oil on canvas, 2015
“Policemen”, 35.5×30.5cm, oil on linen, 2015
“Untitled”, 26x19cm, gouache on paper, 2015
“Sunset”, 150x200cm, oil on linen, 2016
Text: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

MATHIAS KISS, The artist with the golden hand

MATHIAS KISS, The artist with the golden hand

Mathias Kiss is a French artist, iconoclast and dandy with boundless creative energy. In his art he folds academicism to find new codes and to break down the barriers between disciplines by association French classicism and avant-gardism.

His extravagant and oversized installations are shown in the most prestigious galeries and museums such as the Palais de Tokyo or the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and his artistic universe seduces luxury brands like Hermès or Boucheron.

When did you decide to become an artist?

I’ve started an apprenticeship as a painter and glazier when I was 14 years old. When I was 17, I’ve joined the Compagnon du Devoir where I’ve been working for 15 years. My dream was to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris if I had the chance.
But finally all these periods in my life have given me the tools, skills and knowledge to do the work that I’m doing today.

My art is inspired by my life with all the traumatizing experiences.

What kind of trauma?

Which girl wants to go out with a construction painter!

Failing school when you’re 14 and starting a job when you’re so young is very complicated. Nobody was interested in a guy like me. Everybody was studying, doing a white-collar job, being a graphic designer etc.
It was really hard to feel alone and to be considered as an outsider.

How would you define yourself? Craftsman? Artist?

When I was with the Compagnons, my only goal was to become as good craftsman so my boss wouldn’t get angry and shout at me because the sky on the ceiling wasn’t perfectly painted.

I couldn’t even imagine to have thoughts like « Why not painting the sky red instead of blue? ».

Many years later I’ve managed to emancipate myself and get free from the rigid conventions and move towards art.

At the being of my career as an artist, people didn’t know what to think of my work, which category they could place it. Fortunately some trusted me and encouraged the others to buy my work.

Why this urge to break the rules ?

When you work for the Compagnons you grow up with a compass and a triangle which is symbolizing the rules. People of my age weren’t interested in my work. Too classic, too rigid, too dusty. I needed to break down these barriers, free myself from these technical and aesthetic conventions.

So I was wondering how it would be possible to preserve the historical codes of French savoir-faire and incorporate them and place them into a contemporary context.

My work consists of two groups of artwork:

One is under the title « Sans 90° » which contains all the work inspired by the thought around the absence of the right angle such as the mirrors « Miroirs Froisées », the trompe l’oeil marble « Igloo » seat, the « Magyar » carpet.

The other group entitled « Golden Snake » gathers all the work that deals with experimenting with architectural elements of French classicism and questioning the artistic working process.

Why is gold such an interesting material for you as it takes a very important part in your work?

Gold is light, is life. It’s not only opulent, kitschy or outdated.

Gold allows to engage a conversation about power, for example the power of seduction of a woman enhancing this by wearing jewelry, or the power of men, who have always fought for possessing it.

Are there new challenges that you would like to face in your work?

As a Compagnon I’ve been working in all the important historical dwellings of the French Republic, such as the Comédie Française, Opera Garnier, Conseil d’État, and many others. Even though I had the chance to work in those sumptuous places, I was very unsatisfied with my work and decided to turn to contemporary art.

So a perfect mix of both experiences would be to build installations for public spaces, a kind of tribute to Paris, the city of sights and museums.

I’m thinking for example of adapting my installation « Golden Snake » that has been exposed at Palais de Tokyo for an urban environment where kids can climb on it or people can sit on it.
That would be an interesting project and a real challenge.

Aren’t you feeling anxious when you’re standing in front of those wide empty spaces at the beginning of a project?

The bigger the space, the more I dig it! To me it’s like a huge white sheet of paper where I can let my artistic imagination run wild.

You’ve done a lot of thai boxing and you have been even participation in official competitions until you were 30. During your exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo you’ve invited the world box champion Patrick Quarteron to have a little box match together in front of your installation « Golden Snake » for the magazine Numéro. What have art and boxing in common? 

It’s true that people don’t see the points that these two worlds have in common.

A boxer is a guy, standing half-naked on a stage trying to win and being applauded by the audience that is standing around and watching. This is total narcissism and exhibitionism, isn’t it!  The need of love and standing in the lime light is not far from an artist.

Both are also taking risks, accepting knocks and leaping into the unknown.

 What’s your next project?

A carte blanche project for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille for April 2019.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

The sumptuous festivities that were given by the Shah of Iran to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian empire. It’s crazy that people still talk about it. It almost became a kind of monument, a very strong symbol.

All photos by David Zagdoun
Featured image of Mathias Kiss on Home by Wendy Bevan
Photo of Mathais Kiss and Patrick Quarteron by Stépahne Gallois for Numéro
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

HORMOZ HEMATIAN & ASHKAN ZAHRAEI, Electric Room, art under high tension

HORMOZ HEMATIAN & ASHKAN ZAHRAEI, Electric Room, art under high tension

Tehran has a rich and vibrating art scene with highly talented artists, many of them were born after the Islamic Revolution.

Hormoz Hematian, founder and director of Dastan Gallery, one of the edgiest art spaces in the Iranian capital focusing on contemporary art, and his friend Ashkan Zahraei, Dastan’s curator and communication manager, travel constantly between Tehran and the most important art fairs around the world to promote the work of their artists and to develop international collaborations.

These two workaholics and unconditional art lovers have a thousand creative ideas in mind, are not afraid of any challenge and have launched “Electric Room” in 2017, which is certainly one of the craziest, most intense and ambitious art projects that makes Tehran a true reservoir of creativity and one of the most interesting and dynamic spots for contemporary art.

‘Electric Room’ is a very interesting and challenging art project that you have both developed and introduced to the Iranian art scene. How did this idea start?

AZ: Tehran has a very small art community. So through my work as a writer as well as a curator, both through working at Dastan and independently, I met a lot of artists who wanted to do art installations but there was no space in Tehran for experimental projects.

So that’s why Hormoz and I had the idea to launch the art concept ‘Electric Room’.

The concept was to showcase 50 experimental art projects in 50 weeks, introducing each week a new project and usually a lesser-known artist. So, it has a precisely defined beginning and end.

That’s a very ambitious and crazy project! 

HH: Yes, the challenge was enormous! It’s more than some galleries show in five years.

Having three other galleries in Tehran, I was missing the spontaneity of doing a show. So Electric Room allowed us to give back and find again the romance of art.

So, in June 2017 we opened this temporary exhibition space, not bigger than 30m2, in downtown Tehran, right next to the Faculty of Art and Architecture, and within minutes of walking to the Faculty of Fine Arts and many of the city’s other cultural or artistic institutions.
There are a lot of students, so the vibe of this area is really good and dynamic.

We called the project Electric Room because one wall is almost entirely covered with electric switchboards and control units. It’s a very cool and unusual place.

AZ: Luckily we’re both workaholics!

The project was amazing and so intense for so many months. We wanted to offer people a unique experience.

We had only one day to take down an exhibition, repaint the walls and install the new show. And this every week, for 14 months. It was such a crazy rhythm!

And how did the Iranian audience react on this concept?

HH: The reaction was fantastic!

At each opening the ambiance was so vibrant, and literally « electric ».

We had so many people coming, that there was not even enough space inside the gallery for all the visitors.

And what kind of audience came to the openings?

HH: The right people. Young people, art lovers, potential clients, people who weren’t normally into going to galleries but loved the vibe and were intrigued by the space.
Each opening took 4 to 5 hours.

AZ: We were also inviting other galleries to show them the artists.

The fundamental idea of Electric Room was to be spontaneous, open, accessible and generous.

Showcasing 50 art projects of 50 different artists in 50 weeks is quite a challenge. How did you constantly find new artists?

AZ: We were focusing on several different types of projects:

Installation projects, single-piece exhibitions, photo, video or multimedia projects, and also archival projects, like the « Tehran UFO Project ».

I’m a UFO enthusiast, so this show was an archival presentation of documents, articles and films relating to the historical incident from 1976 when UFOs have been seen over Tehran. I really like the idea that a non-art project becomes art.

HH: At the beginning some artists were quite skeptic because it’s a very unusual way of presenting art, they didn’t want to take a risk. So we had to start with the ones who trusted us.

AZ: That’s why we did our first few shows with artists that we already worked with at Dastan, including Sina Choopani, Mohammad Hossein Gholamzadeh, Meghdad Lorpour, and others.
These artists already had their followings and showing their work created more trust for other artists we wanted to work with.

We were able to work with extremely talented people in Iran, some of which normally don’t want to collaborate with galleries.

Among those artists that you were showing some are Iranians who live and work abroad. Why is it still important to them to show their work in Tehran at your gallery?

AZ: Electric Room created an opportunity to exhibit one’s work among a much wider scope and a more detailed program.

Many of these artists chose to exhibit at Electric Room because they wanted to be part of the experience and the program.

You’re working on such high-level art projects with Electric Room and Dastan Gallery and have gained a great reputation in the international art scene. But where does this love for art  initially come from?

AZ: For me, visual art is a combination of my academic background (writing, critical theory) and a practical touch.

As much as theory and literature can give insights into the world, art gives me greater opportunities for communication and dialogue.

HH: My grandfather was a general before the revolution; after the Shah was overthrown, he left the army, turned towards painting and became a self-taught, amateur artist.

Whenever I went to visit him in his house in Khorasan, there was one room for his paintings, another one for his calligraphies and one for his instruments.
There was a certain magic to it. And I saw how art saved his life.

Did Trumps’s policy put an end to the Iranian art boom?

AZ: No, serious artists will always find a way to express their ideas. If there is no high-quality paint or paper in the stores anymore, they will use cheaper one but this won’t stop them from being creative, being an artist.

Living such an intense experience for 50 weeks, how did you feel during the last show of Electric Room?

HH: Very emotional.

AZ: I was unsure how to feel in the beginning, but the last day was indeed quite sad. As much as I was sure we needed to end what we had started, letting go felt very difficult.

All photos of Hormoz Hematian and Ashkan Zahraei:  Roxana Fazeli
(with Atefeh Majidi Nezhad’s work “Revision: Zero-G”)
All photos of exhibition at Electric Room courtesy of Dastan Gallery:
Photo exhibition 1: “Unsafe zone/domestic production” by Amin Akbari
Photo exhibition 2: “The champion” by Mohammad Hossein Gholamzade
Photo exhibition 3: “We are” by Sina Choopani
Photo exhibition 4:  “Memebrain” by Taba Fajrak & Shokoufeh Khoramroodi
Photo exhibition 5: “Inevitably inescapable” by Siavash Naghshbandi
Photo exhibition 6:  “Tehran UFO project”
Photo exhibition 7:  “Tangab” by Meghdad Lorpour
Photo exhibition 8: “Mutual tongue” by Milad Nemati
Photo exhibition 9: “The shaving” by Farrokh Mahdavi
Photo exhibition 10: “Interview” by Sepideh Zamani
Electric Room
Text: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

CHRISTELLE TÉA, The mystery of clearly defined reality

CHRISTELLE TÉA, The mystery of clearly defined reality

The first time I met Christelle Tea, I was intrigued by this person who looked like a chinese girl from 30s with this pale skin and with this eccentric hat on her head wearing a little black dress. She reminded me of the main character in Marguerite Duras’ s « The Lovers ». It’s this contrast between her extravagant look mixed with this juvenile behavior and naive sincerity, that surprised me.

Shy and discret by nature, I discovered the other side of Christelle during our shooting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris when she was posing in front of the camera. This body that seemed so fragile one second ago showed all of a sudden strength and confidence.

Christelle knows how to play with her image. Brought to art by destiny driven by her extraordinary talent, Christelle Tea reveals in her work with virtuosity the truth of an instant with all its details and invites the spectator to look and to look over again at this very specific moment.

Where does your passion for drawing comes from?

I’ve been drawing since I’m a little girl. My parents had a Chinese restaurant and I’ve spent all my afternoons there with my sister. We were so bored. One day I told my mum  and so she gave me a notebook and a pen that she was using to take the clients’ orders. From that moment on I was drawing all the time.

It was not only an occupation but also a way of expressing myself because I was extremely shy. I was a very quiet and discret child.

Until I was six, I didn’t speak french at all even though I was born in France and lived in France all my life.

At home we only spoke Teochew, a Chinese dialect from Guangdong, a province in the south-east of China.

So when I started to go to school I felt like an alien, I didn’t understand any word the teachers and the children were saying.

Drawing helped me to escape, to express myself, to be understood. For me drawing was a means of expression and communication.

So it was from that moment on that you’ve decided to become an artist?

My mother always said if she knew she would have given me a calculator rather than the notebook and the pen; and for my father being an artist was not at all an option to earn your money.

I’ve discovered Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Picasso when I was in high school during art classes.

Years after, I was lucky enough to be accepted at the Beaux-Arts de Paris. It’s a real paradise to study art there. You can choose any class you want and experiment in this breathtakingly beautiful location.

So it’s finally destiny that brought me to becoming an artist.

You went to China during your studies for an exchange program with the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Did this experience help you to reconnect with your Chinese origins?


These six months helped me to renew my ties with my Chinese origins and I’ve discovered also the differences between the Chinese and French way of teaching.

While studying in Beijing, I was allowed to study only one technique, no way to choose more than one. However this helped me to have a real expertise. So I’ve decided to learn wood engraving with Master Xu.

And when I had some time off, I was walking around the city with my drawing tools. I felt free like a bird!

I was drawing in the streets, at the market, at the museum, in the hutongs of Beijing.

So you’ve got always a drawing board, a sheet of paper and an ink pen with you. That’s a real mobile studio ! Would you like to have a real artist’s studio to go there and work every day?

During my artist residency  at the Museum Jean-Jacques Henner in Paris, I have had actually a studio for 6 six months but I was never there.

For my work, I need life, I need mouvement.

This life, this mouvement that you mention you capture them on the spot and without doing any sketches before in your portrays. Real life drawings of people at home, at work where you don’t miss any detail. Is it important for you that people are pleased with the outcome of their portray?

I don’t try at all to praise the person that I’m drawing.

What I’m interested in those drawings and portrays drawn on the spot is to capture the world around those people, the immediate reality with all its details that should not be seen but that exist, like the pile of messy cables underneath a Louis XV inlaid marquetry desk or a piano unable to hide the tube of a vacuum cleaner.

It’s in those details that you’re face to face with reality. 

Regarding this, I’ve always liked Garry Winograd’s quote:

« There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described ».

I don’t try at all to neither flatter the person that I draw nor to do a photographic reproduction of her and of the familiar environment around her. She rather becomes an element among others in this composition where every object, every book, every musical instrument, every painting on the wall is illustrated precisely and meticulously.

And when you don’t draw?

When I don’t draw I study opera singing at the conservatoire of the 16th district in Paris with Alexandra Papadijakou.

Music and drawing are very important and complementary to me. Both are a haven of creativity and artistic expression.

By the way it’s the passion for music that gave me the idea to create the huge mural drawings inspired by the opera « The Tales of Hoffmann » of Offenbach or « Faust » of Gounod. I’m also showing myself in those two frescos.

Being a music and art lover, which artists are you fond of?

In music, Bernstein, Mozart, Puccini.

In art, Hockney, Dürer and Sam Szafran who gave in his work a lot of importance to details and he never went to his own opening shows.

And you, do you like to attend your own opening shows?

It’s important to go and see who is interested in my work.
And also in respect for the people who made the effort to come and discover my drawings.
Above all that, it’s a great moment to spend with friends.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

I think of the photographer Ali Mahdavi. I made his portray and I love his work.

All photos of Christelle Téa:  Marion Leflour
All drawings: Christelle Téa
Drawing 1: Jean Michel Frouin, artist painter and carpenter, 2015, ink on paper, 65 x 50 cm
Drawing 2: Morphology gallery at Beaux-Arts in Paris, 2012, ink on paper, 50 x 65 cm
Drawing 3: 2 for 1 at Xiyuan market, 2014, ink on paper, 301 x 412 mm
Drawing 4: Cécile Guilbert, writer, 2015, ink on paper, 65 x 50 cm
Drawing 5: Concert of Christophe Chassol, composer-musician, at the Silencio Paris 2018, ink on paper
Drawing 6: The Last Judgement and the Colleone, Chapel of Petits-Augustins at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, 2012, ink on paper, 50 x 65 cm
Drawing 7: Ali Mahdavi, plastic artist, director and art director of the review “Désirs” at the Crazy Horse, 2015, ink on paper
Special thanks to Valérie Sonnier et Philippe Comar of the Beaux-Arts de Paris to give us the permission to do the shooting of Christelle Téa at the  gallery of morphology.
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

IMAN RAAD, Disturbance to reality

Disturbance to reality

Drawing from Persian miniature painting, South Asian truck ornaments and digital glitch imagery, Iman Raad’s work has immediately impressed me because of its intensity, its explosive mix of colours and the contradictory combination of beauty and fear, pleasure and pain. Looking at his paintings the viewer witnesses a moment of rupture, a frozen moment of reality when something is about to happen.

In this interview this Iranian born Brooklyn based artist guides us through his latest work that has been recently shown at the Sargent’s Daughters Gallery in New York.

Observing your work, you’re using elements of folklore Persian mythology such as typographic details and allusions to Persian miniature. Is this Iranian culture and folklore an important source of inspiration for you?

Yes, It has always been sort of like that. But it’s actually beyond a source of inspiration. It’s a basis of my thinking structure, either subconscious or brought on consciously.

I attempt not to indicate “iconically” to Persian culture in my work, so you could hardly recognize elements of folklore. Iconic indication to “other ” cultures is a Western approach to art because it’s an obvious representation of other cultures and is available to be taken out of its context and is easy to communicate and so to consume.

“But my work constantly refers to Persian culture “indexically”, since this is rooted in my thoughts. I have lived with this culture, I breath it, I learn from it and I construct my language to dialogue with art history through it.”

This is, I believe, the contemporary approach to ethnicity and cultural identity.

You’ve recently had a solo show “Tongue Tied” at the Sargent’s Daughters Gallery in New York. Could you explain a little bit more your latest work for this show.

In the exhibition there was a variety of works that I have made in 2016, all under the umbrella of one single title: ”Tongue Tied’.

“To me paintings represent a moment of disturbance to reality.”

I create this disturbance through wrong perspective, disordering physical rules, image replication inspired by digital glitch on screens as well as representing momentary events as threshold of a crisis. Objects and fruits appear to be self-conscious animate things.

In the ‘Tongue Tied” show there is a series of 9×12 inch egg-tempera paintings that were lying down on their individual narrow shelves. I recently started painting with egg-tempera on panels. The process is slow and tiring which I hate, though I seriously need this sort of meditative time. I enjoy the way egg’s yolk flows on smooth surface of claybord panels, and so the texture that unmixed pigments make. The colors are bright and I like the way it looks like painted tiles.

I also showed a large marker painting on paper that I’ve created earlier. This drawing represent a complex interplay of ornamental tablecloth, wallpaper and carpet interrupted by long rows of overlapping birds move across the painting. It took me a month to finish this 5-foot-by-7-foot drawing.

The Hero of the exhibition, I sometimes call it Don Quixote, is a flat figure kneeling down with a flag in his hand and a self-portrait of me on his chest imitating Barbara Kruger’s work “Your Body is a Battleground”.

The show also includes a site-specific large-scale mural painting on the walls of Sargent’s Daughters Gallery’s office. This was made in four days with two assistants and lasted for the exhibition time.

You’ve done also a lecture performance called “Two-headed Imagomancy” with Shahrzad Changalvaee, another Iranian artist and your wife: What does the title mean and what is this performance about?

Shahrzad and I both come from a graphic design background. We were members of the Dabireh Collective before we left Iran. The Dabireh Collective was founded by Reza Abiding in 2008. It was a collective of graphic designers, type designers and linguists researching with a focus on Persian language, alphabet, calligraphy and typography.
Since we’ve been moving to the US we got offers to talk about our graphic works and we decided to turn our talk to a collaborative lecture-performance in form of storytelling.

“Its form is inspired by Pardeh-khani, a form of storytelling tradition common in coffee-houses in Iran.”

Our narrative comes with stories within stories, some historicals, some personals, some myths or fictions. But all stories deal with language and script, mainly Persian-Arabic script history. Each performance has an exclusive unique backdrop painting, containing illustrations for the story and a significant image referring to the venue that it’s happening in.

“Two-headed” in the title refers to us as the storyteller couple and “imagomancy”, we made it by combination of imago + mancy. “Imago” is the Latin word for “Image” and “-mancy” refers to the divination of a particular kind, like bibliomancy, geomancy or palmomancy. So “Imagomancy” means the divination by means of images.

The poems of Hafiz or Rumi are very present in everyday life in Iran. Is there a poem that guides you through life?

Not really any specific I could remember. Maybe generally as you say it’s present in Iranians everyday-life, it has affected my thoughts subconsciously like almost all Iranians.

Any future projects?

To keep working.

All works by Iman Raad
Text: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

AMIN MONTAZERI, Tales and myths of melancholy

Tales and myths of melancholy

The Iranian art scene has extraordinary artists who find a way to bridge their rich Persian traditional cultural heritage with modern western art.
Amin Montazeri is definitely one of those new talents we need to keep an eye on.

When I discovered the work of this young Iranian artist from Tehran I was impressed by the rich, mysterious, apocalyptic atmosphere of his paintings and touched by their melancholy.
His work is as intense and obscure as Pieter Brueghel’s or Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings.

Amin Montazeri’s main subject is history and the role of tales, legends and myths in history. Everyone encounters in life theses tales but sometimes people try to flee from their destiny, change it and write a new story. What are the consequences, and which kind of tale would ensue out of this change?

He also questions in his work the recurrence of history caused by an observable forgetfulness of man even if it was linked to painful or terrifying experiences.

Amin Montazeri was born in 1992 and is doing currently an MA in Painting at the College of Fine Arts in Tehran.
His upcoming exhibition will be at the Dastan Gallery in Tehran in October and he might also show his work at this year’s Art Dubai.

All works by Amin Montazeri
Text: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

SILIA KA TUNG, Fantasy is interior world’s reality

SILIA KA TUNG, Fantasy is interior world’s reality

Silia Ka Tung is a Chinese contemporary artist based in London. Her work is a psychedelic ballet of organic shapes in saturated colours dancing together with mysterious creatures reminding us of ancient mythology. The mix of this modern dreamland and the influences of Chinese culture and tradition make Silia Ka Tung’s art so hypnotizing and unique.

What made you decide to become an artist?

My grand-father from my mum’s side was an established traditional Chinese painter, so it was in the family.
I initially wanted to be a designer. When I went to a school interview after high-school to study design they told me I should do fine arts if my parents will support me. That was actually the first time it came to my mind.

You were studying Oil Painting in HangZhou at the China Academy of Fine Arts and then continued your studies in London finishing with a MFA in painting at the renowned Slade School of Fine Arts. Is the style of teaching in China different than in England?

I did one year of art school in China after being accepted to a BA at Chelsea College of Art in London because my father thought that I needed to learn some “Chinese culture”. That’s why I went to an art foundation class before going to London doing my BA.

“The style of teaching is very different in China than in England. In China I was doing life drawing every day and the schooling was very academic. You do everything in a group, the teacher comes and corrects your mistakes and tells you what you need to do.”

London art school was fun and free. The teaching style is very casual and inspirational but you were left alone most of the time.

There’s a real evolution in your work. Your earlier work was mostly black-and-white line drawings, and then the figurative lines dissolved and became a beautiful ballet of colorful, abstract shapes of organisme covering several canvases.
In your recent work you’ve changed from painting to experimenting with materials and creating soft sculptures of fantasy animals and organic shapes such as branches of trees. Why did you change from painting to making sculptures?

“Drawing or doodling is always part of my life … I just do it as soon as I have a pen in my hand. ”

For my BA final show at Chelsea College I decided to develop from a small drawing idea into something big and these life size portraits filled with doodles lasted until my second year of MFA at the Slade College but then I wanted to try something different. I wanted to do “game paintings”, colourful, saturated paints directly onto the canvas, like automatic drawings.
Painting for me is about game, chance and fun and I always paint around the edges. Slowly I was drawn towards painting onto objects. So I started making soft sculptures to paint over. That’s where I am now.

Did motherhood change your work, your inspirations?

Motherhood is difficult for me as an artist because of the change of your priorities and of your life-balance. As much as I enjoy being with my two daughters, I found myself struggling to be an artist. But time helps and slowly you regain some of the balance and hopefully being a mother also has positive impact on my work.

Is there a phrase, a proverb that inspires your work?

“All our interior world is reality, and that perhaps more than our apparent world. ”
Marc Chagall

When you work on a new art piece, do you show your husband Gideon Rubin, who is also an artist, the work-in-progress or do you prefer to keep your creative bubble as private as possible?

We work in the same studio, so often we show each other what we’re working on, especially when my work takes relatively long to finish. I mainly show him to ask his opinion, no matter if the piece is finished or not.

Are you working on a new exhibition?

I am finishing some pieces for a three persons group show in Amsterdam called “Father, Mother, Daughter, Son” curated by Mette Samkalden at Canvas Contemporary. The exhibition opens on 14th January 2017 and goes until mid February.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

I’ve never been to Iran, so everything I know about this country is through friends, movies, news, Instagram. Yes, I hashtagged Iran on Instagram a few times and it led me to very weird places.
It’s a big country rich in history and culture, beautiful and mysterious. It’ll be great to visit one day.

All works by Silia Ka Tung
Text: Anahita Vessier

Share this post

SLAVS AND TATARS, A new vision of Eurasian Art

SLAVS AND TATARS, A new vision of Eurasian Art

Slavs and Tatars is an art collective founded by Kasia and Payam, a Polish-Iranian duo, who dedicate their work to an area east from the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China. Anahita’s Eye follows their work for a long time and had the chance to interview them while they were preparing their exhibition “Afteur Pasteur” in New York at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.

Why the name “Slavs and Tatars”? And why this devotion to an area, as you describe “east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China”?

Usually a name is chosen for what one represents or who one purports to be. We decided on Slavs and Tatars for the opposite reason: for that which we are not. Our name is a mission statement of sorts: to devote ourselves to a geography that is equally imagined as it is political, to a region that falls through the cracks of our amnesiac floors.

“It happens to be largely Muslim but not the Middle East, it is largely Russian-speaking but not Russia, and though largely in Asia, only a small part (Xinjiang) has historically been under Chinese rule.

There’s of course an element of humour in the name too. We founded Slavs and Tatars in 2006, shortly after the entry of the new member states in 2004 into the European Union. If you recall, there was quite a bit of prejudice, if not hysteria, about this ‘other’ Europe, namely Eastern European states joining what Europeans had imagined themselves until then an exclusive club. There was the infamous Polish plumber, the Bulgarian builder, etc…The name Slavs and Tatars clearly plays up this fear–both in a contemporary and historical sense–as if there were hordes waiting to rape and pillage à la Braveheart.

Our name–Slavs and Tatars–is not an identity, it marks the collapse of identity. Even between these two terms, “Slavs” and “Tatars” there is a whole story of confluence and tension. It is only by accumulating several identities–and negotiating the tensions between them–that one can begin to move beyond the reductive and brittle identity politics which continue to plague us.

Explain me your creative process. What are your inspirations? Why did you finally chose sculpture/object art as your main tool of expression?

Sculptures, installations and exhibitions are only one of our three activities and by no means the main one, alongside publications and lecture performances.

We currently present 2-3 lecture-performances per month in different venues: from universities to art institutions. We generally work along three-year cycles. The first two years are dedicated to research on a given subject of investigation: first bibliographic research, for example, into Turkic language politics or the medieval genre of political advice literature known as “mirrors for princes” followed by field research, say, to Xinjiang to experience more affectively the ideas that we’ve been exploring more analytically. Then the crucial question arises:

“What are we as artists bringing to the table that is distinct from the work of others, policy makers, scholars, activists…?

The translation or transformation of this research into art work is perhaps the most difficult. In the beginning, we worked exclusively with print: if someone wanted to engage with our work, she had to read. There are few things less pleasant, less considerate to the public than putting something to read on a wall. Even though the practice proliferated – to include sculpture, installations, lecture-performances – walls somehow did not become any more attractive in our eyes. If we live in an age of visual glut, then we are amongst the (many) guilty enablers!

Among the three axes of our practice, the lectures and publications articulate a series of concerns that the sculpture, installation, the material art work with a capital ‘A’ must disarticulate. That does not mean to remain silent: rather to undo, unravel these very ideas, like a loose thread of a sweater.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?

“Quit this world. Quit the next. And quit quitting”
–Thomas Merton

Does each of you have a very defined role in “Slavs and Tatars”?

Yes, but we edit each other rigorously.

In many of your installations you invite people to interact with it, touch it, sit on it, lie on, discuss on it. Is this direct confrontation and personal experience that people have with your artwork an important part of your artistic concept?

Definitely. It is also a commitment to the idea of contemplation in spaces devoted to culture. Too often, the only place to sit in a museum is the cafe, or the rare bench in front of a masterpiece. If art is to play a transformative role, and not only an educational and entertaining one, the venue of its activation must be more hospitable.

Slavs and Tatars speak so many different languages, Farsi, Polish, English, French, Russian etc. Language and the linguistic complexity is a very important subject in your work. Why this intense love for languages?

Translation becomes a form of linguistic hospitality, to quote Paul Ricoeur. We invite the Other into our language and the expropriating ourselves into the language of the Other. We are different people in each language: our sense of humour in French is not at all similar to that in Russian or Persian, etc.

“Language allows you to “other” yourself.”

Is humour an essential ingredient in your artwork?

Absolutely, it has always played a very important role in our work: as a disarming form of critique, as an extension of generosity, as an indication of infrapolitics: as defined by James Scott: the hidden transcript, the whispered stories.

“Every joke is a tiny revolution”

to quote Orwell, rather than the often confrontational, explicitly visible politics of the march, the news, or the state.

What are your future projects?

We’re currently preparing for our first show with our NY gallery, Tanya Bonakdar, on pickle politics, or a reconsideration of our relationship with the Other, via our relationship with the original foreigner: the microbe and bacteria. We’re also working on a mid-career retrospective for 2017-2018, between Warsaw, Vilnius, and perhaps Istanbul.

You have a very cosmopolite live, your art is shown at art fairs and exhibitions all around the world. Is there any special object that accompanies you on your trips around the world?

We try as much as possible to travel with fresh herbs – a bunch of tarragon, a couple stems of coriander – to soften the blow of eating en route in trains, planes and automobiles.

Slavs and Tatars, what comes to your mind when you think about Iran?


All works by Slavs and Tatars
Kitab Kebab, 2016 – ongoing
Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz, published by Book Works / Sharjah Art Foundation
Mother Tongues and Father Throats, Moravian Gallery, Brno (2012)
Dig the Booty (2009)
Pray Way (2012)
Installation view at Trondheim Kunstmuseum
left: Larry nixed, Trachea trixed (2015) right: Tongue Twist Her (2013)
Lektor, sound installation, Leipzig (2014-15)
AÂ AÂ AÂ UR, Skulpturpark Köln (2015)

Share this post