Melik Kaylan goes to the Chelsea Art Museum in New York to see a new exhibit of art by young Iranians. Expecting the usual, groan-inducing identity art, he’s astonished at the skill and bravery of Iran’s artists:
“Iran Inside Out” features some 210 works of 56 artists, 35 resident in Iran. The primary curator on this venture is a Lebanese-Belgian 34-year-old named Sam Bardaouil, who took me around. He has lived in the Middle East, Paris and London, and taught art at the American University in Dubai.
The show is divided into five sections, the first two being the “subversively” named “In Search of the Axis of Evil” and “Iran to Queeran.” I groaned internally at the prospect of a stereotypical politically correct artworld show.
The impression was compounded in the first section by a menacing painting of burly American soldiers in desert fatigues with a plucked chicken dangling below them. Here then was the first stereotype: domineering Americans.
But after that sop to bien-pensant evenhandedness, the show got into its real groove. The next object was a glowingly clean toilet bowl overwritten in Farsi with the Iranian regime’s unfulfilled slogans promising better education, housing, and the like. The piece includes the artist’s telephone number in Tehran. Has he received a call, one wondered, from the Revolutionary Guards?
Nearby was a triptych of newspaper front pages with evanescent 3-D surfaces comparing the murder of a journalist by the regime to the death of Marat. Underneath ran a long series of flower photographs shot close-up at night, beautiful and suggestive, implying that creativity in Iran is forced to bloom secretly. That artist, one felt, knew how to protest subtly. Nearby, one looked down into a box with projected moving-images of elegant stickfigures, outlines of women in chadors, dancing and being tortured. The artist’s parents had been killed some years ago by the regime.
The View from Here (Wall Street Journal)