21 May, 2018 | Share Article
Attempts to isolate Iran politically for these past four decades have had an unexpected result: they have driven forward a dramatically innovative national contemporary arts scene.
Art advisor Elouise Lecuyer with ‘UK’ by Fereydoon Omidi.
The outpouring of creativity is being showcased by a new gallery in St James’s, London. Cama (Contemporary and Modern Art) Gallery sets out to expand international recognition of the wealth of culture that has been overshadowed by the furore over divisive trade sanctions and by bitter rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
Untitled. By Bita Vakili.
Cama is the first gallery in the UK capital devoted to Iranian art. For its inaugural exhibition, an impressive (in quality and numerically) 51 artworks by 19 artists are on display over two storeys. In a sorry illustration of the schism between politicians of western nations and Iran, the UK is said to have denied visas to all artists wanting to enter the country for the launch.
The curator Mona Khosheghbal, also banned from attending, said that the works, “inspired by emotion and perception present each in their own distinct way the concerns of Iranian contemporary artists.” Forward-thinking Iranian artists are countering stereotypes based on ignorance and distrust of Iranian culture.
Untitled. By Tahereh Samadi Tari.
Aside from disseminating culture through this strong aesthetic, there is a commercial motive, for art buyers are being eagerly courted. The gallery says it has broken through bureaucracy in Tehran to simplify transaction administration and shipping, so that it can capitalise on growing interest in art from the country. Such interest has been exemplified at shows including Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Dubai. A growing focus on Iranian industry by heavyweight Asian investors is beginning to find a reflection in the art market. President Trump’s travel ban and financial sanctions have backfired in relation to artworks because “people want what they cannot have,” say the gallery directors, who emphasise that in general, art remains one of the safest investments. Many of the works on display in London have already been snapped up, helping make Iranian output perhaps the most sought-after in the Middle East.
Mona Khosheghbal is steeped in the artistic life of her country, with her painting, illustrations for children’s books, teaching, journalism and organising more than 100 exhibitions.
She called the London exhibition Sensation because the concept allowed her to choose a selection that would best showcase the variety of art from the country’s emerging artists. Each piece aims to stimulate the senses of the viewer.
The Battle of Lion and Myth Nos 1 and 2. By Ali Nedaei.
The late British artist Gillian Ayres, who plunged into experimentalism in the 1950s, would ask: “What can be done with painting?” Transiting many idioms, these Iranian practitioners present new and compelling answers. They treat of societal themes, including the contemporary role and treatment of women in society. Some of the images are disorientating, some kaleidoscopic in intricate scope, some draw on myth and mystery, some border on geometric abstraction. Both seasoned and younger artists explore radical styles and genres.
Mona Khosheghbal is enthusiastic about London as a hub of contemporary art and says that modern works from Iranian artists have been well-received there. “London playing host to some of the largest financial firms and auction houses is another reason for choosing this city and our aim to establish a closer cultural and artistic relationship between the Iranian and English partners in the gallery.”
Untitled. By Ojan Shirozhan.
Cama’s statement of “vision and ethos” says: “Our mission is to build a global brand, built purely on the love of art,” but relates that after the crash of 2008, when scores of wealthy individuals were driven to the edge of financial ruin, they were “saved by the most captivating hedging tool in existence: art.”
Works by Tahereh Samadi Tari and Hooman Derakhshandeh.
Outstanding are Tahereh Samadi Tari’s paintings which depict isolated figures adrift in modern urban settings. Her style is reminiscent of photography or even of cinematography, but it is oil on canvas. Here we see examples from her Abeyance of Presence series.
The 51 artworks are by Saeed Ahmadzadeh, Adel Younesi, Fatemeh Divandari, Babak Roshaninejad, Elham Yazdanian, Hooman Derakhshandeh, Ali Nedaei, Afshin Pirhashemi, Mostafa Nourbakhsh, Shaghayegh Shojaian, Mohsen Jamalinik, Najva Erfani, Fereydoon Omidi, Bita Vakili, Mojtaba Tajik, Niloufar Ghaderinezhad, Tahereh Samadi Tari, Flora Feizbakhsh, Mohammad Tabatabai, Kianusch Faried and Ojan Shirozhan.
Cama’s mission statement says it “endeavours to prove that art knows no boundaries, art knows no borders and art is everywhere.”
Sensation is at Cama, 19 Dacre Street, London, SW1 51 until June 20, 2018. www.camagallery.com