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 story : The Quietly Rebellious Art of Iranian Women and What We Can Learn From Them #WorldNEWS Well hello! I’m so glad you’re here. A version of this article also appeared in the It’s Not

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The Quietly Rebellious Art of Iranian Women and What We Can Learn From Them #WorldNEWS
Well hello! I’m so glad you’re here. A version of this article also appeared in the It’s Not Just You newsletter. Sign up to get a new edition every Saturday.
A few weeks ago, I visited the Brooklyn studio of Iranian-born artist, Afruz Amighi. She works with a type of construction site netting which, in her hands, becomes a kind of diaphanous chainmail casting shadows of ancient Persian warriors, or illuminated carpet patterns that tell a modern story. Not coincidentally, Amighi and her family are part of the Iranian diaspora who left Iran after the Islamic revolution in 1979. And she is one of several extraordinary Persian women whose work is included in an exhibition opening this month at the Asia Society in New York.
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I was smitten with the work of these artists and wanted to share it because it offers a glimpse of a world beyond our own worries. These women take our worn stereotypes about femininity, religion, and war and nudge them out of context so we can see differently. And thats the point, of course. Its a chance to reexamine the seeming realities of our lives, as Saul Bellow might say.
These pieces are drawn from the collection of Iranian financier and philanthropist Mohammed Afkhami, who is himself part of that diaspora, living between Dubai and London, with some of his family still in Iran. The title of the exhibition, Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians, is a nod to the voices of these artists who explore gender, politics, spirituality, and war, sometimes with humor, other times with open defiance.
Many of the most prominent contemporary artists to emerge from Iran have been female, Afkhami points out. And while he says the Iranian regimes laws governing women today are medieval, Iranian women are a powerful cultural (and political) force, as evidenced by the work in this exhibit which includes women abroad, and those still living in Iran.

Shadi Ghadirian—Courtesy of the Mohammed Afkhami FoundationUntitled #10 from the Qajar series, 1998. Chromogenic print, 90 x 60 cm.
Photographer Shadi Ghadirian is one of the artists in the exhibition who lives in Tehran and has never been able to show her work in Iran. Her subjects are post-revolutionary women shown with old-fashioned traditional backdrops and garb, but on modern bikes, or entirely covered, but in the act of being artists, which is in and of itself an act of rebellion. Her other work depicts empty headscarves with everyday household objects in place of faces, like rubber gloves, irons, or brooms. Shes playful and a bit mocking, says Afkhami. Its kind of saying: I may be covered, but Im still making my art.


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