Iranian Art, Past and Present: In The Field Of Empty Days

at Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Reviewed by Nancy Kay Turner

“Lovers find secret places inside this violent world where they make transactions with beauty.”
Rumi, 13thcentury Persian Poet

The poetically entitled In The Field of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art is a dense yet sprawling exhibit that features compelling images from artists whom we may not have seen before. A hallmark of these modern and contemporary Iranian artists is their ingenious blending of images related to myth, history, social disruption, political upheaval and religious restriction in their work. They, like so many contemporary artists, are mining the past for re-presentation in the present.

In the first room are ten large-scale inkjet prints by Siamak Shan from his Underground series of 2014. Shan’s work is an unexpected revelation and the star of the exhibit. His work is an audacious mash up of the sacred and profane. Narrative threads are woven as tightly as any prayer rug. Dream-like and heavily influenced by the political machinations of the Dadaist photomontages, the Underground series resembles nothing more than Fellini’s darkly satiric film “Roma”. This is a deliciously transgressive and dangerous sexual romp in a repressive theocracy.

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Afsoon, Shah and His Three Queens from the series Fairytale Icons, 2009

Each of these highly theatrical works has been staged with costumed actors (some covered in dried mud) engaging in dubious and mysterious activities in a highly decorated palatial space. The gender fluid protagonist (The Shah) is dirt covered and scratched (crawling through the metaphorical underground can make you literally and figuratively “dirty”) appears as the central figure in most of these complex tableaux that are redolent of decay and decadence. The Shah” appears wearing Fredrick’s Of Hollywood sexy lingerie and is presiding over a circus-like, rusting, and chaotic palace. This crammed space is populated with white rabbits (a reference perhaps to the unreality of Alice In Wonderland), chickens, a debauched looking British Ambassador dressed as a ringleader wielding a whip, a Russian ambassador proudly holding the larger part of a dead fish, disembodied heads on a platter, a middle aged white clad chubby angel, provocative women of the night, multiple armed assassins along with other fascinating characters, too numerous to discuss.

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Ramin Haerizadeh, He Came, He Left, He Left, He Came, 2010

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