A two-week public holiday for New Year, or Nowrouz, in Iran is an old custom which even the Islamic Revolution and new rulers did not succeed in changing.
But in the absence of enough entertainment in the country, many families who can afford to travel choose Dubai for family vacation time.
Art, unfortunately, has become abandoned and restricted in Iran and artists have been pressed to do what the regime wants them to.Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
This month crowds of Iranians have been overwhelmed by the small city of Dubai. But interestingly, the Iranian New Year festival happened to be at the time of Art Dubai, one of the biggest art exhibitions in the Middle East. Iranians, who can’t mainly celebrate Nowrouz the way they like with music and joy in their country, came to Dubai for Persian concerts and other entertainments. This group combined with another set of Iranians whom came to showcase their forbidden art during Art Dubai.
Art Dubai, which became one of the major art events in the Middle East, also became the permanent resident for world-recognized Iranian artists who can’t showcase their work in Islamic Republic.
Iran’s artistic modernity
When we talk about art and Middle Eastern art for sure Iranians have a lot to say, in spite of all difficulties they face with the regime back in Iran. Between many Iranians attending Art Dubai, two very much different type of art works stood out from others and were talked about. Seductive, fashionable black and white paintings by world recognized artist Afshin PirHashemi dazzled for its modernity and uniqueness and well-known fashion designer turned painter Nima Behnoud created a new gander called, pop art.
The “Wrong Women” is a collection which PirHashemi illustrated the current circumstances among middle and high-class society of females in Iran. The themes of marriage, intercourse, betrayal, revenge and attempts of redemption and the search for salvation are the main elements of the characters.
In the modern society of Iran the tradition of marriage, sex and interactions has been changed so much and these changes were portrayed well by PirHashemi .
The rate of divorce is extremely high especially in Tehran. According to official reports, there is a new trend among some females who are marrying with high dowry in order to make good money after divorce. This controversial story has been addressed by the high court and the courts banned the couple marrying with more than 110 gold coin dowries. The court ordered such a ban because they are hundreds of thousands of divorced men in prison due to their inability to pay the dowry after divorce!
Through their eyes
PirHashemi lives in Iran but the other Iranian artist, Nima Behnoud, lives in New York City but both find Dubai as a place to connect with their people and of course Middle Eastern to present his art. Behnoud’s passion for Iranian/Arabic calligraphy leads him to create a very modern inspirational form of art. Unable to travel to Iran, Behnoud decided to find a way to present Iranian and Middle Eastern culture in a modern way, targeting a Western audience through Pop Art. The sharp and bright colors used in his calligraphy paintings break traditional rules. Behnoud’s paintings of famous and nostalgic figures like Queen Soraya of Iran (the second wife of late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) and Dr. Mohammad Mosadagh, a national hero, sets other impressive artworks.
In a Middle Eastern kind of Andy Warhol style, Behnoud paints national figures in a stylish elegant way, which is new for Iran and the Middle East.
The Iranian tourists who came for entertainment to Dubai during their New Year holidays also find another great opportunity to meet the artists and see artworks. Art unfortunately has become abandoned and restricted in Iran and artists have been pressed to do what the regime likes them to do. In a greatly politicized nation, even art can be seen as a political tool and controlling the artists has become so common.
Unfortunately many artists whom are attending international biennials have been threatened with execution upon their arrival to Iran. A country with a great culture and artistic aspects does not give space to its artists, whom dared to perform internationally, always facing execution. Maybe in the eye of an artist who lives in Iran and with all its difficulties, everything is black and white as PirHashemi said in Washington D.C during his exhibition. But Behnoud, another artist who lives outside of Iran, can introduce the other side of society which is rich and colorful. Art Dubai was an excellent presentation to describe the complex Iranian society through the eyes of Iranian artists.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard