Start watching

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching

Earth Focus

Start watching

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Portraits of Diversity: Spotlighting the International Iranian Community

False Roots, "Sanaz Khosravi," digital photograph, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.
Support Provided By
Love, Omid Sariri Ajili, digital photograph, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.
Omid Sariri Ajili, "Love," 2012. Digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

A family of female elders elaborately embroider a wedding gown with the young bride already in it. A lone figure surveys a forking path towards mythological mountains. A gathering of covered women appear demure while under the table, their legs dance with abandon. A lonely, joyful spirit makes offerings to the flowery gods of spring. Industrial smokestacks frame the minarets of an ancient mosque. A dark, bloody folk children’s story is reimagined as a study in Caravaggio. An all-female percussion section make beats from tearing apart the fabric of their chadors. These simple portraits slowly reveal the impossibly complex inner lives behind the stares and smiles of their subjects.

In Los Angeles, a pair of recently mounted powerful exhibitions, “Focus Iran 2: Contemporary Photography and Video” (January 29–May 7, 2017) and “The (Un)draped Women” (February 10–18, 2017), examine the moment in contemporary Iranian art. While it’s tempting to regard this confluence as a cultural salvo or response to immediate political circumstances, it’s important to remember that both shows were in the works for many months, even years — and even more important to take note is that neither is a deliberately political exhibition, either in intent or result. In fact, while both exhibitions are indelibly tied to an Iranian heritage, the artists represented live and work all over the world, including many who are born and raised abroad and may have not yet traveled there — which is, because of the nation’s volatile history, actually quite a common experience for the international Iranian community.

Life of Things, Saeedeh Keshavarzi, digital photograph, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
Saeedeh Keshavarzi, "Life of Things," 2015. Digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

“Focus Iran 2: Contemporary Photography and Video” presented at the Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) by the Farhang Foundation, is the second biennial juried exhibition of works addressing Iranian culture and heritage in a regional and international context. Across town at the Arena 1 Gallery inside the Santa Monica Art Studios, “The (Un)draped Woman” presented a group of contemporary Iranian artists from Los Angeles working in painting, photography, video and mixed media, organized for the third year by Advocartsy, under the rubric of its Art Brief III series. Both exhibitions worked the same kind of magic, as they each in different ways managed to both explore and transcend a set of identity issues, spotlighting some common aesthetic threads and certain recurring narrative motifs, as they amply demonstrated that “Iranian art” is far from a monolithic construct. Aside from diversity of mediums, audiences witnessed surrealism, photojournalism, candid portraiture, digital images, handcrafted animation, sweeping landscapes, performance-based conceptualism, Pop, classical pictorialism, clever spectacle, poetic abstraction, envelope-pushing and nuance-whispering.

Both exhibitions included both established and emerging artists, pursuing unique individual relationships to art history, stylistic strategies, narrative and forms of storytelling that don’t belong exclusively to one culture or another. At the same time, both are replete with examples of aesthetic lexicons, cultural touchstones and varieties of social experience that are uniquely Iranian.

“Focus Iran” is a juried show of photography and video without a strict singular theme; whereas “The (Un)draped Woman” speaks directly to issues of gender both in historical prisms and contemporary realities that play out in the culture. But in truth, not only gender and religion, but also family, language, immigration, politics, shared traditions, folklore, environment and memory are all among the other factors that inform the work in these shows — no different than that which might inform the work of any artist, from anywhere. But these are not just any artists, and not from just anywhere — and these have made the choice to address these topics of identity and heritage directly in the form and content of the work they put into the world. That is a conversation they want to have, with all of us. By using their art practice as a narrative platform, sharing both the common and uncommon facets of their own human experience, they are inviting their audiences into their own personal worlds to make them less unknown, or put another way, to make it clear how familiar it all already is.

Sistan & Baluchistan Visual Journey, Ebrahim Miramalek, film still, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.
Ebrahim Miramalek, "Sistan & Baluchistan Visual Journey," 2014. Film still. Courtesy of the artist.
Iran, Saskia Boelsums, digital photograph, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
Saskia Boelsums, "Iran," 2015. Digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist.
Amir H. Fallah, “The Earth Is But One Country (Eastern Bred, Southern Fed),” 2013. Courtesy of the Artist and Shulamit Nazarian Gallery.
Amir H. Fallah, “The Earth Is But One Country (Eastern Bred, Southern Fed),” 2013. Acrylic, collage, ink, oil on paper mounted to canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian Gallery.
Armin Amirian, Coalition, 2015. Digital C Print. Edition of 3.
Armin Amirian, "Coalition," 2015. Digital C-Print. Edition of 3. Courtesy of Janet Rady Fine Art.

Top image: Sanaz Khosravi, "False Roots," 2016. Digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Like this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on FacebookTwitter, and Youtube.

Support Provided By
Read More
Judy Baca and the Great Wall.jpg

Making a Monument: Archive Shows How 'The Great Wall of Los Angeles' Was Created

Recently acquired by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, "The History of California" Archive is a collection that features over 350 objects related to the development and execution of Judy Baca's monumental mural "The Great Wall of Los Angeles." The pieces in the archive reflect several parts of the mural's development process from concept drawings to final colorations.
Paul Grimm stands on the side of his painting of Harry Bennett and his horse Sonny.

In the Desert, Henry Ford's Strongman Finds His Artist's Heart

From stopping union uprisings for Henry Ford to a desert landscape painter, Harry Bennett wasn’t just a militaristic figure in corporate America but also, strangely, a skilled artist.
Jon Gnagy signs his name on an easel with his back turned to the camera. The profile of his face can be seen and he is wearing a plaid collared shirt.

Before Bob Ross: Jon Gnagy Was America's First TV Art Teacher

As America’s first TV artist debuting in 1946, Jon Gnagy was a predecessor to the now-trendy Bob Ross. Hundreds of artists and artists credit him as their inspiration, from New York contemporary artist Allan McCollum to Andy Warhol.