The works of Aydin Aghdashloo (b. 1940) mirror and reflect the old masters. His approach of appropriating portraits of Renaissance artists targets the aristocracy and their ignorance towards an impending outrage that will lead to revolution. Like most revolutions, that of Iran could be traced to an imbalance of wealth, an increase in inequality, and an exploitation of labor that fueled rage between the classes. The disparity of wealth in Iran today and the growing gap between elite and poor inspire Aghdashloo to shed light on the subject. He appropriates Renaissance portraits of European aristocracy and adapts them to express his distaste for greed and his contempt for the Islamic Republic. He can reach a wider audience by using appropriation to express his ideas. By linking contemporary Iran to moments of historic European political upheaval, he can relate his own culture within a global context which then opens dialogue and brings attention to Iran’s polity. While aiming to reach a global audience, Aghdashloo must also mask his political ideologies. His paintings are not blatantly political or transparently obvious. After all, he is a working artist living in Iran and must abide by the censorship and policies set by the Islamic Republic. The artist walks a very fine line by risking his status for freedom of expression.
Iranian artists engage in the development of a globalized contemporary art culture using a uniquely useful set of techniques and styles. Appropriation and realism in conjunction enhance readability and clarify artists’ intentions. The Feminist Iranian artist, Abelina Galustian (b. 1975) confronts audiences by taking the traditional style of Orientalist painting which sexualizes the female body for male viewers and turns the tables by reversing gender roles. She undermines the nineteenth-century European male fantasy and thirst for exoticism by juxtaposing Orientalist tastes with the current sexist Islamic regime in Iran. Galustian chose the Orientalist style and paintings by Ettore Cercone (1850–1896), Stanislas von Chlebowski (1835–1921), and Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) by reason of the painting’s “immediate encroachment to the senses.” It was essential to her that the appropriated compositions be recognizable and clear. Galustian counterclaims social positions through the reversal of gender roles, in order to acknowledge a female’s ownership of her body and debunk its male control. Galustian immigrated to the United States after the Iran/Iraq War. Her underground feminist art exhibition in Tehran, Iran entitled “Women Talking Back” was shut down by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 2003. Like many other immigrant artists seeking freedom in the West, Galustian now expresses herself freely and without constraint, contrary to her post-revolutionary life back in Iran. Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibits internationally and domestically. She has also been a featured artist and lecturer showcasing her own work and topics such as transnational identities and Neo-Orientalism.
Hossein Edalatkhah (b. 1979) combines social, political, historical, sexual, and religious themes while also reflecting the past. Traditional Persian symbols appear throughout his work, often in conjunction with phallic symbols, which strongly oppose common perceptions of traditional Persian art. Edalatkhah creates tension between traditional Persian and Islamic ornament with taboo phallic and queer symbols. His unique inclusions of queer symbols, as well as his alignment with feminism, and nontraditional gender roles honor his objection to male dominance in society. His works have incited criticism, controversy, and outrage. Edalatkhah challenged the government’s stance on gay sexuality and women’s rights in Iran. His work offended the government, and he was forced to seek asylum in Istanbul, Turkey. His most provocative and popular works were exhibited in Miami and New York in the spring of 2015 with the He/She series. Fifty Shades of Blue, at first glance looks like traditional Islamic tilework, until you are confronted with white ceramic penises and vaginas that protrude out of the canvas on the wall. The tilework is entirely acrylic on canvas and made to appear like ceramic tilework, but the only ceramics on the piece are the projecting genitalia that jut out of the center of each “tile.” This work attracted a lot of attention because of its seemingly conventional nature and the shock value that immediately ensues. The struggles with identity that homosexuals face in society is challenging enough without having the fear of being imprisoned or put to death. Many homosexuals in Iran live under the guise of heterosexuals and keep their true sexuality private. Edalatkhan never hid his sexual orientation but could not conduct his life openly in public until he left Iran. Spending much of his life concealing not only his sexuality but his artistic expression motivated Edalatkhan to push the limits of art and break the confines that he lived under for so long. His works exhibit strong explicit material that morph Persian and phallic symbolism.
Hossein Edalatkhah, Fifty Shades of Blue, from the She/He series, 2015, Acrylic and ceramic, 100 x 90cm.
"I am a gay man and you may know how hard it is to be openly gay and talk about it loudly when you are Iranian and Muslim at the same time! I love to break the routine rules and taboos and making things easier and making them think more openly about life"
Born in Iran, In 1984, Elham Hajesmaeili received a BFA in Handicrafts from Shiraz University in 2002, and received a MA in Art studies from University of Art, Tehran, Iran in 2010. She held some Group and solo painting exhibitions in different cities of Iran. Currently she studies and works at Penn State University as a graduate student. From 2015 when she arrived in the United States, Since she is experiencing living in a liminal space between Iranian and American cultures, she has continued her works based on the identity issue. Her works represent an observation of an identity shifting between two geographical context, while sexuality remains the silent power holder. "I grew up in Iran, a cultural plethora of ornaments and patterns. As a child, I had always been engaged with patterns in mostly all places, mosques, historical buildings, in the streets and even in our small house where I saw them on the carpets. I reckon the best way to embrace the sophisticated Persian culture with all its complexities is by looking at the interplay of a set of classic patterns. To me, ceramics, as my dominant material, and textiles are very nostalgic, thus I decided to apply them in my work because they are a physical sensation of my cultural ground. Besides, soil is a boundless natural matter found in everywhere and my forms are raised from the soil to challenge the relationship between identities within a global context."
Elham Hajesmaeili "Cultural Makeup"
18 W x 17 H x 12 in
"As I entered the transitory space in between Persian and American culture, I found that the formation of my identity perception has become fractured."
Exploring photography, a relatively new medium in Iranian aesthetics, artist Parastou Forouhar (b. 1962) has been able to gain international recognition for her accomplishments. She left Iran for Germany in 1998 after her parents, members of the political opposition, were assassinated. Forouhar works in a range of media, mainly including photography, and her subject matter is usually autobiographical, combined with an examination of identity, gender, and political criticism. Friday (Fig. 17), 2003, is a large four-paneled work of digital photography. It is a statement on gender, sexuality, and religious politics in Iran. Delicate curves and soft texture of the black floral-patterned curtain are reminiscent of the chador; off-center is a body part exposed in plain view. It is a hand clasping the veil, but “its morphology allows for a metaphoric identification with the most transgressive abject and abhorrent object of representation a fundamentalist man and mind can fathom,” says Fereshteh Daftari. Forouhar expresses the confinement of women to domestic spaces in Iran. Like the veil they wear, women live behind curtains. The hand gripping the veil is suggestive of both male and female genitalia; phallic in length but vulva-like in shape. The covering and monitoring of appearance and behaviors of the female body by men is immediately present. However, the intrinsic meaning and bold statement Forouhar intends to make is the suggestion that the woman’s power to control the degree or amount of visibility and access lies in her own hands. The viewer can dispute or argue either way whether the hand moving the fabric is covering or uncovering what it conceals underneath.
Parastou Forouhar, Friday (Freitag), 2003, Photographic prints mounted on aluminum, each 170 x 86cm.