Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Child of the Revolution: Sara Dolatabadi and the Esthetics of Memory (an Interview)

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Child of the Revolution: Sara Dolatabadi and the Esthetics of Memory (an Interview)

Article excerpt

The perception that modern Iran's cultural production is characterized, like its politics, by revolution and ideological rigidity has prevented those outside Iran from seeing the rich tradition of visual art that has developed in modern Iran during the last hundred years. In this interview, Amy Motlagh discusses the work of the talented young Iranian artist Sara Dolatabadi (1978-), who was born and educated in Iran, but now lives and works in Tokyo. Dolatabadi's art and life offer an exceptional--yet at the same time, oddly representative--example of the plight of the modern Iranian artist.

Introduction

To invoke the phrase "modern art" is to bring to mind images like Picasso's Guernica, or the iconic splatter paintings of Jackson Pollock. "Modern Iran," on the other hand, conjures grainy televised news images of Ayatollah Khomeini waving to throngs of admirers, or perhaps, more recently, the crowds of green-swathed Iranians who flooded the streets to protest the outcome of the June 2009 presidential elections. But bring these two phrases together to say "modern Iranian art" and there is generally a blank. If the words "Iran" and "art" are associated at all, it is in terms of the stunning reliefs that embellish the walls of ancient Persepolis; or perhaps the vivid miniatures that decorated manuscripts of the Safavid period and spread into the larger world of Persianate influence, including the Mughal, Tajik, and Ottoman cultural spheres. It is unlikely that they would address some of the works Iranians are most proud of: Mahmoud Tanavoli's sculptures; the paintings of Parviz Kalantari; or the photographs of 'Abbas. For most Westerners, the perception that Iran's modernity came at the cost of its cultural and artistic integrity--an impression amplified by the 1979 Revolution and the Islamic regime's censorship of all artistic production--prevails. Even if they have seen the colorful, lurid, government-sponsored murals sometimes pictured in popular news magazines like Time or Newsweek--the paintings that decorate Tehran's buildings, expressing Iranian defiance of US imperialism or honoring martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War--these typically do not register as art at all, but as a manifestation of the religious zealotry that many believe created the revolution in the first place.

To some extent, these strong associations--of modern Iran with ideological rigidity, and pre-modern Iran with vanished cultural splendor--have prevented those outside Iran from seeing the rich tradition of visual art that has developed in modern Iran during the last hundred years. At best, those living in the metropolitan centers of the West may be familiar with the work of Iranians living or born in the diaspora, whose work often incorporates Iranian themes, but which may reflect primary training in the host country's artistic traditions rather than Iran's. The work of Shirin Neshat and Marjane Satrapi--two Iranian-born artists--is perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon. Both women have distinguished themselves through their Iran-related art: Neshat, the noted visual artist who has lived and worked in New York for the last twenty years, creates work that directly engages Western stereotypes about veiling and Islam that the West brings to any encounter with Iran; Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis tells the story of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 through the personal lens of autobiography. Yet at the same time, both artists' work is undeniably cast in the Western traditions with which they are most familiar: Neshat's photographs and short films owe an obvious debt not only to Iranian cinema, but also to the critique of Orientalism expressed by US-based cultural critics like Edward Said, while Satrapi, whose illustrations occasionally nod toward an Iranian art form like the miniature, is most firmly grounded in the French bande-desinde tradition. (1)

Like Neshat and Satrapi, artist Sara Dolatabadi (1978-) was born in Iran, but now lives and works abroad. …

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