Magazine article The New Yorker

Satire, Iranian

Magazine article The New Yorker

Satire, Iranian

Article excerpt

"I would say I've been an art lover all my life," Ramsey Clark, the former Attorney General, and international ambulance chaser, now eighty, said last week, before leaving his apartment in the Village to head uptown for the opening of a retrospective of the Iranian satirist Ardeshir Mohassess, at the Asia Society. "I've always had enormous respect for Goya's concern about violence in Spain, and the French artists, particularly those who were doing ink-and-paper drawings of the Revolution. And Ardeshir really rises above them. He expresses the long history and culture of his own people better than anybody I know."

Mohassess, a kind of Persian Saul Steinberg, left Tehran in 1976, after learning that the Shah was increasingly unhappy with his cartoons and illustrations, some of which had begun appearing on the Times' Op-Ed page. Clark helped him secure a visa to stay in the United States. "And it turned out we lived a hundred yards from each other," Clark said. "Still do. I'm on Twelfth and he's on Thirteenth." The two are kindred spirits, of a sort: Mohassess, an artist who has studied law, and Clark, a lawyer who collects art. ("We've got a wonderful Diego Rivera, a couple of Orozcos, a Dali--a unique Dali.") Later, Mohassess had "a landlord issue," as Clark put it, and Clark recruited one of his colleagues to help solve it. Mohassess repaid Clark with drawings--one of which Clark lent to the retrospective. It is inscribed "To Ramsey Clark" in the lower right-hand corner, and dated 1979, and depicts two dozen prisoners from the Qajar dynasty chained together, beside an armed guard, who holds a birdcage. The caption says, "My father, with his bird cage, was there too."

Mohassess was given a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in the nineteen-eighties, and as his condition worsened, in recent years, Clark's neighborly visits slowed and then stopped. Clark, in the meantime, had volunteered to defend the longtime Iranian nemesis Saddam Hussein at his trial in Iraq. He now found himself wondering what the fearless Mohassess would have made of the controversy over the Danish cartoons, in 2005, which sparked violent protests throughout the Middle East. (Clark's own view, despite his years on the board of the A.C.L.U., was that the cartoons "weren't necessary, and it shouldn't have happened, and certainly the people of Denmark don't need to be informed about things like that. …

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