The Past and Present of Iranian Art Intersect at LACMA
Titled In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art, the forthcoming Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition will be a groundbreaking presentation of both historical and contemporary Iranian works. This showcase shall highlight the means through which Iranian artists have used and continue to use their nation’s past as a metaphor for what’s currently going on in Iran.
Such a complex analysis of a whole country’s history, culture and tradition will be explored by examining artworks and literature in which ancient kings and heroes are used in later contexts as examples of idealism and virtue, or as objects of derision.
In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art
The upcoming exhibition will be presenting 125 Iranian artworks in a variety of media, including photography, painting, sculpture, video art, posters, political cartoons, animations and historical manuscripts full of illustrations.
More than fifty Iranian artists will be featured as a part of In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art, many of whom are still active to this day. Some of the highlight names participating are Pouya Afshar, Fereydoun Ave, Siamak Filizadeh, Shadi Ghadirian, Ramin Haerizadeh, Shirin Neshat, Parviz Tanavoli and Newsha Tavakolian.
Apart from presenting works of art and exploring the wide range of Iranian culture, the forthcoming show will also offer new scholarship and a novel approach to observing anachronisms in Iranian art.
Collection of Iranian Art Held at LACMA
As the exhibition’s opening day slowly approaches, Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director, did not hide his pride over the art collection held at the museum he works for:
LACMA has one of the most significant collections of Islamic art in the world. Over the last decade we have expanded our collecting parameters to include contemporary works by artists from, or with roots in, the Middle East, giving us the largest such collection in America.
Thanks to such a wide assortment of Iranian art, LACMA was a logical choice for an exhibition of such an ambitious scope. Relying on this collection and the efforts of LACMA personnel, In the Fields of Empty Days will demonstrate the complex and pivotal relationship between historical and contemporary art present in Iranian culture.
Goals and the Structure of the Upcoming Show
Linda Komaroff, curator of Islamic art and department head of Art of the Middle East at LACMA, said the following about the upcoming exhibition:
This show is about an art that willfully bends time and obscures place, rather than conforming to the linear narrative that we associate with traditional art history.
Ultimately, In the Fields of Empty Days will use the lens of time to portray the ideas of identity, politics, faith and history that help define the remarkably diverse artistic heritage of Iran.
The showcase is thematically organized in two very broad sections: Kings and Heroes, and Saints and Martyrs. An additional small section of documentary photographs, posters and publications will also be organized.
Kings and Heroes
The show’s first section, Kings and Heroes, will mainly revolve around the illustrated versions of the Shahnama (“The Book of Kings”). This Iranian national epic, written in the Islamic era, tells the stories of the pre-Islamic kings and heroes.
From the very first such royally commissioned manuscripts, the ancient kings were recast as contemporary Islamic rulers, while old heroes were embedded within Iranian culture.
Among many notable works of art, the Kings and Heroes section will also feature several works from artist Shirin Neshat’s 2012 photographic series The Book of Kings, a series of pictures that emphasizes the inherent nationalism of the original text. These images will clearly demonstrate why Neshat is constantly counted among her nation’s leading women photographers.
Saints and Martyrs
Following Iran’s adoption of Shi‘ite Islam in the early 16th century, saints and martyrs became a huge aspect of the nation’s culture. This also helped solidify the past irrevocably within the present through the cycle of remembrance of the martyrdom (most notably Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad).
Keeping that in perspective, the show’s second section, Saints and Martyrs, will focus on the incredible importance sainthood and martyrdom had both in Iran’s history and its contemporary art.
This section’s definite highlight will be Mourn Baby Mourn, a piece Pouya Afshar created specifically for this exhibition. Set within a large tent in a dedicated gallery space, the installation features four projections of an animated video referencing the historic martyrdom and incorporating various theatrical elements.
Exhibition of Iranian Art Marvels at LACMA
Needless to say, this forthcoming LACMA show is a definite must for any fan of Middle Eastern art. Additionally, what the show’s organizers predict will be of particular interest to American audiences is the exhibition’s exploration of how Iranian artists are capable of negotiating the politically charged issues of governance and faith in creating artistic objects.
In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art will be on display between the 6th of May and the 9th of September 2018, and it will take place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in LA, California.
The past is a continuous and inescapable part of Iranian art and culture. This book beautifully demonstrates this notion with examples dating from the 1970s to the present–a time of turmoil and political upheaval. Featuring a dizzying variety of works–from paintings and photography to political cartoons and posters–this volume shows how contemporary artists appropriate and recontextualize myth and history to tell powerful new stories about life in Iran.
Featured images: Newsha Tavakolian – Mothers of Martyrs, 2006. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Nina Ansary, © Newsha Tavakolian, photo courtesy Thomas Erben Gallery; Parviz Tanavoli – Lion and Sword III, 1976. Bijar weave. Courtesy of the artist, © Parviz Tanavoli, photo © Museum Associates & LACMA; Afsoon – Shah and His Three Queens from the series Fairytale Icons, 2009. Chromogenic prints. collection of Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller, New York, © Afsoon, photo courtesy Leila Heller Gallery, New York; Kaveh Golestan – The Shah Left, 1979, printed 2015. Gelatin silver print. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the Estate of Kaveh Golestan, © Estate of Kaveh Golestan, digital image © Museum Associates & LACM; Afsoon – Shah and His Three Queens from the series Fairytale Icons, 2009. Chromogenic prints. Collection of Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller, New York, © Afsoon, photo courtesy Leila Heller Gallery, New York. All images courtesy of LACMA.