Interview with Taher Asad-Bakhtiari - Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Contemporary Art

Artist(s) in Focus, Interviews

February 14, 2016

By exploring ancient tribal Iranian culture of kilim and gabbeh (Persian carpet) making, Taher Asad-Bakhtiari bridges the gap between past and present, old and new, traditional and contemporary. This great Iranian artist is probably best-known for his Tribal Weaves series, in which he combines ages-old weaving techniques with a modern artistic vision. Often simple in color and pattern, his kilims draw our attention with their intensity and structure made by exposing parts of the warp, revealing the skeleton of the carpet and bringing it into the overall design. Still, Taher is “loyal” to the original Iranian tribal weaves, in which the aesthetic concept of the kilim and gabbeh is minimalistic one. Therefore, we can often see elements of earth, sky, sun and mountain expressed as single blocks of color on these works.

However, Taher Asad-Bakhtiari’s work is not limited exclusively on kilims. He has conducted a very interesting project Recovered Barrels. Finally, Taher’s work goes beyond visual arts, as he is also active in the fields of design and architecture. After studying multimedia and management in Canada and Switzerland, Taher opened a creative agency in Tehran, later expanding it to New York City. Today, Taher lives in Tehran and Dubai.

Widewalls had an honor to speak with Taher about his art projects, his work and inspirations, about Iranian contemporary art scene and future projects. Read the interview, and find out more about the work by this amazing artist.

Between Traditional and Contemporary

Widewalls: In your art, we can see a lot of influence of traditional, even ancient tribal techniques of carpet weaving. Maybe this is a personal question, but do you have any roots in a tribal family, or you simply do your research very well before you start working?

Taher Asad-Bakhtiari: I do come from a tribal family and I think that is why I started with tribal weaves- I just love their lifestyle and the way they live and do things- its authentic and behind everything they do and make there is a reason- there aren't that many nomads left in Iran- and their craft is dying since the lifestyle isn’t there too- what I try to do is give the pieces more of a contemporary look and make their work more bold- and maybe with this I can reposition their work in the market and keep the nomad or semi nomads on their looms.

Widewalls: Traditional, yet contemporary – this is how I see your Tribal weave project. Are you purposely trying to create a bridge between the past and the present, to revive these old, and (I suppose) marginalized art techniques and styles, and to put it in the context of contemporary art?

TAB: Exactly, I had to start with them from scratch and come up with the main design that I have used- triangles and strips and work more on the weaving techniques; so like this I can play with textures and styles of weaves. Today I’m working on more complex shapes and it’s a progress- you have to start somewhere and just keep on elevating it.

Influences and Inspirations

Widewalls: How much are aesthetical elements important for you? Do you focus more on concepts (i.e. the process of reinventing the kilim or gabbeh, for example), or you are more concerned about the aesthetical aspects of your final artwork?

TAB:  I think both- you start with the roots of the work- where does it come from? Who works on it? What are they like? And what’s my input, who am I? And what am I bringing to the craft?

Widewalls: Have you been in contact with tribal families/communities that produce kilims and gabbehs? How do they survive in our contemporary society with industrial carpets? What’s your relationship with these communities?

TAB: I do, and even they have to adjust to today’s world just like us- so they live a semi nomadic life in a modern world. I try to show them and the world that they come from is authentic sophisticated lifestyle and we are working together to keep it alive.

Widewalls: How much does your art speak about contemporary Iran in general, about these divisions between traditional and modern, and different methods of producing? About culture and art in general?

TAB: Well, crafts are not looked highly upon and I think crafts are one of the highest forms of art. The process alone is an art form. But you can’t keep the craft and not modernize it, so what I try to do is to use the weaving craft and give it a contemporary relevance.

Working to Resist

Widewalls: Your project on oil barrels in Tehran is very interesting. Could you please tell us what message you want to send with this project, and can you tell us something more about it?

TAB: The message behind it is up cycling. Environmental art and that there is beauty even in these oil barrels that have multi-functional purposes (they were born to be an ordinary oil barrel- however through their life spam they serve differently- they are beaten- colored and have served for many reasons and that’s what makes them beautiful and I see people the same).

Widewalls: We can often read that your art is the art of resistance. Resistance against what? Against whom?

TAB: When I start to do something the people I work with resist. I have to prove myself to them; I also have to prove to the market- so there are many resistances from both sides. But I like it and I think that’s what makes me want to not give up and keep on elevating it.

Widewalls: Finally, this question may sound a bit cliché. Coming from Iran, and living between Tehran and Dubai, could you tell us something about the position of Iranian contemporary artists on the global art scene? Sometimes people get an impression that Iranian artists are a bit marginalized. What are your thoughts, your experience?

TAB: I’ve pretty much grown up with artists. My mom and my great aunt monir - they always had friend who were artists, and today they are very know (however they are the older generations), and they mostly don’t live in Iran since the revolution. However the young generation that lives in Iran expresses themselves through their creations and since Iran has been so closed off to the world- it’s very interesting for people to see what comes out.

However, things are changing today- Iran is opening up.

Featured Images: Tribal Weaves; Recovered Barrels. Images courtesy of the artist.

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