Friday, November 6, 2009

Artistic Iran: Appreciating Introspective Attention to Individuality

A mustachioed, muscle-bound figure cradles a machine gun in front of his blue, flaming pick-up, adorned with Iranian wrestling chaps and a Dolce & Gabanna belt buckle. In Iranian artist Siamak Filizadeh's portrayal of Rostam, a Herculean figure from tenth-century Persian literature, he recreates an ancient figure of Iranian culture with accoutrements that seem largely materialistic and Western. The result seems to be a tongue-in-cheek blend of modern and national identity, whose spirit thrives despite the dominance of religion since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. A slim, though Hulk Hogan-esque, figure, Zaal, adorned with a cannabis necklace and a softball-sized belt buckle proclaiming in bright red letters "TEXAS," accompanies Rostam in Filizadeh's Zaal arrives to help Rostam, Rostan 2 the Return, 2008.

Filizadeh is one of 21 Iranian artists included in an abridged version of the Chelsea Art Museum's (CAM) exhibition Iran Inside Out, which is showing at DePaul University Art Museum until November 22. The art focuses on the breadth of vibrant identities in Iran, half of whose people are under 30, in light of the threat of sanctions from the West, political discord following a disputed election, and economic mismanagement by the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The results are dazzling, though meant to focus on the artists rather than purely themes of politics or oppression.

“Let’s not hijack the artwork,” says CAM curator Sam Bardaouil in Time Out Chicago. “[Iranian] artists are always burdened with all this history. This show is also about the artists as individuals.”

In the above shot of Iran Inside Out at DePaul, one sees Sara Rahbar's Did You See What Love Did to Us Once Again, Flag, 2008. The flag of the United States is draped correctly, superimposed with a embroidered golden outline of the Middle East. The words "Did you see what love did to us once again" are embroidered in Persian on the stripes, having come from the fourteenth-century poet, Hafez. Rahbar, a member of the diaspora fleeing the Iran-Iraq civil war, meant to portray her personal search for identity in melding pieces of Persian and American traditions. The exhibit notes explain, "conflicted emotions of love not only suggest her personal search for identity, but also the tortuous relationship between Iran and the United States."

In other works, the line between the West and Iran becomes further blurred and questioning of any perceived hostility. Arash Sedaghatkish's watercolors portray several hip-looking, attractive Tehran students dressed in jeans and puma shoes and backpacks, sometimes only distinguishing themselves from Midwesterners by a loosened hijab. In the CAM catalog, Sedaghatkish explains the desire to explore "the shift between familiarity and newness." Though the exploration portrayed could itself bend the rules of tradition and dress code.

To the right, Behdad Lahooti's A Cliche for Mass Media takes a stab at broken promises from Iran's government, highlighting domestic frustrations, through the use of a floor toilet. Flowing down the drain are slogans of government promises for "housing for youth," "economy," and "jobs." Lahooti's droll representation expresses the dissatisfaction of youth in relation to the Islamic Republic, which in my mind mirrors apathy in the United States toward the efficacy of its own republican government. In a snarky nod to common disillusionment with government, Lahooti identifies himself in the lower right-hand corner as a "sculptor for hire," giving his phone number and imploring the viewer to send him better ideas. I dare say that "tea baggers" in the U.S. could find common ground with Iranians in their dissatisfaction.

In a vein potentially more controversial with the west, Farhad Moshiri and Shirin Aliabadi collaborated to make Operation Supermarket, an exhibit first shown in Bidoun magazine and Counter Gallery in 2006. The emphasis was on making stereotypes in the media regarding the Middle East into commodities bought and sold in the name of some questionable idea of progress. To the left is the commonly portrayed idea of intifada struggles against the West, the shallow commodification of which allows those ghastly blood stains to be magically whisked away with the help of laundry detergent. I could see a similar work where a detergent called "Donald Rumsfeld" magically brings peace and democracy to Iraq with the simple application of U.S. troops. The works seem to mock the idea that consumerism, capitalism, and the ephemeral idea of progress can overcome years of injustice and strong emotion between the West and Iran.

In all, the artists in the wonderful exhibition at DePaul show the range and depth of emotion that is often lost in the pervasive message of Us v. Them when it comes to relations between the West and Iran, young and old Iranians, and progressives and clerics. The CAM's Iran Inside Out invites us to look at the complexity of our situation as a collection of individuals who have similar frustrations with our respective governments, moralities, and with each other.

The Chelsea Art Museum's Iran Inside Out will be showing until November 22 at DePaul University Art Museum. On November 12 at 7:30 pm, artist, Negin Sharifzadeh, will present a dance performance, Beyond the Sense of Breaking.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

We celebrated Halloween with Batman!!

My girlfriend and I, a little worn out from the week, were loathe to get in line to enter a packed bar to drink mediocre beer at non-mediocre prices. In a turn of whimsy, she dressed in a cute black outfit, grabbed a small Batman action figure that I got from a Cheerios box, grabbed my arm and ordered that chaos should ensue. Below is the result.....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Helping Haiti and Having Happiness

Recently I've started going back to church. No, I'm not talking about worshiping some invisible guy in outer space who hates homosexuals and dictates that we give our money to sex fiends and the Republican party... Sorry, hope I didn't offend anyone...

The girlfriend and I have been going to the Unitarian church called Micah's Porch, located in Chicago's Wicker Park. We've been searching for answers about the meaning of life, what our role is in the world, the other good things that actually come from the "church experience": community, service, discussion of meaning, free food.

The things I like: we drink coffee instead of harping on about drinking some dude's blood, God is a personal and different concept depending on the person, lack of dogma dictating who is "saved" and going to hell, services are held in a theater instead of some weird churchy place, and a rock band plays decent non-Christian music.

I don't consider myself religious, Christian, or atheist. I see worth in Christian compassion, but also Buddhist philosophy, Taoist rationalism, and progressive Muslim thought, and other parts of various traditions.

I told the pastor that I didn't know if there is a God. He responded that people all have to find what is authentic to them, on a path that is compassionate and mindful of how individuals impact the world.

With that in mind, I've tried the service thing that everyone claims to want to do to better the world and make a positive impact, feed the children, save the whales, etc.

Two strangers from the Micah's and I (most of the "parishioners" are under 30) carpooled out to a nonprofit called Bright Hope yesterday. The two strangers quickly became my friends, both interested in questioning government, the arts, politics, philosophy in a way with which I could engage.

Upon getting to Hoffman Estates-based Bright Hope, the more left-leaning folks from Micah's (us 3) came into contact with suburbia, Illinois, with Republican Christians, a girl scout troop, and possibly the random Americorps volunteer trying to pay back college loans. Our collective goal: feed Haitian kids.

We assembled into a warehouse and in assembly-line fashion, packaged bags with measured amounts of protein, dehydrated veggies, soy, and rice, something the organizers deemed a "scientifically-divined" formula to give the right nutrients to kids who would have otherwise eaten dirt to stave off hunger pains.

I handled the rice at first, pouring it after the protein, veggies, soy into a spout that filled bags. The bags were measured, pulled taut, sealed, boxed, and organized to be sent to rural areas of Haiti. I shifted from rice to veggies, from veggies to soy in my attempts to stave off the tediousness of dumping food product in a spout to save lives in Haiti, making sure to make polite small talk with my more conservative and Christian co-workers The Micah's group, all three of us, broke off to invade the Republicans. (note: I am not really a Democrat, but I do enjoy making fun of Republicans, in good humor of course.)

Though the work was very mundane in itself, (repetitive factory work for 2 hours what many people would consider the ideal way to spend the afternoon) the spokesman/organizer at bright hope reminded us of our important work. And it did feel good to help in my small way to feed kids who would otherwise go hungry, make new friends, work with people with which I might not usually find much in agreement.
We were informed that the warehouse group of about 40ish volunteers produced 21,000 "meals," filling 98 boxes to be sent to Haiti, with the ultimate possibility of staving off hunger for 57 kids for a year. All in all, I felt that that was a Saturday better spent than sitting in front of the computer.

While riding back to Chi-town with my two new friends, we talked about other ways we could help out, common concerns with the economy/politics, listened to good music. The whole experience helped me fulfill a need that many in my generation may have - a feeling of connectedness to the world.

Cheesy, but true. I recommend any volunteering that you think could make an impact. Take a flask along if you need a pick-me-up.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Testicles, assholes, and the Nobel Prize

Joe Scarborough can occasionally make a good point about the downfall of actual conservatism in the face of Republican dominance. Though his "discussion" on Obama winning the Nobel Prize devolved into a back and forth with Limbaugh over putting testicles into a vice and the White House calling him an asshole.

I'm glad that useful airtime is devoted to lips and assholes to handle the tough questions that are facing U.S. Citizens in light of a recession, two wars, health care conundrum, etc.

I for one thought the Nobel was premature. Obama has given some successful speeches to garner the attention, and some respect, from the world. There's the highest level talks with Iran regarding its nuclear program, Mendvedev is considering sanctions, Non-proliferation is again on the global radar. But Afghanistan and Palestine are drifting further from peace.

I also think, Big deal... Kissinger and Teddy Roosevelt also won Nobel Peace prizes.

Below is somewhat entertaining. Lips and assholes anyone?