Sunday June 10, 2012
10 diverse views
By ROUWEN LIN
Man and nature come together in art works by Iranian artists who look beyond the superficial.
NOT very far from the two lovers meeting under a tree, an evil king with snakes on his shoulders rules supreme. On another wall, a young woman is shrouded in shadow and mystery, in contrast with a portrait of the girl with smiling blue eyes, bathed in bright, squeaky-clean colours. This month, the art gallery has cave painting figures come to life, field upon field of yellow flowers and apocalyptic dark red skies.
It’s the first time Artseni Gallery in Kuala Lumpur is holding a group exhibtiion with participating artists from the same country. The result is as diverse as it is aesthetically pleasing.
“We did not restrict the artists as to what subject they should explore in their works, and we ended up with very different styles, techniques and subjects. It was very difficult to select just 20 pieces of artwork because we found them all very good,” says Artseni founder Philip Wong, who co-curates this exhibition with Iranian artist Asghar Yaghoubi.
Sepuluh Dah, the exhibition theme, refers to the number of artists involved and the collaboration between Iran and Malaysia (“dah” is Persian for 10, or sepuluh).
A distinctive feature of Iranian art, according to Asghar, is that elements of nature and figurative art are usually combined and are perceived as equally important. The works of Iran’s artists are often steeped in tradition and ancient folklore, which is hardly surprising as the country is home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations.
“The Iranian artist is a profound thinker. He imagines a supernatural world where nature and human beings come together. This is a reflection of our culture and traditional stories handed down the generations,” says Asghar.
Although an artwork might be based on a story, the job of an artist is to look beneath the surface, beyond the superficial.
“The artist has to look inside the glass he paints, inside the tree he paints, inside minds. I try to do that with my works. I try to make my audience think about what they see. I would like them to think mostly about love and how impressive and powerful a force it can be,” he adds.
Asghar features horses in all his works, and those for this exhibition are no exception. In Red Horse, a horse nuzzles a woman’s shoulder while she holds out an apple.
“This is a big message about woman and man. It’s a reference to Adam and Eve, the first humans. The red horse symbolises the man. Eve offers the apple to the horse, and the colour of the fruit denotes power. After the man ate the apple, they were banished from paradise. This is a story that happens all the time. It is repeated, every day, every year.”
So interwoven is art with everyday life in Iranian culture that a separate existence is never considered.
Fathollah Marzban, one of the exhibiting artists, says through an interpreter: “In Iran, we live with art. We have art on the bedspreads, curtains and carpets. Our language is like poetry; everything is somehow related to art. It is very much a part of our lives.”
Both artists, born and raised in Iran, have currently settled down in Malaysia – Asghar has been in the country for four years, and Fathollah, a year.
It’s sufficient time to get a feel of what Malaysian art is, and apparently it is very different from what they are used to in Iran. Both agree that local artists have no qualms expressing their feelings on canvas with brighter, happier colours, and they often paint something as they see it.
“Iran and Malaysia, we have different cultures. Many Malaysian artists simply paint what they see around them, so it’s often landscape, food and contemporary life. Iranian artists tend to dig deeper, and behind each painting is a story,” Asghar says.
The differences can partly be attributed to the fact that this is a relatively young country, but Fathollah, who is also a graphic design lecturer, adds that the education system plays a role in developing the artistic direction of the community as well.
“Many artists here are taught just the tools and techniques. Students are not given many opportunities to be creative, especially in regards to graphic design. This is important because without that, they are just technicians, nothing else. But I do love the batik art here.”
In Untitled, one of his works for Sepuluh Dah, red ribbons twine loosely around the silhouette of a woman with flowing dark hair. Fathollah will have a show in London early next year, and the artwork currently on display is a preview of what is to come.
“The tape that binds her is a symbol of enslavement of women to old traditions, and how it is time to break free of that. My works at the London exhibition will revolve around this theme.
“There wasn’t a possibility for me to present such a painting in Iran because of religious restrictions. We cannot show paintings of nude women, or even depict women with their hair showing. I do feel freer in Malaysia as an artist, but I have subjects in mind that I think are not allowed here, like incorporating certain Islamic elements in my works,” he says.
Fathollah shares that these pieces are a departure from his usual calligraphy works. When he left Iran for Malaysia, he did not bring his art tools and materials along with him.
“I use mostly acrylic and colour pencils now, but these are not my real instruments for painting. This is not my real style. It is a temporary departure,” he explains, adding that the most critical thing about creating art is the initial idea, which is the main factor he considers when deciding on the medium.
“I choose the medium based on the idea. There are some ideas which are not possible to adequately express with colour pencils or crayons; you must certainly use oil.”
Whether it’s oil, acrylic, mixed media, surrealism, abstract, impressionist or contemporary art you are keen on, there is a little something for everyone at Sepuluh Dah.
■ Sepuluh Dah at Artseni Gallery, Lot P11, 4th Floor, Lot 10 Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur, is on show till June 17. Opening hours are 11am to 9pm daily. For more information, call 012-398 9608 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.