Monday, December 31, 2007

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts, MOCA

TEHRAN, Nov. 23 (Mehr News Agency): American artist and critic Robert C. Morgan, a member of the jury at the fifth Tehran Contemporary Sculpture Biennial, has said that he has been enthralled by the works on show. Morgan believes that Iranian artworks are worthy of review and analysis by critics at an international level so that they can be introduced world-wide. He mentioned that he first became familiar with Iranian art at the Venice biennial and expressed his pleasure at being in Iran to attend the sculpture event. Morgan also announced that he is planning to select a number of pieces from the fifth Tehran biennial to put on display in New York.

I didn't take pictures from the pieces (as it was prohibited), but the catalog will be published soon. I can only say, I had never seen such a sizeable collection of OUTSTANDING sculptures since I last visited Rodin's exhibition!!

This year’s biennial focused on the central theme of “Peace, Life, and the Future Horizon”. The international art critic Robert C. Morgan and Korean artist Chong Son were among the foreign jury members, and the Iranian jury members were Behruz Darash, Hamid Rezaii and Saeid Shahlapur. The Iranian Academy of Arts, the Art Department of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art cosponsored the event.

I mention the names of my favorite artists and hope to find pictures of their works, somehow.

Parastoo Ahovan
Mohammad-Reza Avishi
Safa Hosseini
Golnaz Behroozi-Nia
Elena Nabiollahi (special prize of under-35 yrs old sculptor)
Taha Behbahani
Behdad Lahooti
Behruz Amiri Raad
Malek Dadyar Garrossian
Kambiz Sabri
Iraj Karimkhan zand (permanent installation?)
Mohammad-Reza Zabihollah Zadeh
Azadeh Tayebi
Fariba Allameh
Amin Balaghi Inanlu
Behruz Darash (permanent installation?)
Mohsen Asrarian
Hamid-Reza Jadid & Mona Rostam Zadeh *** (First Prize) (a mass of clay women facing a mirror, very poignant!)
Farzaneh Abdoli
Mansoor Tayeb Zadeh
The second prize went to Mahsa Karimzadeh. Kurosh Golnari and Hassan Razqandi shared the third prize.

In total, 371 sculptors (age 17-85 years) had participated (163 women/208 men). A total of 112 pieces were accepted in competition.

Ferdowsi's Mausoleum, Toos

Ferdowsi Tousi, (935–1020) is considered to be one of the greatest Persian poets to have ever lived. Among the national heroes and literary greats of all time, Ferdowsi has a very special place. His life-long endeavour, dedication and personal sacrifices to preserve the national identity, language and heritage of his homeland put him in great hardship during his lifetime, but won him fame and honour for one of the greatest poetic masterpieces of all time: the Shahnameh.

The Shahnameh is an enormous poetic opus written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi around 1000AD, is the national epic of the Persian speaking world. The Shahnameh tells the mythical and historical past of Iran from the creation of the world up until the Islamic conquest of Iran in the 7th century.

Aside from its utmost literary importance, the Shahnameh written in almost pure Persian, had been pivotal for reviving the Persian language subsequent to the influence of Arabic. This voluminous work, regarded by Persian speakers as a literary masterpiece, also reflects Iran's history, cultural values, its ancient religions (Zoroastrianism), and its profound sense of nationhood. Ferdowsi completed the Shahnameh at the point in time when national independence had been compromised. While there are memorable heroes and heroines of the classical type in this work, the real, ongoing hero is Iran itself.

It has been called the "Persian Quran" by Ibn al-Athir, even though this title is not common knowledge among the Persian speakers but somehow indicates the importance of this book for all Persian speakers of the Iranian world, including Afghanistan and Tajikistan, to other Persian speakers of Central Asia, as well as in India, Pakistan and as far as China. [source:]

There is a translation of Ferdowsi's Epic of Kings on Iran Chamber Society. There is also an introduction to characters. If you wonder about the horse (made of sticks) in the picture, read on "Rakhsh".

I found Akhavan Sales's grave in Ferdowsi's park as well:

And I didn't remember Harounieh was just a few minutes away. It is commonly known as Haroun's Prison (one of the notorious Abbasid Khalifs), but it is a mosque (as it has a Mehrab) and perhaps a mausoleum (perhaps of Ghazali, another important Persian figure of 12th century). The architecture belongs to 13th century.

Mashhad, the holy city

For most, Mashhad's holiness comes from Imam Reza's (8th Shiite Imam) shrine. It is forbidden to take cameras inside the shrine. Below is a stolen picture I took from under my veil. It is also forbidden for women to go to shrine without a full veil.

An official picture of the shrine will look like this:

I had a funny feeling, I felt I was intruding on the honesty and the faith of people who were praying. Somehow I felt like a thief and a liar. What was I doing there other than satisfying my anthropological curiosity? When I was young, I used to even pray, I used to enjoy the smell of the shrine, I loved all the little rituals. But not anymore. Faith has grown out of me, or the other way around. I left immediately, with only one picture, and went to where my spirituality was better satisfied, the shrine of a poet, Ferdowsi (see next post).

Like all pilgrimage places, Mashhad is also a significant shopping center. Our "modern" friends (who spend most of their lives watching satellite TV and are fans of "desperate housewives"--because they identify with them) took us to a couple of new shopping centers, the "Green Diamond" and "Proma". Architecturally impressive, some good stuff as well. But it is hard to beat Tehran when it comes to shopping. The best of best can only be found in Tehran. More pricey though!

Last time I was in Mashhad was 25 years ago. At that time my parent were pondering to move to Mashhad. There was a nice villa we used to rent in a wooded suburban neighborhood called Ahmadabad. The garden was big, the house was white, the pool was full of gigantic gold fish. I couldn't find Ahmadabad, or the garden we never bought (because our house got robbed and we had to rush back to deal with the break in and etc. The winds of revolution caught up with my parents then ... and we never could go back to Mashhad.

Ahmadabad, its tall trees, it's gardens and villas are no more. All of that is now replaced with apartments. The mighty real estate market has wiped Mashhad off of one of the nicest neighborhoods one could wish to live in. I tried to find a picture of Ahmadabaad on internet; there are none. Perhaps I can ask my sister to find a picture of our childhood and scan it for me. Perhaps if she reads this, she will! But all the old places I knew are transforming into something "new". I don't know why I cannot enjoy this newness anywhere other than in Tehran. I want all the old places to remain old, like before.

Mashhad looked ugly to me. It was not deserving of it's "holy-city" stature. There was nothing remotely spiritual about it. There is a disease of billboard infesting urban surfaces of Iran. Huge, advertisement boards circling squares, promoting electronics, beauty products, sweets, car tires, prayer conferences, government slogans. Anyone who can pay the bill will get a spot. The most distasteful were those who were advertising cookies with a picture of the holy shrine on the corner of the ad! The construction projects around the shrine were heartbreaking as well. Ugly hotels, higher than the dome of the shrine. Where are the architects and the urban planners? How can money blind the taste? I asked my brother. "Mashhad's beyond hope", he responded. "It's on our agenda, however", added his wife, an urbanist herself.

Well here's an example of some decent money spent on some decent looking business: a hotel restaurent callded Baagh-e Salaar (Salar Garden), in Shandiz (yes it snowed upon our arrival in Mashhad!) :

If you ever go to Mashhad, be sure to go to Shandiz,

and to try Shishlik (marinated lambchops on a 2.5 feet stick, BBQed on fire). In Tehran, I had great shishlik in a restaurant called "Shandiz", somehwere in Jordan area!

Hotel Abbasi, Isfahan

We had lunch in the horrible restaurent of Fin Garden, Kashan; and then drove a couple of more hours to Isfahan, Nime-jahan (half of the world!) and checked in Hotel Abbasi.

Well this is how the hotel looks in summer! (More info about this hotel: here.)
In the 17th century, this hotel used to be a caravanserai, built by the mother of Shah Sultan Hossein, the last Safavid shah. There are plenty of professional pictures of the accommodations of this hotel, flush in art, ornamentation and architecture. But what I like to show is the collection of art work depicting women of Safavid (and some Quajar) era. 90% of the artwork hanging in the hallways were representing women. This is perhaps another upset for those who wish to think Iran is an anti-women country! I am sorry about the poor quality. shaky hands don't work without flash. And flash doesn't work well with shiny tableaux!

Fin Garden, Kashan

Fin Garden is a Palace that combines the architectural features of Safavid, Zand and Qajar periods. Although Baghe Fin was restored during Safavid Dynasty but there are indications that the garden dates to pre-savavid (and even ancient) era. Fin garden is one of the most beautiful ancient parks of Iran with bountiful natural fountains called Solomon, numerous old trees, pools and stream of water. Baagh-e Fin (Fin garden) is recently (09-08-2007) submitted as World Heritage to UNESCO.

The historical significance of Baaghe Fin is tied to the murder of Amir-Kabir (19 century), a charismatic and visionary reformer and chancellor of Quajar dynasty who set the founding stone of modern education in Iran, who negotiated a peace deal with Ottomans to end hundred years of hostility, who established rules of fair and square governance. Because of his progressive actions and the integrity of his vision, he soon became a threat to the corrupt Quajar families and their foreign "protectors". The king's entourage (family and foreign friends) convinced the Shah that Amir Kabir was after the throne. He was exiled to Fin in Kashan. In a drunken state, Naser-al-din shah orderd his execution. AmirKabir's wrist was slashed in the Fin Bath, located in this garden (below there is a picture of the statues representing the event).

Fearing public's reaction, to prevent the spreading of the news of AmriKabir's death, the envoys of the king also murdered the man (hammami, the bath worker) who slashed AmriKabir's wrist. Naser-al-din shaah later regreted his foolish decision. Iran was deprived from a great reformer, the history perhaps set back by a century!

Today, the garden serves as a museum and as a park. The admission is ~ 50 cents for Iranians and 3 dollars for foreigners. It has a restaurant with horrible food but great atmosphere. The trees (some over 200 years old) are a marvel to stare at.