Farsi and the Farsi Ghoul
Delgosha Gallery proudly presents: “Farsi and the Farsi Ghoul”.
The exhibition revolves around the Persian script and Persian stories; tales of fairies and elves and monsters born from their writers’ imagination, and deeply embedded in Iranian culture and literature thanks to its imaginative folk. A subject we have dealt with before and are still dealing with, which will ultimately lose its novelty and cease to exist.
Speaking of history and fables, of legends and fairies, of spirits and monsters no longer has the same appeal. Beasts are not as scary as they used to be. Their smiling faces are printed on bowls and plates and pillows next to an exhausted Rostam trying to defeat them. The Persian script has also fallen out of favor. There are no dark corners of highways for Jinns to jump out of. What beast or demon would dare approach a V8 land cruiser SUV with tinted windows? Whatever lives in that car is undoubtedly more frightening.
We are the remaining few whose childhoods were filled with stories that might still terrify us today, the ones who might have been scared of futile and abandoned Desert stories, yet we no longer seek the Phoenix or Simurgh’s help.
Now that we (all of us) paint, we subconsciously fit them in somewhere or at least solicit their presence. In general, “them” refers to the Persian script, mystical creatures or any form of an attachment to classic literature that also had a major educational impact. These stories were supposed to make us better people, solidify our faith, boost our courage and force-feed us life lessons. The media informs us of the most unjust cruelties every second with no signs of imminent justice. We now know that heroes don’t exist and there’s no use waiting for hero figures. Fereydoun is not coming; Fereydoun lives in all of us. However, exploring the Persian script and its fables of monsters and men is not only a rewarding subject for some, but one that’s impossible to ignore.
The confrontation itself is the subject matter; the artist confronting what they desire time to time. Like a cat chasing its tail. Looking for a way to connect with the roots. Many artists before us have succeeded in this endeavor. The slow pace of their lives and the absence of a paralyzing volume of technology and information, granted them enough time to deal with that longing inside.
A modern Iranian sculptor artist like Parviz Tanavoli, followed Farhad’s hand, a mythical sculptor figure famous for carving a staircase in montaine and Tanavoli fell for his ax. Hossein Zenderoudi became infatuated with the two eyes of “Hā (with two eyes)” the Persian letter that pervaded and dished out the literature. The Rostams of Fereydoun Ave. Mirza Kouchak Khan and his cabinet as depicted by Ghassem Hajizadeh. These are all contemporary myths with the same method of confronting the roots. Monir Farmanfarmayan’s mirrors also fall into this category.
This attachment shouldn’t be mistaken for redundancy. This attachment spawns from faith and patience. They weren’t worried about wasting time. They didn’t think it(life or art) is a race and there is ever going to be a winner and loser; a quality which they had learned from previous generations. As we move further back in time, this patience also grows further. Our main difference with them is our inherent haste.
It’s clear that in later generations this confrontation becomes more superficial, compared to the precious ones. The accomplishment of a task, a project or an art piece is the sole goal in order to start a newer one. This is our lifestyle that leads us to a shallow and inadequate confrontation to our roots. The characteristics of this confrontation is apparent bewilderedness. An undeniable displacement, a discernible puzzlement we face in every second of experimenting, the act of jumping over different subjects to another ones in a recurrent overtaking discourse.
In this exhibition, the artist’s approach is primarily towards growing the ability to move on, rather than exploration and discovery. This exhibition is an obscure depiction of ideas and attachments. And a rehearsal space for moving on. Exploring ways to stop an idea from dissolving while maintaining motion.
Everyone has had simultaneously similar and different accounts as to how they were introduced to these stories, which allows for a myriad of interpretations. This sense of individuality is intensified for the artist in mediums like painting and sculpture; mediums that classically require the artist to spend a significant amount of time alone with their subject.
Zahra Nouri-Zonouz’s B.1986 paintings titled“Phoenix and two deers” &“Phoenix and a baby deer”, which is in reference to Attar Nishapuri’s “The Conference of the Birds” and the story of the phoenix, are perfect examples of a personal interpretation of a story. Ironically, the conference is no longer exclusive to the Phoenix and other animals are also in play.
In a grand painting from Mostafa Sarabi B.1983, he offers an image of “The Man maker”; a mythical beast from Iranian folklore that would appear in the middle of the road to test travelers. Those who chose to fear it would eventually meet their demise, and whoever chose to meet it with courage would become its friend. It’s been said that this fable was made to encourage travelers to be more courageous. The Man Maker itself wouldn’t approach the weary in case it had to kill them. But what intrigued Sarabi was not the story itself but its narrators. The men who told him this story, retold it so many times as if it had actually happened to them.
In “Hunting Workshop”, Hadi Alijani’s B.1987 main concern is the entangled relationship of man and animals. Quadrupeds have had a special place in Iranian literature and painting; at times as a celestial oracle and at times as an offering. It seems as though man delves deeper into himself through this connection. But animals are no longer present in man’s daily existence, which is a historical abomination that has zoos for its monument. Alijani has moved past fables and myths or anything that possesses the same awe and power. A superior and magical power has ceased to exist, and so has that creature’s story.
Story and a return to storytelling reaches its peak in Zabihullah Mohammady’s B.1941 works; a man who was forced as a child to memorize Ferdowsi’s “Book Of The King” and “Khamsa of Nizami'' and retell it to his grandfather. As he approaches 80 years of age, he still depicts dragons and beasts and victorious heroes time and time again. Every time he paints Rostam is born, crosses Iran and Tooran, kills his son, completes the seven trials seven thousand times, and ultimately dies. This is the real purpose of folklore. It can be told to every living person once or a thousand times. The beast in Mohammadi’s paintings will rest on top of Rostam’s hands not until tomorrow or the next chapter, but forever. Even if we finish our story with, “And then he threw the beast on the ground”
Both of Shabahang Tayyari’s B.1987 paintings “Aleph with hat” and “Chaharkhane/ The End'' tackle homework, teachers and education. Blind acceptance of a bad teacher and a broken education system by mindlessly repeating the same lines of writing. But on the other hand giving in to the curves of letters and the joy of practicing and mastering something is the duality the painter faces. A relationship that also exists deep in the heart of Iranian painting and calligraphy, which helps the story become more complicated in its simplicity.
Zahra Mahmoudkhani B.1992 enters words and letters in the picture like they are factory-made products moving from one side of a protractor to the other. The compositions of the images and depicted factory are architectural and geometric as we are observing the plan of a building from above. But we can only read the letters if we face them, and if we look from above, it looks like a long line with various raptures. Like the lines in the middle of a road.
Raana Dehghan’s B.1986 work is a ceramic sculpture of a ghost; a much more cinematic and domestic interpretation of the concept. Our immediate image of a ghost is a white, transparent being, as opposed to a firm, sculpted figure. What stands before you is not a ghost, but a sculpted wandering soul.
Ultimately, this complexity reaches its peak in Haydeh Ayazi’s B.1961 work. The protagonist of the painting is sitting on his knees, looking like Reza Abbasi’s characters with era-appropriate attire, in the midst of this bizarre setting. Meteor showers from above with aliens on an exploration voyage. Our Persian character is placed among American-Indian totems of various animals, as well as Egyptian Papyrus and other flowers with alien heads popping out of them. It becomes clear what the aliens are searching for: on top of our protagonist’s head is a yellow bat with a blue virus in front of it. But Ayazi is not satisfied just yet. He creates a ground from Persian scripture; a surface called homeland that we’re affixed to. Amidst the scripture, he clears space, lit by candles like a private Saqqakhane, to highlight a few lines of poetry: “but I shall leave one midnight, this world I do not call my own. This land I’m needlessly bound to.” The text ends here.
Shabahang Tayyari December 2020