Persia Reframed

{J’AIPUR intern Autumn Miller (l) with Editor-in-Chief Rupi Sood (r) at Leila Heller Gallery’s Persia Reframed book launch, New York City} 

At the Leila Heller Gallery, introducing the East to the West has always been a cornerstone initiative, making the gallery the perfect setting to launch author Fereshteh Daftari‘s newest book, Persia Reframed, which is a concise tome on modern and contemporary Iranian art. Daftari points out how Iranian art can often be simplified as being ‘decorative’ or ‘ethnic’ with a narrow depiction that involves calligraphy and veiled women. In her book, Daftari elaborates on how the art scene in present-day Iran provides room for pluralism— the range of multiple styles and ideas—to flourish. Persia Reframed is quite accurately categorized as an art historical since it covers a wide range of Iranian art and its ongoing evolution. Dealing with themes as gender and appropriation, Daftari digs below the surface revealing how Iranian art does not function purely for aestheticism but to further the dialogue.

Although the Prologue and last chapter both explore the personal perspective (as in, how the self is asserted into the aesthetics of the art), the middle of the book investigates the more scholarly and critical sides of Iranian art. One of the main purposes seems to be to rewrite a perception that has been skewed over the years while simultaneously exploring elements that have yet to be investigated. As a result, Daftari offers a fresh perspective on how the Iranian art scene is significant in chronicling an entire nation’s history.

Chapter One hones in on the broad ideas behind modernism through different time periods and places, and how varying contexts of the term equate to its multiple interpretations. Chapter Two brings attention to the moments when modernism first arrived in Iran, and how, to this day, there is insufficient discourse on the matter. Additionally, it also delves into the ways artists experimented with modernism through readily-available materials. Chapter Three provides a detailed look at the work of Parviz Tanavoli, known as the father of modern sculpture in Iran, and his significant contributions to a new type of art in his country at the time. It also elaborates on complex views of history, authority and connections to the Saqqakhaneh movement (referring to the modernist group who found their niche in Shi’ite folk art, pre-Islamic art and international formal strategies). Chapter Four provides a wide view of history, from pre-revolutionary modernism to the contemporary present, bringing in conversation about important contributing artists to movements such as abstraction and figuration. Chapter Five emphasizes opposing aesthetics and notable talents who are under-recognized in mainstream media. Additionally, Daftari highlights issues of gender, religious identity and diaspora which have been at play throughout the course of Iranian art. Chapter Six, the final chapter, explores Daftari’s own curatorial work outside of Iran and how Iranian art has been presented to the West. Overall, the book serves as a comprehensive guide that covers the breadth of modernist Iranian art and how it has developed over time.

With a lot of dense, meaty material, Persia Reframed can appear as purely scholarly, however as Daftari notes at the end of the Prologue, this is entirely not the case, since there is an emotional side to its purpose. The point is not to necessarily bring politics into art, but to describe where history maps it out wrong, and to wring out the previously hidden messages. Daftari is not trying to be self-congratulatory —rather, she sheds light on facets of contemporary Iranian art that have previously been dug into a hole.

With a Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University and extensive curatorial experience (at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1999 to 2009, for example), Daftari knows a thing or two about the richness and culturally-defining moments of art rooted in Iran. Described as “a pioneering independent curator in her field” by Robert Storr, a professor at the Yale University School of Art, it is no surprise that Daftari presents a deeply insightful outlook on how the conversation surrounding Iranian art can be reframed, especially in the West.

Review by Autumn Miller // Photos by Rupi Sood 

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