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Works by three generations of Contemporary Iranian artists featured in Metropolitan Museum installation
Afruz Amighi (Iranian, active New York, born 1974), Still Garden, 2011. Pe-cap and Plexiglas; handcut using a stencil burner. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, 2011, NoRuz at the Met Benefit, 2011 (2011.427) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- Seven works by six Iranian artists from three generations comprise the installation Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through September 3, 2012. Of the six artists—Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Parviz Tanavoli, Y. Z. Kami, Shirin Neshat, Afruz Amighi, and Ali Banisadr—four live and work in the United States, while two continue to work in Iran. Although the works demonstrate the diversity of concepts, styles, techniques, and modes of expression seen in Iranian contemporary art, the artists consider themselves to be members of the global artistic community whose work is primarily intended to convey universal messages. Nonetheless, each work reflects an intrinsic connection with Iran and addresses issues of identity and gender, political and social concerns, nostalgia for and pride in a rich artistic and cultural heritage.

All of the works are from the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Iranian contemporary art has been collected since 1993, first by the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and, since last year, by the Department of Islamic Art as well.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (b. 1924) is one of Iran’s pioneering women artists. In a career spanning more than five decades, she has worked in both her native Iran and the United States. She combines traditional reverse-glass painting, mirror mosaics, and principles of Islamic geometry with modern concepts of minimalism. Flight of the Dolphin—a reflective kaleidoscope of hundreds of mirror fragments—creates the effect of moving ripples on a two-dimensional surface.

One of the founders of the Saqqakhana School, which focused on the intersection of contemporary practices with traditional Persian folk art forms, Parviz Tanavoli (b. 1937) began to create his legendary heech sculptures—sculptural renditions of the Persian word for “nothing”—in the early 1960s. These sculptures are deeply rooted in Rumi’s mystical poetry, visualizing the Sufi belief that God creates everything from nothing. Poet Turning into Heech is a whimsical and anthropomorphic rendition of “nothing” as it envelops a poet.

Since the 1980s, Y. Z. Kami (b. 1956) has focused on the human face. His expressionless portraits, in which the sitters often gaze directly at the viewer, have been compared to funerary portraits of the third to first century B.C. from El-Fayyum, Egypt. Because Kami’s subjects—simply called Faces—are numbered but not identified, the works evoke anonymous individuals rather than particular people.

The veiled, gun-bearing women and the black-and-white photograph format of Shirin Neshat’s (b. 1957) work suggest newspaper clippings that show Iranian women’s involvement in the Iran-Iraq War and the Islamic Revolution. In Way in Way Out from the Women of Allah series, the woman’s hand gesture suggests prayer, and the popular prayer inscribed on the edge of her white veil reads: “I give a hand so I can be held.”

Afruz Amighi (b. 1974) was raised in New York by Zoroastrian and Jewish parents. Her work is infused with global awareness and a distanced view of her native country’s turmoil. Vegetal and geometric patterns bridge contemporary sensibilities and artistic references from Iran, Ottoman Turkey, and Andalusia. Still Garden is created by the projection of light through a hand-cut stencil sheet of woven polyethylene (the material used to construct refugee tents).

As a child, Ali Banisadr (b. 1976) lived through the Iran-Iraq War. He paints the sounds and sights of war. The visual and narrative content of his works is shaped by his exposure to war, pop culture, cinema, graphic novels, and European painting. Interrogation is one of his apocalyptic paintings, in which meticulously rendered figures and monumental expanses reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch are combined with abstract brushwork and gestural compositions.

The acquisition of the works by Parviz Tanavoli, Afruz Amighi, and Ali Banisadr was made possible by proceeds from the 2011 NoRuz and the Met Benefit.

Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection is installed in The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, which is dedicated to focused exhibitions drawn primarily from the Museum’s holdings. It is located within the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, which opened November 1, 2011, after a comprehensive eight-year renovation.

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