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Asia Society Presents Drawings by Iranian Satirist Ardeshir Mohassess in First US Retrospective
Ardeshir Mohassess (born 1938, Iran), Today's martyrs in honor of tomorrow's martyrs. 1978. Ink on paper, 18 X 24 in. Collection of Professor Ali Banuazizi. Photo: Richard Lee.

NEW YORK.- Ardeshir Mohassess: Art and Satire in Iran provides a unique artist's perspective on a tumultuous period in Iran's history. The exhibition—guest-curated by artists Shirin Neshat and Nicky Nodjoumi—focuses on monochromatic ink drawings by Ardeshir Mohassess, who was born in Iran in 1938 and has lived in New York since 1976. The exhibition is the first retrospective of Mohassess's work to be presented in the United States. His work has been published in international journals, magazines, and newspapers, including the New York Times.

The exhibition is comprised of nearly 70 drawings, primarily from 1976 to 2000, and is organized in two sections. The first includes works created before the revolution that brought an end to the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (reigned 1941–79) and instated a theocracy led by Ayatollah Khomeini. The second section includes works created after the 1979 revolution.

"Asia Society has a longstanding commitment to presenting exhibitions of Persian arts and culture," says Asia Society Museum Director and Vice President, Global Art Programs, Melissa Chiu. "In the past few years we have staged major exhibitions on Iran's important artistic achievements during the Sasanian and Safavid eras. Ardeshir Mohassess's insightful and highly personal views on Iran in the twentieth century are crucially important to our understanding of Iran and its role in the world today."

Curators Neshat and Nodjoumi, who have both found inspiration in the life and art of Mohassess, describe the narratives in his drawings as "at once dark, disturbing, terribly violent, and frightening, yet intensely emotional, satirical, and arresting."

Mohassess is a self-taught artist who began drawing early in his childhood. By the 1960s, after receiving a degree in political science and law from Tehran University, he was providing political drawings to Iranian newspapers and journals. With a deep understanding of the cultural history and socio-political condition of his country, he produced drawings and illustrations informed by traditional Persian arts and culture that attracted the attention of intellectuals, poets, and writers.

His work appealed to those who were disaffected with the Shah and yet did not subscribe to the religious fundamentalism of the mullahs, and became emblematic as the voice of dissent in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s.

The political and social commentary in his work also attracted the notice of the secret police under the Shah. After repeated warnings from the Iranian authorities, Mohassess left Iran in 1976 for what he thought would be a temporary stay in the United States. However, following the outbreak of the revolution, which brought an end to the reign of the Pahlavi Shahs, Mohassess chose to remain in New York, where he still lives today.

Works in the Exhibition
Between 1976 and 1979, Mohassess created a series of 39 drawings, titled Life in Iran, offering a picture of Iran's social, political, and cultural life during this time of great upheaval. The complete series is on view in the first section of the exhibition, together with his early drawings and illustrations. Although the drawings are set in the Qajar dynasty (1833–1925), they relate to the reign of the shah and are inspired by real events.

Mohassess had criticized the Shah's rule but following the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the post-revolutionary theocracy that came to power, he turned his critical eye on the new government. The style of his drawings changed in this later period, but their depictions of authority and use of humor and sarcasm remain constant. Although the subjects of his drawings are specific to Iran, they may also be read more broadly as expressing a universal opposition to injustice and authoritarianism.

A selection of items from Mohassess's studio in New York will be on display, including rarely seen personal photographs and sketchbooks from the time the artist was still living in Iran, and some of the original magazines, catalogues, books, and newspaper pages in which his drawings were published. Also on view will be reproductions of drawings from the 1960s and 70s, the originals of which were either destroyed or confiscated by Iranian authorities.

Works and objects in the exhibition are on loan from the US Library of Congress and from several private collections in the United States. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated 120-page catalogue including an introduction by the curators, an essay by Hamid Dabashi, and excerpts from an interview with Mohassess conducted in Tehran in 1973 by noted Iranian poet and writer Esmail Kho'i.

The exhibition is made possible with major support from Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and Sheila and Hassan Nemazee. WNYC is a radio sponsor of this exhibition.

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