Article by A.H. McGavin in Berlin; Friday, Mar. 13, 2015
Romisa Sakaki – “Tehran mysterious city” (2015), oil on canvas; courtesy the artist and Open Walls Gallery.
When curator Masha Mergenthaler-Shamsaei founded the Young Persian Artists collective in 2014, the Iranian contemporary art scene was booming. The global art market couldn’t — and still can’t — seem to satiate its hunger for contemporary Middle Eastern art. Tehran responded to the demand for Iranian art with a massive increase in gallery spaces and artist outlets. Although some might see these developments as promising for young artists, Mergenthaler-Shamsaei found them troublesome. In an interview with The Guardian she expressed her desire to offer emerging Iranian artists a creative outlet outside the increasingly price-driven contemporary art scene in Tehran, where Mergenthaler-Shamsaei saw artists forced to conform to stylistic standards in an effort to sustain themselves.
The Young Persian Artists launched their first pop-up exhibition at Open Walls Gallery on Friday night. Zahra Shafie, Ali Esmeillou, Adel Younesi and Romisa Sakaki contributed works revolving around the exhibition’s theme of Hope, Dreams, Desire. Each artist worked in their own style to produce a series of images that are surreal, mystifying and engaging.
Zahra Shafie – “Desires of Adam’ (2014), oil in canvas; courtesy the Artist and Open Walls Gallery.
Zahra Shafie’s large, figural paintings are the first works viewers encounter when entering the gallery. Her figures stand in small boxes with various objects scattered at their feet, seemingly resigned to their almost empty surroundings. Adel Younesi’s two dreamscape paintings hang to the right of Shafie’s work. Both canvasas are filled with a variety out-of-place elements coexisting within the frame: bears and jesters stand alongside christ amid a background fireworks show, her lending a textural quality to the bizarre scenes. On the room’s final wall are Romisa Sakaki’s flat, colorful images depicting Iranian domestic life. Sakaki’s work offers scintillating insight to the nature of the Iranian private sphere. Familial, romantic and platonic relationships play out across her canvases, offering insight to the complex social realities of Iranian private life. Viewers enter another room to view Ali Esmeillou’s work. His paintings each depict a naked, crowned character surrounded by a series of animals and gear systems. Esmeillou’s work is surreal and disconcerting, in part because of the way he chooses to paint his subjects: his figures appear cold and menacing as they stare out at the viewer, as if waiting for something to happen.
Young Persian Artists is a response to the rapidly commercialized approach to art in Iran, and Hope, Dreams, Desire is a promising look at the collective’s emerging talent. With the increase of global demand for contemporary Iranian art, it’s more than possible Iran could produce the next cohort of promising young artists. Young Persian Artists certainly thinks so – their moniker is a pointed reference to the Young British Artists of the 90’s, hinting at their potential artistic dominance. As Mahsa Mergenthaler-Shamsaei writes on the Young Persian Artist website: “It’s Iran’s turn now.”
Adel Younesi – “Untitled” (2015), oil and acrylic on canvas; courtesy the artist and Open Walls Gallery.
Open Walls Gallery
“Hope, Dreams, Desire” – YOUNG PERSIAN ARTISTS
Exhibition: Mar. 5 – 15, 2015
Stattbad Wedding, Gerichtstr. 65 (click here for map)
A.H. McGavin is a writer based in Berlin, where she spends most of her free time exploring the city and conducting culinary experiments.