If an earthquake comes with crumbling mountains and blooming bombs, what will remain of Iranian contemporary art – though today I cannot acknowledge anything Iranian about art? What if just one trend, both known to scholars and schoolchildren, were salvaged by groundless markets? Amongst social turmoil, constant fear and hatred and under tyranny, the mainstream took refuge again in auction houses. Christie’s agents once tried to urge me to change my mind about the United Arab Emirates’s patronage of visual arts for – as they put it – in a two years time it would be possible to exhibit nudes. Those that encapsulated all social limitations in the veil now would of course see nude wall pieces as liberty incarnate. But in ten years time would artists be able to speak of UAE’s Federal Supreme Court that just recently ruled that men can beat their wives and young children as long as no physical marks are left on their body? Or can they speak of the crown prince’s brother (also the brother of the present ruler of Abu Dhabi) who tortured a man with a wooden plank with protruding nails, firing into the sand around his tormented body, forcing a cattle prod into his anus, pouring salt in the poor man’s wounds, ran over him repeatedly with a four-wheel-drive? And just a few days ago in an auction in Dubai they removed Parastou Forouhar’s piece just because the Iranian embassy had ordered. This was no compromise; this was direct support of state censorship. But who will hear of this or of our shut down exhibitions and removed works at Aaran Art Gallery and of the gallerist being questioned at the Ministry of Guidance? 1
Yes, let auction houses, curators, miners and underminers call Iranian artists who work in or for UAE or for auction houses solely subversive or dissident. Yet, how do London or Dubai-based auction houses and galleries come to believe that dissident art leaves a country ruled by tyranny to seek sanctuary in territories in which political institutions are not democratically elected and citizens do not have the right to form political parties or change the government peacefully? Defenders of this out-of-context centre argue that in any event a centre is prerequisite. Even Hans Hans-Ulrich Obrist once told me that “eventually you need a centre; you need a New York.” I am not willing to negate this here 2; the paper For They Know What They Do Know wills to show how this unified “you” is rendered possible only through the agency of a master-signifier and thus on an ideological plane. 3
Stop supporting this façade. Stop gaining money by perpetuating the doxical; stop nourishing undemocratic wealthy countries that are prospering by sanctions against Iran and at the same time keep encouraging the US to launch a military attack against it; stop conducting business with banks that purchase dozens of artworks from an artist and buy one piece from themselves in an auction for hundreds of thousand of dollars only to raise the value of their assets. See that after last year’s turmoil and now under military oligarchy in Iran anonymous artists were reborn and know that there are works of art that cannot be displayed now and here (I will bury them soon in a time capsule. The time will come). At Azad Gallery, Neda Razavipour covered a whole gallery with handmade Persian carpets. The audience entered the gallery, butchering the carpets with scissors: Look, ye wretches, take your fill of the fair sight! 4 Amir Mobed, under the pseudonym, Chris Burden, was shot not by his assistant but by the audience. In a time when stoning in Iran is in focus, the elite gallery wanderers dared to shoot a faceless Chris Burden: 47 people did shoot this Chris Burden; 22 lead shots in the stainless steel box covering his head; 11 in his unarmoured body. And smell the series a photographer did about Tehran. For two years she took photographs of herself in the streets of Tehran with a red pinhole camera. After the coup she continued the series now with bare violence in her background. In the interrogations she was told that she had foreseen that day, that restless unrest broken on the streets of Tehran and so she had been pursuing it ever since, She spent several weeks in prison.
Barbad Golshiri is an Iranian artist and critic whose practice is prolific and wide ranging – extending from photography and sculpture to installation, films and critical writing. He is also translator and editor of Samuel Beckett’s dramatic works in Persian. Most of his works are language-based and contend with art and literature’s plane of feasible; the impossibility of quitting the possible field of expression; the aporia of expressing not to express. Golshiri has also been portrayed as a provocative critic of the current socio-political situation in Iran, hegemony of the new art market of the region and the living doxas.
1. The official name is The Ministry of Culture And Islamic Guidance but neither we nor they spell the word ‘culture’ while speaking of the ministry.
2. And I’m bringing Hans-Ulrich Obrist – whose hand is not even in the pie – into this only to show to what extent the so-called art community finds this façade prerequisite.
3. See: Barbad Golshiri, For They Know What They Do Know, e-flux Journal, #8 (September 2009).
4. Plato, Republic, Book IV, written on takeaway paper bags that the audience took slaughtered carpets with