THE NEXT GENERATION:
CONTEMPORARY IRANIAN CALLIGRAPHY
Habib Faraj Abadi
June 7 – August 18, 2012
Iranian art has entered a particularly significant period of transformation, driven by a thriving artistic community both inside and outside of Iran. Galerie Kashya Hildebrand will present six emerging contemporary artists of Iranian origin who are pushing Iranian art in bold new directions. Although the artists have been trained in and inspired by classical Iranian calligraphy, tradition serves them mainly as a point of departure for their explorations of this art form. In an effort to document and recognize the importance of what is happening in contemporary Iranian art, the exhibition has gathered together work by young artists who represent the vanguard of this exciting period of transition.
The Next Generation showcases how these artists, working on both sides of Iran’s borders, deliver rare and unexpected insights into the artistic energy of a culture that is constantly evolving and adapting. Their use of calligraphy is significant: the practice was originally developed to transmit the word of God in written form. The idea was that the perfect word of Allah should be written down in a suitably perfect script. As a result, mastering the art often required years of rigorous training, and learning the various writing styles demanded strict adherence to established rules. Calligraphers, then, viewed themselves as artisans – not as artists. For them, an entirely original creation was not the highest aim; the highest aim was mastery within a long tradition.
While the “next generation” of artists in this exhibition have received varying degrees of calligraphy training, their artistic journeys and their particular historical moment have inspired them to become artists, not artisans. Instead of following calligraphic traditions, these artists have followed in the footsteps of the early masters who first began to revolutionize the form, including Mohammed Ehsai, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, and Nasrollah Afjehei, who were able to study in Iran as well as at art academies in Europe and could travel easily between east and west to pursue new inspirations while developing their own visual language.
What makes this new generation different, however, are its forced responses to shifts in Iran’s political situation. All of these artists grew up in the context of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the Iran / Iraq war (1980-1988), both of which made it challenging to sustain creative processes. Nevertheless, many artists in the 80s continued to work under these adverse conditions and to exhibit in alternative spaces such as private homes. The “next generation,” whose childhood memories include the sounds of air raid sirens, have been profoundly affected by these historical events. Working both inside and outside of the country, they strive to develop their own visual languages, to make art out of the traditions they have inherited. The artists living in exile often feel a sense of detachment, of belonging neither here nor there, but this feeling also drives their sense of engagement. In contrast, the artists living in Iran face restrictions and sanctions that shape their socio-political environment and limit their freedom of expression; in response, they translate their energy into artworks that often address these issues.
Collectively, these selected artists’ practices push the boundaries of calligraphy, exploring it as a medium for expressing the self, originality, and the creative impulse – not just the word of God and the voice of tradition. In consciously choosing to move into a fine art practice with their work, many of these artists have even abandoned the objective of rendering words in a readable form or in a specific calligraphic style; instead, their goal is to expand the expressive potential of the practice. To achieve their own free expression, they are breaking the rules; in doing so, they provide viewers with tangible, sensual experiences that invite them into various modes of expression that would otherwise be inaccessible.