Amir Farhad is a military brat – the son of a military father. His father was isolated and disillusioned after the Revolution of 1979, but he did not desert the army during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Farhad spent his childhood and adolescence on air-force bases and his teenage years in Shahrak-e Ekbatan, a suburb that enjoyed relatively more freedom than was the norm in Tehran during the 80s.
In his art, Farhad takes aim at the socio-economic class differentiation that has resulted from Iran’s transition from an era of fundamentalist revolution to one of increasing capitalism. Behind his humor, however, lies an obscene, barbaric violence. For example, he has shamelessly recited poetry to offend all that is considered respectable. It is this anarchistic characteristic that differentiates him from the conventional decorative romanticism of Near Eastern art. His paintings are a visual representation of the contrast between the beautiful and the ugly in the Middle East. Like the Middle East of his youth, his works are filled with stoolpigeons, lovers, aristocrats, and servicemen.
Farhad’s art, like his life, is a combination of the sordid misery of military bases and the lustfulness of the post-war middle-class; it is an amalgam of New York elitism and suburban low art. His pieces contain traces of prayers, truck-driver poetry, war maps, religio-historic tales, sexy Beverly Hills movie stars, and the flashiness of the Shemiran1 lifestyle. His “Shokoofeh No”2 series ridicules the intelligentsia, those who with their heavy handedness drove Iranian contemporary art to a chaos of sexy-political superficiality.
The distaste this 35-year-old artist feels for the politicization of society is visualized in a nauseating outpouring of dense scribbles. In this mass, one can find signs of leftist idealism, rightist opportunism, pathetic working-class witticism, and facetious bourgeoisie disillusionment – all coming together in one coherent piece that resists classification as painting, sketch, or merely a collection of forms. His work is a clear manifestation of a generation whose music is underground rap and whose cinema is A Separation.
An affluent neighborhood in northern Tehran.
2An infamous cabaret in Tehran before the Revolution and a sign of the decadence of the Pahlavi regime.
To me, nothing is absolute. My vision for a painting never remains the same from start to finish. This is what makes drawings and paintings so difficult: you start them, but they direct you to where they should go.
I want to fit many things into my work, as if this day is the last day and this world is the last world and everything needs to be expressed here and now. Each work guides me differently, and it is the work that is the final judge, the thing that reveals the real me and my emotions.
My studio is like a battleground; I enter only when I know I am ready – and this might not happen for weeks at a time. Sometimes I will put a work aside in my studio for years while I am working on other projects. The works change all the time until I get a certain feeling, and once this feeling comes, I express it with a vast array of different elements: humans, plants, animals, letters, memories, happiness, love, religion, politics, nostalgia, delusion, poetry, music – all the things that surround and affect human beings on a daily basis.
I live in Tehran, a huge city that encompasses all the contrasts, contradictions, and characteristics of a large metropolis. I am not a child of war; I am the war itself. My works do not come from war; you see the war in my work. It is an internal war. LOOK CLOSER – you will see it all there. I am the narrator and I am illustrating what I have witnessed while growing up in this land. My works are not modern or postmodern. They are a comic vision of my Tehran and my life as I see it.