2016 is the Year of the Monkey according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. While the lunar calendar and its twelve zodiac animals are distinct to East Asia, images of monkeys feature in the mythology, folklore, art and literature of many cultures around the globe.
This exhibition, drawn from the Ashmolean’s collections of Asian art, celebrates the Year of the Monkey by showing images of monkeys from across Asia. It includes depictions of monkeys in their natural environment and highlights two of the mythical monkey figures best known outside Asia: the Monkey King of Chinese literature and the Hindu monkey warrior Hanuman.
Monkeys in the wild
There are many different species of ape and monkey native to the forests and mountains of Asia, ranging from baboons in the Arabian Peninsula to orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo, long-armed gibbons in China and India, and many varieties of macaque across the whole region. They are widely celebrated in poetry and literature and represented in art.
An exhibition in Wellesley, Massachusetts, highlights the work of master Iranian sculptor who has made folk and religious forms his own
Shadi Harouni for Tehran Bureau
It is rare for an Iranian artist to be widely celebrated at home, withstanding the scrutiny of a nation in love with both art and the contemporary and yet highly critical of its living artists because it recognizes the contemporary as a category imposed from the outside. Born in 1937, Parviz Tanavoli has become a legendary figure through a prolific career as artist, scholar and teacher. Iran’s first significant modern sculptor, he works in a style distinctly his own, undeniably modern, and entirely Iranian.
In bringing together over 50 years of his art in his first US solo museum exhibition, the Davis Museum has the task of engaging with thousands of years of cultural heritage, which Tanavoli draws on with fervour and ease. He neither imitates nor ignores the Iranian visual lexicon, but rather makes it his own and expands upon it.
Tanavoli is one of the handful of artists responsible for the Saghakhaneh style, which developed in the early 1960s as young, mainly western-educated artists sought to reconcile distinctly Iranian forms with the language of contemporary art. In doing so they turned to traditional forms, touching on pre-Islamic and Shia Muslim art and architecture, as well as Iranian folk motifs.
Among those associated with the style, Tanavoli’s work embodies the widest range of cultural signifiers, from the grandiose to the familiar, from the ancient to the now. His scholarship has been impressive in its scope and influence. Tanavoli has published books on locks, talismans, gravestones, horse and camel trappings from tribal Iran, rugs and textiles, make-up boxes, tablecloths, ceramics, and the magic of letters and numbers, among other topics. He is by temperament a collector, and the innumerable hours he has spent scouring flea markets, villages, and artisans’ workshops have deeply affected his work.
It is indeed often difficult to distinguish an established cultural motif from one Tanavoli has established. When one thinks of an Iranian form, one is as likely to visualise a Tanavoli as an ancient relief. The pseudo-cuneiforms covering his more recent Wall series are just as much etched into my mind as the 2500-year-old inscriptions on the side of a granite boulder at the foot of Mount Alvand in Hamedan province, to which I made weekly pilgrimages as a child.
As the country has grown more secular, Tanavoli has built up and maintained certain religious motifs as a significant part of his visual lexicon. A good example is his relationship to locks, as fastened by devotees to the lattice grillwork of Shia shrines.
He shows the same devotion to saghakhanehs, small niches in walls offering passersby drinking water in memory of Imam Hussein, who with his followers was cut off from water before his martyrdom at the battle of Kerbala in AD680. Tanavoli’s devotion to form while excluding function releases the artistic tradition from its mythical aura.
While the lock has been a site of both ingenuity and metaphor in Iranian heritage, it is Tanavoli’s sculptures and extensive research that make it so significant. He ties in religion, myth and history with contemporary hope. He equates the praying hands that fasten locks onto shrines with his own, which sculpt them in the studio, often as small breasts or disproportionate penises.
Tanavoli’s fervour for Iranian formal heritage is balanced by a sense of irreverence and play that give his work relevance beyond a specific cultural context. In Innovation in Art, 1964, he cuts a vaginal opening into a handmade Persian rug to make room for a toilet ewer, a scatological object most common and most rejected in the Iranian domestic psyche. The ewer is painted after a Jasper Johns Target and the intricate patterns of the rug are flattened into kitsch as they are crudely traced in paint.
His signature Heech series, which has for years been a staple of Tanavoli’s practice, was conceived of in 1965 as a protest. The three letters of the word heech, meaning nothing or nothingness in Farsi, took form in the decorative Nastaliq script both as a protest against the empty overuse of calligraphy in the increasingly popular Saghakhaneh style and the individuals, the institutions and the market that embraced this emptiness. The many years Tanavoli has spent with Heech, and the sheer number of pieces produced with his factory-like ambition, take it beyond the cynicism of its initial protest.
It is radical for an artist to make “nothing”. But Tanavoli’s heech is constant neither in form nor narrative. The pieces are made in all sizes and media, from bronze to fibre-glass and neon lights. Heech emerges from a box, melts into its chair, lies beneath a table and embraces another. As it takes form it grows both endearing and ridiculous. Its irony, not lost on the artist, points to his nostalgia for the figure, a need for play, for narrative, for history.
Tanavoli cannot stay on a heech hiatus. However freely he has drawn from and built upon his own heritage, he has always done so with great care. It is partly this sense of responsibility that has given him the popular status he enjoys in Iran. While it may be a source of pleasure and inspiration, it is no doubt also a burden for any artist, one he has borne seamlessly, and with grace and humility.
Parviz Tanavoli at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, curated by Lisa Fischman and Shiva Balaghi, offers more than 175 objects from the artist’s expansive oeuvre. The exhibition opens today and runs through 7 June 2015
LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Craft & Folk Art Museum and Farhang Foundation present Focus Iran: Contemporary Photography and Video. This juried exhibition features photography and video works from artists around the world who have documented contemporary, intimate life relating to Iran and the Iranian diaspora. The exhibition will be on view at CAFAM from January 25 through May 3, 2015. The juried exhibition was organized as a means to identify and expose emerging artists from around the world whose works reflected on aspects of Iranian culture or heritage. The breadth and impact of the open call resulted in 615 submissions from across Europe and North America, Iran, Australia, and Japan. A final selection of 36 works by 33 artists was chosen by a panel of jurors immersed in the field of photography: Steven Albahari, publisher of 21st Editions; visual artist Ala Ebtekar; and Lucie Foundation Executive Director Cat Jimenez. Six video works were also selected, displaying skillful techniques in the short documentary format, as well as animation. “Partnering with the magnanimous Farhang Foundation has been a wonderful opportunity to reach out to an international pool of artists,” says CAFAM Executive Director Suzanne Isken. “Each of the works offers a vision of Iran from an artist’s perspective. This intimate portrait stands in contrast to the journalistic point of view most often served to non-Iranian audiences.” “Farhang Foundation is dedicated to creating platforms to showcase works of emerging international artists which explore themes of Iranian heritage and culture,” says Farhang Foundation Fine Arts Council Chair Roshi Rahnama. “Focus Iran has been a perfect collaboration with the visionary Craft & Folk Art Museum, co-creating a substantive and inclusive photography and video competition resulting in a strong and diverse body of work selected by the esteemed jury panel. We are thrilled to share this celebratory exhibition of international works with the Los Angeles community and beyond.” The selected artists: Sohrab Akhavan (USA), Mohammad Amin Nadi (Canada), Amir Behroozi (Iran), Ahmad Belbasi (Iran), Arash Bolouri (Iran), Yasmin Chegini (USA), Jovan Erfan (USA), Ramin Etemadi Bozorg (Iran), Majid Farahani (Iran), Marjan Farsad (Canada), Milad Haddadiyan (Iran), Mehdi Hawaii Sardehaii (USA), Judi Iranyi (USA), Shahrokh Jafari (USA), Morvarid K (France), Saeide Karimi (USA) and Siavash Yansori (USA), Atefeh Khas (Iran), Gelareh Kiazand (Turkey) and Kambiz Safari (Iran), Wawrzyniec Kolbusz (Poland), Samira Kouhi (Iran), Shaghayegh Mazloom (Iran), Ali Mohammadi (Iran), Siamak Nasiri Ziba (USA), Grace Oh (USA), Omid Omidvari (Iran), Sepideh Salehi (USA), Jalal Shamsazaran (Iran), Sheida Soleimani (USA), Fazilat Soukhakian (USA), Ramin Talaie (USA), Marjan Vayghan (USA)
Persian artists introduced a range of innovative ideas, both technical as well as artistic …
Persian miniature painting transformed book covering into an elaborate art form.
One of a pair of lacquer painted covers. Persia, late 16th century. Private Collection, London Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
The art of binding and the protection of scripts are as old as writing itself. The contribution made by Musli craftsmen has been a significant element in the history of this craft and the contribution of Persian craftsmen is particularly important. It was Persian artists who introduced a range of innovative ideas, both technical as well as artistic, and these were to have a profound impact on subsequent bindings and decorative styles. In the earlier period of book production within the Islamic world, book covers were generally decorated in a restrained manner. However, around the sixteenth century, Persia took a lead in artistic…
In recent years, Chinese artist Zhang Huan has turned his back on the aggressive performance and installation pieces of his youth to embrace Buddhism and its serene understanding of the world—though the philosophy had never been far way from his life. His latest meditative work, Sydney Buddha, is currently on show at Sydney’s Carriageworks, as part of the Sydney Festival, and continues the art center’s ambitious program of bringing international artists to the city. Last year’s program included Christian Boltanski’s monumental installation Chance (2011), and 2013 saw Song Dong’s paean to futility, Waste Not (2005), which turned more than 10,000 items of domestic rubbish into a work of art. As this year’s featured artist, Zhang Huan has more than risen to the occasion with Sydney Buddha, turning 20 tons of incense ash gathered from Buddhist temples into a monumental sculpture—a work that touches on the inevitable consequences of life. Standing in the presence of the work, one can sense decay and death—and yet somehow also a hint of hope—hanging in the air.
Buddhism is the most common non-Christian religion in Australia. The country is also home to Nan Tien, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. Nan Tien, in Mandarin, means “Southern Paradise,” an apt translation considering the manicured lawns, bamboo stands, koi pond and Chinese vernacular architecture housed within the temple’s Wollongong compound in New South Wales. Upon entering the temple, visitors are often seen lighting incense sticks in a special burner as part of a religious ritual.
Burning incense gradually transforms into fragile sticks of ash, until gravity, or the merest breath of air, turns them into dust. The fragility of such ashes is something that Zhang has experimented with in recent years—including in his paintings and giant Buddha sculptures, which have been made using the temporal material. Depending on the atmospheric conditions of Carriageworks, Sydney Buddha may end up crumbling into little more than a pile of sacred ashes by the end of the show’s run.
Zhang is one of China’s premiere artists, who has been living in Shanghai since 2005, following several years in America during which prices for his work sky-rocketed in the art market. Upon his return to China, Zhang’s initial goal was to employ 50 assistants, a figure which has more than doubled over time. When I visited the artist’s studio in 2007, I saw his “ash-sorting room,” where six men were crouched on haunches while delicately separating the ashes into different colored piles of gray, soft white and coal black. The smell of incense in this enclosed room was intoxicating, and the assistants’ task of sorting the ashes appeared as a monumental execution of patience. Zhang assured me that this same production process it is still practiced today.
The ash used in Zhang’s work comes from Buddhist temples located near Shanghai, and the 20 tons used in Sydney Buddha took the artist three years to collect. “We treat the ash as a precious gift from the temples . . . we make a donation [to them in exchange] and invite the blessings that come with the ash to our studio,” Zhang told ArtAsiaPacific through an interpreter.
Sydney Buddha is, in fact, comprised of two statues, each standing 5.3 meters tall. One is an aluminum mold from which its mirror image is cast from a mixture made of ash and water. Upon removing the mold, the ash Buddha is completed, with the structure of its face and and one hand supported by special masks. These masks were later removed once the installation was premiered in Sydney, lending a performance element to the work. The raised hand, representing Buddha’s fearlessness, crashed silently down while the facial features fell away like wisps of clouds. The two statues have since been left facing each other in inquisitorial repose—the aluminum figure representing permanence, while the ash-Buddha, designed to disintegrate over time, embodies transience.
Commenting on the abandonment of his earlier gritty performances in favor of calm, spiritual works anchored in Buddhism, the 49-year-old artist insists “it is all to do with age.” Whatever the reason, it seems Zhang has discovered an inner peace that is manifest not only in his art, but in the asceticism that he practices in his daily life. “These Buddhas are not simple Buddhas, but are collective memories and hopes of our Chinese peoples,” says Zhang. “When I was young I always had a lot of fear and insecurity and aggression, but now that I am almost 50, as Confucius once said, I can see the end. [In] China we aspire for the ‘Chinese dream’: the revival of our culture, our history, our civilization. Our Chairman Xi Jinping says the day we realize the Chinese dream will be in 2049, one hundred years after Chairman Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China. We believe this.”
Feb 21 2015 to Jun 21 2015
The second half of 16th century until first half of 19th century was a time of cultural merging that saw Persian themes, Indian colours, and Western influences find their way into Indian architecture and art.
Never before shown in North America, the exhibition Visions Of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin features exquisite paintings from this period produced in the Mughal court, the Deccani Sultanates, and the Rajput kingdoms. An outstanding group of elephant portraits, vivid evocations of daily life, royal portraits, and dramatic illustrations of epics and myths are among the highlights of the thematically organized exhibition. All works have been selected from the outstanding personal collection of British artist Howard Hodgkin (b. 1932), whose own paintings are displayed in the concurrent exhibition Inspired By India: Paintings by Howard Hodgkin.
Organized by the Aga Khan Museum in association with the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Maharaja Bakhat Singh
Nagaur, Rajasthan, India, ca. 1735
The Collection of Howard Hodgkin,
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford,
Acc. No. LI118.36
In 2007, Chinese photography collector Tong Bingxue received a phone call from a man seeking an appraisal for a recently purchased book of photo portraits. As Tong recounts in A Life in Portraits, a quick examination of the book revealed a startlingly unique, unified subject: one man’s yearly portrait, taken faithfully and consecutively from 1907 until his death in 1968. Tong purchased the album and set about researching its subject.
Tong’s inquiries revealed that the man in the pictures was Ye Jinglu, born on October 6, 1881, in the city of Fuzhou. With the exception of some travel to London as a young man, Ye spent the majority of his life in Fuzhou, working as a shop manager and businessman. In 1907, at the age of 27 and newly married, he began his habit of taking an annual portrait.
Each photo is both a snapshot of the maturation of one man and an indicator of the rapid political changes occurring in China, making for a series with a remarkable tension. The first portrait, from 1907, marks the final years of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Ye wears an outfit typical for men of that time. Five years later, in 1912, his hair is short — he no longer wears a braided pigtail, a change perhaps indicative of the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the 1912 beginning of the Republic of China under president Sun-Yat Sen. Tong speculates that Ye’s 1949 portrait also offers a political reference: he appears seated, reading the newspaper in a style that alludes to a revolutionary photo of Mao reading the paper. By Ye’s 1950 portrait he has donned a “Lenin cap,” a style popularized by its namesake.
“To watch a person change over time can trick us into thinking we share an intimacy,” wrote Susan Minot in the New York Times Magazine about photographer Nicholas Nixon’s yearly, serialized portrait series The Brown Sisters. Looking at Ye’s pictures offers viewers the same moving, if illusionary, experience — the sense that we’ve witnessed a life passing by, as well as, in this case, the life of a country.
Gallery view of Nhà Sàn Collective. All photographs by the author.
Installation view of Triệu Minh Hải’s ‘Latcarf | Fractal’ at Nhà Sàn Collective (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
HANOI — On a recent visit, I asked everyone I met who was remotely involved in Hanoi’s contemporary art scene what the must-see experimental spaces were. Nhà Sàn Collective topped almost every list. Located in the Old Quarter near my hotel, I visited three times.
Tucked away on the second floor of a building and located next to Art Vietnam Gallery (also recommended), Nhà Sàn Collective is a small experimental space founded and run by local Vietnamese artists and curators. The gallery and current exhibition would feel right at home in Bushwick or Oakland — that is, not quite polished or professional enough to be welcome in Chelsea, Manhattan, or on Kearny Street in San Francisco, but high-quality and exciting work. My favorite kind.
Informational video of the artist’s process and inspiration.
Triệu Minh Hải video explaining his process and inspiration
The current solo show, titled Latcarf | Fractal, features an elegant and ephemeral series of pencil drawings by the artist Triệu Minh Hải. The drawings are hung touching, side by side in a nearly continuous work that floats off the gallery’s walls. There’s also a video in which the artist explains the inspiration and background of his work.
Triệu spent three years researching and experimenting with fractals to make this body of work. With a background in engineering but training at Vietnam’s University of Fine Arts too, Triệu struggled to strike a balance between the rigid — albeit beautiful — mathematics of fractals and the more fluid and interpretive qualities of art. Latcarf | Fractal is the result of that tension.
Detail of work on display.
Detail of work by Triệu Minh Hải
The work is comprised of obsessive pencil strokes, which through slight variations in contour, length, and direction create mesmerizing gray forms. The drawings pull you in as your eyes constantly spot new patterns and associations, like a child watching the clouds. The only distraction comes with occasionally awkward transitions from one panel to the next. The work recalls Tara Donovan’s untitled ballpoint pen drawings from the early 2000s, but less generative and grand in scale. It feels as though Triệu very much maintained control of the forms in his drawings; I remain undecided as to whether this is a flaw or not.
Work by Triệu Minh Hải (click to enlarge)
Wanting to learn more about the space and the group, I sat down with Lê Thuận Uyên, Nhà Sàn Collective’s general manager since April. A fourth-generation Hanoier, Lê recently returned to Vietnam after receiving her MA in Cultural and Creative Industries from King’s College London. She is clearly passionate about Hanoi’s art scene.
“Artists here don’t have the support they need, and I wanted to help fill that gap,” Lê explained, speaking with a British accent. As one of the most famous locally run arts spaces in Hanoi, Nhà Sàn Collective was perfect for her.
Artists Nguyen Manh Duc and Tran Luong founded the organization in 1998 as Nhà Sàn Studio; it was soon heralded as Hanoi’s first experimental art space. The studio was located in Nguyen’s home, a traditional Muong house on stilts, and served as a hub and breeding ground for Hanoi contemporary art for many years.
In 2010 Nhà Sàn Studio was forced to shut down by officials who were unhappy with its programs. But a few years later a new generation of artists slyly revived it by changing the name to Nhà Sàn Collective, a means of circumventing government pressure as well as continuing the spirit and mission of the original space. Nguyễn Quốc Thành, Nguyễn Phương Linh, and Nguyễn Anh Tuấn Mami launched this second incarnation in 2013, with the original founders acting as advisors.
Entrance of the gallery.
Entrance to Nhà Sàn Collective
Their new name also represents the devaluing of the physical space, celebrating instead the people, ideas, and spirit behind Nhà Sàn. “I wanted to help maintain Nhà Sàn Collective as a hub for art that is open for all and where everyone feels they belong,” Lê said. “Hanoi needs that kind of community to strengthen the arts scene.”
Latcarf | Fractal continues at Nhà Sàn Collective (24 Lý Quốc Sư, Hanoi, Vietnam) through December 14.
Tagged as: Hanoi, Lê Thuận Uyên, Nhà Sàn Collective, Triệu Minh Hải, Vietnam