Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nowruz Art Show Celebrates Community and Fresh Starts

Lots of the time when I look at or write about exhibitions, I'm looking at that exhibition like a kind of object, something that exists apart from other cultural experiences a reader might have.

But I'm also often interested in how art interacts with community building. This is what sparked my interest in an exhibition related to Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which happens March 21 and is celebrated by 300 million people worldwide. The exhibition is currently on at Queen Gallery in Toronto's Moss Park neighbourhood to March 26.

Here's an excerpt from my article on the Nowruz show, out in today's Toronto Star:

On March 21, 300 million people worldwide will celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Some members of Toronto’s Iranian community started gearing up last week with an artistic spin on the holiday — an exhibition at Moss Park’s Queen Gallery.

Organized by Queen Gallery director (and former Tehran architect) Mahrokh Ahankhah, the show features five Iranian artists who live in Toronto — Afsaneh Safari, Davood Mategh, Firoozeh Tangestanian, Sayeh Irankhah and Touka Neyestani. Although the exhibition’s works range widely, Nowruz’s theme of rebirth is mirrored in these artists’ lives as many try to make a fresh creative start in Canada.

Back in Tehran, Afsaneh Safari operated her own gallery and an underground life-drawing club.

“In my country, most university art students didn’t know how to draw the ear or the neck because the model usually had a scarf,” she explains. “I thought, we really need” a nude model. “But in the governmental art centres, they cannot do this. So one of my friends and I decided to have this privately.”

Soon, university professors were sending students over to Afsaneh’s gallery for the sessions. “It was quite a nice experience,” she says.

Safari and her husband now live in a Bayview Village apartment where she does freelance graphic design.

“It’s really hard to just live between canvases,” she says of her new, cramped, at-home studio space. But she also says she’s happy to be in Toronto, where “there’s lots of culture and lots of people live together peacefully.”

Researching this article was a real eye-opener for me, as I know (as readers can likely tell) very, very little about life in Iran. I appreciate Queen Gallery director Mahrokh Ahankhah taking time to chat with me, as well as artist Afsaneh Safari and art collector (who hopes soon to be a gallerist himself) Iraj Milanian.

Queen Gallery's upcoming Contact shows also look like a great opportunity to learn more about the politics of images in Iran, which I touch on at the end of the article.

(Painting by Sayeh Irankhah from Queen Gallery)

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