Rokni Haerizadeh, Laleh Khorramian, others
Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East
30 Jan – 9 May 09
It is unfortunate that it is grouped under a label – “Middle East” – because there is plenty of work here that could easily stand on its own without any sort of appeal to current events or sociopolitical interest to make it relevant.
Rokni Haerizadeh’s “Typical Iranian Funeral” (2008) and “Typical Iranian Wedding” (2008), for example, are both beautiful paintings in their own right, recalling Renoir with their crowds and parties, but because of their titles they are made into sociocultural documents. The viewer does not remark, “What a beautiful work,” but, “How beautiful those Iranian weddings must be.” Maybe this is a necessity for artists from Southwest Asia; maybe Western collectors have certain expectations for them – that their work should discuss the social realities of their communities – that they have to play into to gain a broader audience.
There is nothing wrong with capturing a place or event in art, of course, but the use of the term “Middle East” – not to mention “unveiled” – in the exhibit title reveals an intent to capitalize on people’s interest in current events. The Middle East is only a geopolitical locus, an imagined space which someone can certainly be from, but once we see them as from the Middle East rather than a specific country or Southwest Asia or North Africa we can only see their work as engaging the associations that make up the term “Middle East”.
Laleh Khorramian’s “Eden – 1st Generation” (2005) and “Some Comments on Empty and Full” (2008) are perhaps simultaneously the most interesting, for me, and least concerned with the expectations of Western art buyers on the outside looking in. Her paintings are made from pressing paper against the paint she has applied to sheet of glass. She then created tiny scenes and figures on the runny surface which, combined with the root systems of drips and hills of paint layers, give birth to a complex and mythical landscape. The details – both intended by the artist’s hand and spontaneously caused by the paint on glass – are fascinating.
Charles Saatchi was born in Baghdad, but, commendably, there is nothing here that would lead one to necessarily suspect that. Some reviews have applauded the originality of Saatchi’s uncovering of the largely unknown talent of the region. Certainly there is something commendable about his discoveries – as I said above, most of the pieces are striking – but there is little original about pointing out critiques of the governments or social mores of the region. This is what we completely expect.