Following the success of their space in Tehran, last Thursday (5th of April), CAMA Gallery have celebrated their opening in London with an inaugural exhibition of nineteen contemporary Iranian artists. Whilst the works of all the artists are vastly diverse in theme and style, ranging from hyper-realistic paintings to calligraphy, each piece selected aims to stimulate the senses of the viewer.
CAMA Gallery is still not very busy when I make my panting entrance at quarter past six, fifteen minutes after the official opening time. Other than myself, just a few other guests can be seen awkwardly roaming around the cramped room, decisively outnumbered by a plethora of photographers, waiters and lighting crew. I like it better this way as it means I won’t have to elbow my way through to every painting. After getting my hands on a glass of prosecco (or was it champagne? I still can’t tell the difference), I focus my attention on the astounding pieces of art that surround me. I am immediately captured by a large canvas entitled UK, made of two overlapped layers of colour: the first and thickest layer is an illustration of the English flag, sustained by a second layer of rhythmic Persian writings made of a glittery blue oil colour. Thinking back to it now, Fereydoon Omidi’s flag might be considered as the most representative work of the exhibition; it communicates friendship and understanding amongst countries and cultures, in this case, the Iranian artistic wave and its hosting shore, England.
CAMA’s Sensation is a most exceptional proof that artistic (but also scientific, cultural and educational) collaborations between nations can generate something truly beautiful, and therefore deserve further exploration. The exhibition is a rare window into the works of emerging artists living in Iran, whose image in the global spotlight has so far been defined mainly by political circumstances, such as the eight years long Iran-Iraq war and the regional dispute with Saudi Arabia. The variety of visual experiments experienced by Iran’s contemporary arts scene is itself a product of its society’s existential transience following such events. What can be seen in these works is a deep desire for Persian artists to portray both their joys and pains, and the simple pleasure of watching life. ‘Persian painting is an observation of Persian life; and Persian life is an existence fraught with consistent renewal and continual reversion to traditionalism’, recites Amir Soghrati, himself a Persian painter. The paintings transform from representations of still life, to portraits of veiled women with weapons in their hands, to abstract depictions of urban landscapes evoking global crises. I cannot tell you how much of a refreshing experience it is to finally see Oriental realities as rendered through the eyes of Eastern subjects, instead of as being the same old product of the Western exoticising gaze.
What I also find incredibly refreshing is that a considerable number of works on display are by female artists, and the curator of the show, Mona Khosheghbal, is also a woman. Khosheghbal, who was unable to attend, told the Guardian that she called the exhibition ‘Sensation’ because the concept allowed her to choose a selection that would best showcase the variety of art made by the country’s emerging artists. The exhibition is crafted over two floors: the first floor showcases characteristically abstract paintings, such as Tehran based artist Bita Vakili’s apocalyptic landscapes, and the blue and black calligraphic paintings by Fereydoon Omidi. My personal favourites, though, are all grouped on the second floor: agglomerations of human and animal figures painted within each other, mythological motifs, emotions depicted in the form of female portraits, and Monet-inspired representations of natural subjects. All the works are completely different in style, ranging from Pop-Art, to Naturalism, to Expressionism. However, all of these have a deeper meaning that lies beyond mere colour, pattern and design, and is to be identified in visual symbols such as herbal, animal, mythological and calligraphic forms. The continuity of literature, poetry, folklore and mythical figures in art is a longstanding tradition, deeply rooted in the history of Persian painting.
A Persian artist strives continually in the search for her/his roots and origins in the pursuit for novelty whilst seeking modernity and contemporaneity. Sensation is a combination of the exploration of one’s ancient Persian roots with a focus on modernity and the future, and, hopefully, the promise for more such beautiful and thought-provoking exhibitions to come.