“Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians—The Mohammed Afkhami Collection” presents works by more than twenty artists from Iran and its diaspora. Revising traditional aesthetics and probing subjects such as gender identity, war, peace, religion, and spirituality, the works, which date from 1998 to the present, are realized in a variety of mediums, from painting and sculpture to photography and video installation. Through open critique or subterfuge, humor, spirituality, and poetry, the artists overcome the restrictions and pressures that have affected Iranians (or “Persians,” an expedient term of self-identification within the diaspora) in the past quarter century.
Fereshteh Daftari is the guest curator for this exhibition.
Read the press release for the exhibition.
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Drawn from the Mohammed Afkhami collection, “Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians” presents works by twenty-three artists from Iran and its global diaspora. Dating from 1998 to the present, many of these contemporary works have by now become iconic.
Characterized as rebel, jester, mystic, or poet, each artist impersonates one or more persona at a time or, in different terms, displays a combination of temperaments and attitudes. Formally, whether revising, subverting, or building on tradition, or adopting the language of global contemporary art, these artists tap into critique, humor, their poetic sensibilities, and spirituality to voice their grievances and aspirations over the past quarter-century. Referencing “contemporary Persians,” the exhibition’s title evokes an ancient culture that is still very much alive today.
The artists in this exhibition explore a variety of subjects, from politics, war, and revolution to meditative antidotes to conflict. Some focus on gender and popular culture. Others look at the possibilities of abstraction.
Aesthetics and craft remain central to the variety of media on display, from painting and sculpture to photography, drawing, print, video, and installation. The narratives that emerge in the works have been mostly but not always informed by internal circumstances in Iran and by the role the country plays in the larger world, where it has faced military threat and political demonization, aggravated by a cold war with a hostile superpower and its allies. While some of the works reflect socio-political tensions, others transcend them, adding a note of tranquility to the variegated cultural landscape presented in this exhibition. Alternating tones and temperatures that are heated or cool, messages that are direct or concealed, and approaches that are as idiosyncratic as each individual, the exhibition reveals distinct voices in the highly complex scale of notes that composes Iranian contemporary art.
Artists in the exhibition
Shiva Ahmadi (Born in 1975 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in the Bay Area, California, U.S.)
Morteza Ahmadvand (Born 1981 in Khorramabad, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran)
Shirin Aliabadi (Born 1973 in Tehran, Iran; Died 2018 in Tehran, Iran)
Afruz Amighi (Born 1974 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in New York, U.S.)
Nazgol Ansarinia (Born 1979 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran)
Mahmoud Bakhshi (Born 1977 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran)
Ali Banisadr (Born 1976 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in New York, U.S.)
Alireza Dayani (Born 1982 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran)
Mohammed Ehsai (Born 1939 in Qazvin, Iran. Lives and works in Vancouver, Canada)
Monir Farmanfarmaian (Born 1922 in Qazvin, Iran; Died 2019 in Tehran, Iran)
Parastou Forouhar (Born 1962 in Tehran, Iran; lives and works in Germany)
Shadi Ghadirian (Born 1974 in Tehran, Iran; lives and works in Tehran, Iran)
Rokni Haerizadeh (Born 1978 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Dubai, U.A.E.)
Khosrow Hassanzadeh (Born 1963 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran, and London, U.K.)
Shirazeh Houshiary (Born 1955 in Shiraz, Iran. Lives and works in London, U.K.)
Y.Z. Kami (Born in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in New York, U.S.)
Abbas Kiarostami (Born in Tehran, 1940; Died 2016 in Paris, France)
Farhad Moshiri (Born 1963 in Shiraz, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran, and Paris, France)
Timo Nasseri (Born 1972 in Berlin, Germany. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany)
Shirin Neshat (Born 1957 in Qazvin, Iran. Lives and works in New York, U.S.)
Shahpour Pouyan (Born 1977 in Isfahan, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran, and New York, U.S.)
Hamed Sahihi (Born 1980 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran)
Parviz Tanavoli (Born 1937 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran, Iran, and Vancouver, Canada)
To enjoy the virtual tour of “Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet,” click through the exhibition spaces to explore the galleries.
Watch the Instagram Live tour of “Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet,” hosted by Michelle Yun Mapplethorpe, vice president for global artistic programs and director of Asia Society Museum, financier and philanthropist Mohammed Afkhami, and guest curator Dr. Fereshteh Daftari. The tour streamed live on @asiasociety’s Instagram page on September 17 at 10 a.m. New York time.
To enjoy Asia Society's free audio guide for “Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians—The Mohammed Afkhami Collection,” just look for the audio icon next to select artworks in the exhibition.
For easier mobile access, listen on Soundcloud.
Instagram Live: Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet Exhibition Tour
Friday, September 17, 10 a.m.
A Hamneshini Event on Survival Justice with Morehshin Allahyari
Thursday, October 21, 7 p.m.
Mahsa Vahdat: My Voice Is My Home featuring Bridget Kibbey, Shane Shanahan, and Zara Houshmand
Saturday, November 6, 7:30 p.m.
Virtual Book Club: Brown Album with Porochista Khakpour
Monday, December 6, 8 p.m.
Support for Asia Society Museum is provided by Asia Society Global Arts Collectors Circle, Asia Society Friends of Asian Arts, Arthur Ross Foundation, Sheryl and Charles R. Kaye Endowment for Contemporary Art Exhibitions, Hazen Polsky Foundation, Mary Griggs Burke Fund, Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and New York State Council on the Arts.