An Interview With Artist Reza Aramesh
The Iranian-born, UK-based artist spoke with curator Michelle Yun
Artist Reza Aramesh sat down with Michelle Yun, senior curator of modern and contemporary art at Asia Society Museum, for a conversation about his creative process and the concepts behind the limewood sculptures featured in the exhibition Reza Aramesh: 12 noon, Monday 5 August 1963, now on view in our galleries. This interview has been edited and condensed; for the full conversation, visit the exhibition site.
Michelle Yun (MY): Would you please share some background about how you began your artistic practice?
Reza Aramesh (RA): Growing up in the south of Iran, we didn’t have access to museums, and there were no museums or art galleries in the city where I lived. However, there was an amazing secondhand bookshop near my school, which had lots of books containing pictures of European paintings and sculptures. They were all in English, which I couldn't read, but I would buy them for their pictures. This is how I became interested in art.
MY: What inspired you to create your series of limewood sculptures?
RA: In 2010 I saw an incredible exhibition of polychrome sculptures from seventeenth-century Spain, called The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600–1700, curated by Xavier Bray, at the National Gallery in London. It blew my mind. I kept going back to see the exhibition over and over again. This was the starting point for this series of work. I started looking at the idea and mythology of martyrdom using the material vocabulary of seventeenth-century Spanish artists.
MY: Would you please expand upon your process to create this series? What were some of the events that inspired the figures depicted in this exhibition?
RA: Throughout history, we have been telling stories of our wars, conflicts, and sufferings in the form of poetry, literature, and visual art. This is where I find common ground with the western canon. Particularly for this body of work exhibited at Asia Society Museum, I began to enter a dialogue with some of the seventeenth-century Spanish artists by creating four polychrome, hand-carved busts of unknown soldiers. I also made a direct reference to Andreas Schlüter's dying warriors. The busts in the exhibition reference reportage images of conflicts from the 1960s until very recent events like the Vietnam War, the Iran-Iraq War, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, and the Iraq-United States war.
MY: You designed the wall treatment specifically for this installation. Would you please elaborate on the symbolism of the color and patterning of the wallpaper and how you’d like the installation to be read as a whole?
RA: The wallpaper is designed in dialogue with a typical eighteenth-century French style. The base color is called eau de Nil (water of the Nile), which was considered a luxurious color that was often used in palaces and stately homes during the nineteenth century. I decided to take a common pattern of the period wallpaper and juxtapose it with some of the violent images of recent wars. This creates a background for the four sculptures which, in turn, makes the whole piece read as a single installation rather than individual sculptures. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer will become the subject rather than just a spectator.