Meet the Artist: Ali Banisadr
Throughout Asia Society Museum’s exhibition Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians — The Mohammed Afkhami Collection, we are spotlighting participating artists through a series of interviews. First up, we chat with Ali Banisadr, an acclaimed painter whose work is included in collections worldwide, including the British Museum, Centre Pompidou, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others.
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
In the morning after breakfast I typically make drawings with my two young daughters. It is a very rewarding start of the day as I learn how to be free in my drawings from them. Then in the studio, there is a lot of sitting and looking at the painting in progress, a lot of reading, researching, drawing, experimenting, and painting. I am pretty much in the studio every day.
How do you think art’s role has evolved during the pandemic?
I think for the artists such as myself who don’t rely on anyone else to help make their works, not much changed: this was always my schedule to go from home to studio and back. However, I think there was a lot to take in, a lot of visual symbols entered my imagination and worked their way into the paintings. There was just too dense of a year with the pandemic, political upheaval, natural disasters, etc. I think I am always trying to think about the future and what it might look like. In this period, the artist’s vision is very important, to try to make sense and see the seeds in our present moment and what these seeds will evolve into in the future.
How did your upbringing inspire your art?
Growing up in a time of revolution, war, and political unrest for 12 years of my childhood in Iran has definitely had an impact on my vision of the world. I have seen the dark side of humanity from an early age, so I am skeptical of us humans.
What themes does your work in Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians — The Mohammed Afkhami Collection focus on?
With my work because it is so encyclopedic, there are worlds within worlds; it is not easily defined as one theme, there are multiple parallel themes happening at once in the works. Once the viewer is able to identify the figures in my work, it starts to give them a clue about finding a thread which by the way will constantly slip out of your hands as in a dream. I like to create this kind of headspace, where things are in motion but not tangible; this is truest way the imagination works, which has always interested me. The title of my work in the show is a quote by de Kooning. Someone was speaking to him about the advancement of technology and progress of the human race, man landing on the moon, etc, and he said, “we haven’t landed on earth yet” which I thought it would be a perfect title for my painting.
Would you describe yourself as a rebel, jester, mystic, or poet? Why?
We contain multitudes, so I would say all of the above. Who are other contemporary artists who are capturing your interest right now and why? I am always interested in artists who are making their own path, creating their own worlds; I can see whose work will matter in a couple of hundred years from now. I think Huma Bhabha is one of my favorite sculptors. Peter Doig, Chris Ofili, and Neo Rauch are fantastic painters and there is magic in their work. I just saw a powerful show of Philip Guston which blew me away.
What is an upcoming project of yours or exhibition that you’re involved in that you’re most excited about?
I currently have a big museum show up at Palazzo Vecchio and Museo [Stefano] Bardini in Florence, which revolves around the theme of Dante’s Inferno. I have always been fascinated with the renaissance which took place in Florence, so to have a show in this beautiful city where Dante, one of my favorite poets, was born is an honor. There is a book being published about my show, which Mary Jo Bang who has translated The Divine Comedy has written. It is about my work in relation to Dante and she has written a poem about my work as well, so I am very excited for this book to come out very soon. Also, I have a Rizzoli monograph which I worked on for a year which was just published and it is out now. Also, I have two solo shows coming up with Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris 2022 and Victoria Miro in London, 2023.