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“Aredshir Mohasses: Art and Satire in Iran”
Asia Society
Through August 3, 2008

Written by Julia Sirmons
Photographs Courtesy of The Asia Society

Opposite Photo:
Untitled 1985
Ink on paper
H. 10 1/2 x W. 8 1/4 in. (26.9 x 21.5 cm)
Collection of Dr. Ardeshir Babaknia

One of the most arresting images on display in “Aredshir Mohasses: Art and Satire in Iran” -- on display at the Asia Society through August 3 -- is “Untitled,” a 1978 drawing by the illustrator and cartoonist on the eve of the Islamic revolution.
In “Untitled,” a female figure is draped head-to-toe in a chador. The thick pen strokes emphasize the bulkiness of the body-masking, nationally mandated costume. Where the woman’s face should be, a giant rose in full bloom sprouts out and reaches heavenwards.

It’s a powerful symbol of the irrepressible human impulse for self-expression even under the most oppressive regimes. Its potent immediacy is all the more remarkable given that the artist was thousands of miles away from his homeland at the time.

The king is always above the people.
1978 Ink on paper
H. 18 x W. 23 3/4 in. (45.7 x 60.2 cm)
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

While he started his career as a cartoonist for the Iranian daily Kahyan in 1963, the critical undertones of his work soon angered the regime of the Shah, and Mohasses fled to New York. But he continued to chronicle the political and social upheavals of his homeland, and his illustrations have been feature in prestigious publications like The New York Times.

The exposition features 69 of Mohasses’ drawings. Spanning almost twenty-five years of his career, they are a testament to Mohasses’ unwavering critical eye and the fact that when it comes to Iran’s practically constant state of political flux, the more things change, the more they stay the same for the average man.

The earliest drawings, from Mohasses’ Life in Iran series (1976-1978), demonstrate a fine, delicate aesthetic that belies their grim subject matter. 1977’s “Current Event in Iran: Shouting Demonstrators Pass Through A Shooting Spree” depicts lines of harrowed, zombie-like automatons, fists raised, mouths open in an unheard chant, marching on as their bodies are riddled by bullets. What they are shouting for, and whether they have any hope that their demands will be heard, remains disturbingly unclear.

A Letter from Shiraz. 1982. Ink on paper.
H. 11 1/2 x W. 18 in. (29.9 x 46.8 cm).
Private collection, New York

The dawn of revolutionary uprising in 1978 brought on a darker heavier style in Mohasses’ work. “A Letter from Shiraz,” reflects an exile’s nostalgia and bewilderment at the senseless destruction of a once great and vibrant culture. A scribe, drawn in traditional Persian style, sits on an idyllic hillside, drawing a map. As the viewer’s eyes move left across the parchment, we finally realize that his feet have been severed and grotesquely placed atop the stumps of his ankles. A representative of a culture’s earlier more glorious past is calling out, trying to show the future the way to proceed, only to have his message, and very body, mutilated.

The oil truck crashed the party and two people were killed.
1978 Ink on paper
a: H. 18 x W. 23 13/16 in. (45.7 x 60.3 cm); b: 18 x 23 7/8 in. (45.7 x 60.6 cm)
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Mohasses’ works of the late ‘80s signal another change in style, this one dictated less by artistic drive than biological necessity: he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which made drawing more difficult. In response, he delved into collage, cutting up old Iranian lithographs and incorporating them into his works. The results are often evocative of Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and are equally caustic and ludicrous. In the 1988 piece “The Judge’s sight May Never Be Satiated,” a judge with two sets of eyes sits precariously on a flower stem, money flying out of his turban.

In the post-9/11 era there’s been an insatiable appetite for information about Iran, as if learning about this nation that we’ve so often locked horns with will suddenly lead to a new dawn of understanding. Yet the very use of the word “satire’ in the title of this exposition proves that Americans have yet to grasp the Iranian psyche. For his countrymen. Mohasses’ work is a brutally realistically portrayal o the struggles of quotidian life in their country.

In the words of Shirin Neshat and Nicky Nodjourmi, two fellow New York—based Iranian exile artists who curated the exhibition: “In his drawings [Mohasses} takes no sides; he only tells the truth.” As Mohasses himself has said, “I am a reporter; I draw only what I see.” Art and Satire in Iran proves that, when coupled with a sharp eye and a sharp pen, a reporter’s deep and intimate understanding of his country can depict truths that can defy the harshest censorship. Be sure to catch theis amazing retrospective in its final days.

For more information about the exhibit, log onto: http://www.asiasociety.org/arts/mohassess/


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