Review by Jessica Jones-Berney
It is with acerbic wit that Iranian-born artist Hesam Rahmanian deplores the rapidly unravelling fabric of his native land, consumed by a maelstrom of political uprisings spreading throughout the Middle East. His painterly narratives offer an irreverent insight into his own turbulent relationship with Iran, a place the artist envisions as a “precarious mixture of culture and religion.”
Last year’s 1000 Dollar Baby portfolio consisted of pregnant gas-masked women, babies suspended above marching soldiers and stork-like fighter-bombers delivering baby bundles of ammunition, eliciting caustic humour to predicate the inevitability of war-torn generations to come. Till the End of Dawn at Paradise Row is equally as sardonic, visually narrating rebellions in the Middle East through a fearlessly scathing lens – the only artistic response of its kind being exhibited in London.
Rahmanian’s In the Name of God, We Work Till the End of Dawn, in which a white fist wields a black blood tipped machete, emblazoned with a sandy-hued caption of the title speaks of Middle Eastern regions where the path of brutality reigns under the misconstrued banner of Islam; a fitting opening to an exhibition that refuses to shy away from the violent cacophony of a corrupt theocratic regime.
Understandably, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad frequents the series, but not in the way we are accustomed to seeing him. Gone are the microphone bouquets and tailored suits. Instead Rahmanian embeds Ahmadinejad into the dilapidated scenery he is culpable for. In Lebanon, the leader’s face appears in a depressing cinereous ‘welcome’ poster. The only colours to punctuate the bleakness are those of the Lebanese flag; red, yellow and green bandaged across his face like a battle scar trophy. Coupled with an unintelligible animal plummeting down the right side of the frame, Rahmanian alludes to Iran’s (mis)use of Lebanon as a proxy state, drawing upon religious iconography of the sacrificial lamb to question whose freedoms are forgone and for whose common good? In Sweet Talker Ahmadinejad’s face is grafted onto that of a yellow and teal feathered parrot, perched atop a doppelganger of Hezbollah’s Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s black turban. It is humorous, but true to Rahmanian form it is laced with equal measures of ridicule and condemnation, tying the parrot’s symbolic association with surveillance to Iran’s support of Hezbollah.
Iranian-American artist Tala Madani, who is exhibiting at Pilar Corrias Gallery this May, shares a similar penchant for ridiculing despotic figures. Her paintings fuse irony with playful violence, depicting stereotypical Middle Eastern men engaged in outlandish activities; effeminately engrossed in beauty regimes and prayer rituals concealing homosexual orgies. Rahmanian’s paintings also subscribe to this unsettlingly facetious portrayal by making a mockery of political policy and policing gone awry. He depicts a chaotic world in which hand-grenades are heralded like trophies and green uniformed soldiers fire at blindfolded men, intermittent with bunny-eared riot police.
But it is the loose expressive brush strokes intrinsic to Rahmanina’s style that really captures the spontaneity of uprisings across the Middle East. Amid moody greys and bruised purples, slashes of fiery reds and oranges permeate like violent bloody slashes across the canvas. Bar high-ranking political figures, other faces bare Bacon-like contortions or appear as a convolution of matchstick figures and turban whirls caught amidst moments of chaos and struggle. It renders a documentary-like quality in the paintings, as though Rahmanian is capturing front-line events as they unfold, etching the energy of ephemeral confrontations onto a permanent canvas. The result is a series of visual allegories and metaphors that invite scrutiny and speculation, ultimately calling into question a repressed region of the world.
Hesam Rahmanian Till The End of Dawn continues at Paradise Row until 7 May. For further information please visit their website.
Hesam Rahmanian, So Little Time, So Many Traitors to Denounce, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 200 x 300 cm (diptych)
Courtesy the artist and Paradise Row, London.