There is no better way to escape the panic of Central London than slipping through the courtyards of Bloomsbury into SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. It’s worth a visit for the Japanese roof garden alone, holding an air of constant unchanging silence as the city pulses and roars below. The current show in this solitary sanctuary is Recalling the Future, an exhibition of Post-revolution Iranian art. Set across two floors of the gallery, the presentation is an eye-opening exhibition of 29 artists, some of which have never exhibited in the UK.
Recalling the Future opens with a dark historical context, provided by a series of photographs of pre-revolutionary Iran, the revolution itself and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Deflating balloons cling to one wall sinking slowly earthward as a traditional Iranian lullaby echoes up the stairs from the exhibition room below. Art in a range of mediums from screen print to sculpture fill the two rooms. From the raw photography of Mehran Mohajer to the Warhol inspired paintings of Khosrow Hassanzadeh, the exhibition tells a story of social upheaval in a visceral and poignant way.
Since the 1960s, young Iranian artists had experimented with art as a way to reflect the modernising Persian state. This included representations of emerging technology and a reforming economy whilst, at the same time, artists attempted to reflect true Iranian identity by incorporating traditional elements into their work. By the revolution of 1979 it was no longer just artists striving to retain their national identity but a raft of academics, intellectuals and politicians. In defiance of Western colonisation this sense of true Iranian identity became core to the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran and it has been ever since.
According to SOAS, the artists featured in Recalling The Future aim to “reject notions of ‘Iranian-ness’ as a fixed, timeless entity, and investigate the social and historical construction of identity, as well as their contribution to problematic political situations.” To the outside audience, it has done even more, prompting viewers to read into a period of time that, it could be argued, offered the first sign of the waves of modern revolutions sweeping the Eastern world over the last 30 years. An example of pure expression from increasingly empowered citizens rebelling against a traditional hierarchy thousands of years old.
If you visit, take note of the wads of hundred dollar bills stuffed into the donation box, spend a second speculating who put them there. Nothing is certain but for us these likely petrodollars highlight the impact that these pieces have had on the modern generation of Iranians living across the world.
Recalling the Future, until 22 of March 2014, Brunei Gallery, SAOS, London University. The exhibition is guest curated by Aras Amiri, David Hodge, Hamed Yousefi, and Rozita Sharafjahan.
1. Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Faheshe – Prostitute, 2002, silkscreen and acrylic painting on paper, 107.5 x 264cm. Image courtesy the Brunei Gallery, SOAS.