Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Art as Ambassador
While I still attended the New York Academy, I met a group of artists touring the studios. I was in my studio at the time, so when they came by I of course invited them in, being the show-boat that I am.
However, when their translator informed me that they were a group of artists from Iran and she asked me if I would be kind enough to discuss my work, I must admit that my pride suddenly turned to panic.
You see, I had just heard on the radio, not an hour before, a news story discussing the tensions between Bush and Iran. So you can perhaps understand my apprehension when I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about their culture. This was a moment when I, in some unknown way, might influence their views of artists in America and by extension in some respect, our people. And I felt entirely inadequate to be an ambassador, I was afraid I would say something insulting and not even realize it. But somehow I stammered through an introduction about the work and answered a few questions. When it was over I realized that I had probably blown the whole thing out of proportion. But I did begin thinking about how little I knew about Iranian art or culture and the middle east in general and further, how little Americans in general knew about the middle east. Perhaps this kind of ignorance is what allows us to start ridiculous wars and exploit the resources and labor of third world countries.... conscience free. If we do not know about the "other" it is easy to ignore that they are human beings.
Two of the artists in the group gave me their cards and I was very pleased to find their work, which I posted above. Mohammad Rahimi on the right and Behnam Kamrani on the left. Consider the power art might play in cultural exchange, especially during such turbulent times. If our government refuses to open a dialogue with these cultures, then maybe it is our responsibility, as artists to take the first step and perhaps open a path that doesn't include war.
In complete honesty I am a little intimidated by Islam, especially a nation based upon it. But I am also ignorant and curious. I hope that through asking questions I can alleviate my own fears and I guess that's the first step. I'm sure that others have just as many questions as I. What is the tradition that an Iranian figurative artist draws on? How does the government and society respond to the work?
We have the pleasure of having an Iranian-American artist as a member of our community: Ali Banisadr. (I'm not afraid you, man - you don't have an accent, lol) But I would like to ask his take on this, perhaps he might have some insights that he would be kind enough to share with us in a post.