Installation view of Green Art Gallery, Dubai at miart, 2015
For its inaugural participation in miart, held from April 10-12 in Milan, Italy, Green Art Gallery presents a two-person booth featuring Kamrooz Aram and Nazgol Ansarinia. The booth investigates the way in which ancient Iranian visual culture is celebrated in the present day.
Ansarinia exhibits three sculptures while Aram exhibits new collages as well as large paintings, which function as the exhibition design. These large, unstretched linens are painted with geometric forms that reference Modernist abstraction, as well as the exhibition displays of encyclopaedic museums. In this particular installation, Aram makes reference to the exhibition designs of Carlo Scarpa, notable for their ability to tactfully integrate modernist sensibilities with classical forms.
At base, the booth unpacks the studied neutrality of the museum display, which creates the historical and cultural distance necessary to frame ancient Persian artworks as artifacts-not-art. Kamrooz Aram’s series Ancient through Modern constructs collages from mid-century catalogues and art history books in which these artworks and objects circulate. In their Modernist-tinged layout and photography, these publications constitute an important part of the West’s engagement with the Middle East. The images, meanwhile, work to produce a certain kind of longing for a richer, more glorious time for many Iranians today. By aggrandising the distant past, these objects feed a collective desire to establish a civilisational genealogy and create a sense of cultural nostalgia which belies the complicated relationship between non-Western artworks and the development of Western modernism.
Outside of the rarified spaces of the art world, the urban landscape of Tehran has in recent years begun to reflect a similar resurfacing of ancient Persia, as mirrored in Nazgol Ansarinia’s Pillars. While Iran has historically valued a certain kind of interiority and modesty with regards to the public display of public life, in the decades following the Islamic revolution, a new form of ostentation arrived. The result is an architectural hybrid that melds Ancient Persian and Roman motifs, characterised by a prominent use of of columns. Despite this nostalgic external veneer, the cross-sectional columns of Pillars reveal the text of the Iranian Constitution—specifically the articles pertaining to ownership and taxation—at their hearts. Even as they symbolically comment on this aestheticised cultural patrimony, they speak to the very real socioeconomic issues that govern daily Tehrani life today.
Here, the installation functions as a microcosm of the encyclopedic museum display, an elegy for the stated objectives of the art fair booth (a site of discovery, a site of acquisition). Taken as a whole, the booth works as both backdrop and foil to resituate its very Iranian artworks within the Western modernity they are usually excluded from.