Artists send messages of hope from Iran


NORTH ADAMS -- Each year, DownStreet Art sends an open invitation to artists and curators around the world to display their art in galleries throughout the city.

One night, while sifting through search results for "visual artists, open call" on Google, Sahar Khairkhah found this invitation from DownStreet Art and decided to apply.

Khairkhah, also referred to as S. Solly Kh., lives and works as an independent curator in Teheran, the capital city of Iran.

Although logistics restricted her from traveling to America, the art she has curated is being spread throughout the world by way of the Internet.

Her job is to present the art in such a way that the messages from the pieces can combine seamlessly.

"The most important thing that I was concerned about was the presentation and development of an art form, the focus of which is mostly on the humanity, which put a lot of effort to develop the profound implications of a human being," Khairkhah said in an email. "The art that generally respects humanity beyond geopolitical boundaries looks toward a common language for describing the suffering of humanity and the human common pains."

"Messages from Iran," now on display at Gallery 51, gathers three videos, two solo projects and a collaboration by video artists Amirhossein Bayani and Peyman Shafieezadeh, who both work and live in Tehran.

"Message from Iran" also screened at the SOMarts Cultural Center in San Francisco, Calif.

Adriana Alexatos, the local curator for Khairkhah's show, said Gallery 51 will become a miniature theater with drapes and piping donated by Limelight Productions Inc. This event is an interactive instillation, involving gallery patrons to view each five minute projection, which will replay every 15 minutes.

"These videos each telling the important moments of people's life experiences," Khairkhah said. In Bayani's video, "Babylon System," Khairkhah said, "the artist criticizes historical experience of torture that over the centuries has unfortunately existed. The audience is faced with the question of why in the 21st century people are still being tortured for another human being and abused for their own interests and dividends?"

"There is this abstract air of questioning," said Alexatos. "An intangible idea becomes really tangible. It brings up stuff that we wouldn't think to happen in America. What happens when people have power over one another?"

Bayani's story about a prisoner of war contains graphic content. In "Occupy Me," Shafieezadeh combines several videos and tries to provide abstract images, like white noise, to show his discomfort when surrounded people by media and television programs.

The artistic skills of Shafieezadeh and Bayani come together in the collaboration video, "Messages from Iran."

"In ‘Message from Iran,' we see the artists responding to the issue of the war as a bitter and painful experience for humanity," Khairkhah said.

According to Khairkhah, the artists are from a generation who spent their childhoods surrounded by war. Even now, they must spend their youth "experienced crippling international sanctions, living under control of the government which they show the worst face of Iranian people to international community.

"It makes me realize how lucky I am to be born here," Alexatos said.

She says when it comes to art, place is a huge factor. Conversations like these make her appreciate the freedoms she has in this country. She takes nothing for granted.

"I have the opportunity to wear a dress down the street," she said.

Khairkhah says that although the people are suffering from dictatorship and censorship, this is a false image of the Iranian people.

"We are friendly people who love the warm and friendly relations with the entire world," she said. "Artists of ‘Message from Iran' are trying to send a message of peace to the world and show the true face of Iranian people and their deep urge to interact with the world."

Khairkhah explains that this is a difficult situation to understand. Unless people have lived in this condition, they may have trouble understanding the artists' hope and despair.

"Naturally, such a paradoxical situation in life has dark and bitter side effects, complications such as deep depression," she said. "This video is a respectful attempt which wants to open a view of this situation."

"It's been a long interest, need, and desire to present this work, said Jonathan Secour, Director of MCLA Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.

He said giving the community access to exhibits like this allows for an opportunity of cultural awareness.

"We can create a dialogue that is a resource for change," he said.

If you go...

What: Messages from Iran, video exhibit curated by Sahar Khairkhah

When: Open Wednesday to Friday, noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On display until Aug. 25

Where: Gallery 53, 53 Main St., North Adams

Admission: Free



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