WHO, BY WHOM, AND FOR WHOM: PRESENTATION OF CONTEMPORARY ART IN IRAN AND REPRESENTATIONS OF THE ART OF IRAN ELSEWHERE
by Sandra Skurvida
In a sociopolitical context where national legislation heavily mediates the private and public sphere, how do art and curatorial practice intervene to both convey and resist the limits set on the circulation of art in public life? How does the social impact of art manifest itself within a space of regulated spectatorship? And how does a deregulated form of spectatorship engage with the art conceived in restricted environments? This inquiry examines these questions relative to current art practices in Iran and their transnational circulation, cross-examining variances of presentation and representation in different contexts in Iran and the United States.
Disturbing public opinion
Just as the space of protest can be both private and public, so too is the space of a work of art. Creative act cannot fully be realized in the absence of spectatorship. Thus, the ability to be public and produce a public is the lifeline of contemporary art, and enables it to be a vehicle for critique. However, its public nature also means that artistic action can be legislated and is punishable by law. Governmental restrictions of cultural production render contemporary artists susceptible to being charged with disturbance of the public sphere. Artist and writer Barbad Golshiri plots the ideological structure of the socially engaged art world in Iran in a diagram entitled Disturbing the Public Opinion. It takes as its starting point, “Disturbing public opinion,” which opens onto three avenues: “Disturbing the public opinion as charge,” “Disturbing the public opinion as disturbing the doxical,” and “Disturbing the public opinion as transitory legislation.” He then examines how and to what extent these tactics can elude ideological control and produce dissent within Iran’s legislated public space. Golshiri’s chart provides a framework for the commentary that follows, which examines an array of transgressive art practices and their transnational states.