On Tuesday May 2, author Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya came to campus and gave a presentation on the impact that women in Iran have on contemporary Iranian art. Roy-Bhattacharya was born in Jamshedpur, India. He then went on to study philosophy and politics at Presidency College, Calcutta, and international relations and political philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.
After college, Roy-Bhattacharya pursued a writing career and published several books including “The Gabriel Club.” Bhattacharya became fascinated with East-Central Europe when he visited it in 1989 and 1990. This prompted him to write “The Gabriel Club,” as he developed a fascination with the region of Budapest and Vienna, which the book is predominately set in.
Other books of Bhattacharya are, “The Storyteller of Marrakesh,” “ Light Angel,” “The Jamil Baghdad Café “and the “Mortal, Immortal ‘War Trilogy.” He has won many prizes for his work and his books have been published in 11 different languages in 16 countries.
His novel “The Watch” was nominated for the International Imac 2014 award and dubbed Publishers Weekly ’10 Best Contemporary War Novels’ of 2014. In 2011, Bhattacharya’s other novel, “The Storyteller of Marrakesh” was awarded the Shortlisted Crossword Prize and the Hindu Fiction Prize. Additionally, his book, “The Gabriel Club” was also awarded the Shortlisted Crossword Prize in 2001. Throughout his life, Bhattacharya has traveled extensively throughout Asia and has developed a particular interest in Iranian art. York. He began his presentation on Tuesday by expressing that there is a renaissance revolution in art in Iran that has been fueled by both private galleries in the major cities and collectors in the Middle East and Europe. Notably, about 556 of the 660 art galleries in Iran are owned and run by women.
Roy-Bhattacharya observed that this often surprises Americans because Iranian culture is presented to the West as very conservative. He also noted how significant this number is in terms of Iranian history acknowledging that, “there is a massive generational change. This couldn’t have happened 20 years ago.”
Most of the artists are around 20 years old or slightly older and have been formally trained at the Iran Fine Arts Academy. A lot of their work uses varying styles and techniques in order to mix themes of Persian culture with contemporary trends in the West and the East. Roy-Bhattacharya informed us that there are five main subjects of art: abstract, calligraphy, figurative, landscapes and experimental.
He then proceeded to display a slideshow of work that Iranian women had recently created, that indeed fell into each of these categories. First he showed the work of Maryam Ashkanian, a 22-year old 3-dimensional abstract artist. Ashkanian recently finished her ‘Sleep Series’ in which she created abstract designs on pillows.
Next, Roy-Bhattacharya showed us images of calligraphy art that had been done by Iranian women. The interesting thing about calligraphy art is that there really isn’t any art like this in America. Roy-Bhattacharya noted that the art derives from a much older calligraphy tradition, which often links to religion. This was clearly Roy-Bhattacharya’s favorite form of art as he raved, “I love this stuff. It’s so different from anything else.”
The last couple of images that Roy-Bhattacharya showed were from an artist that is famous for taking old photos and putting them next to contemporary backgrounds to create a collage.
Roy-Bhattacharya concluded his presentation by mentioning that the art these women make gives you a window into what the younger generation in Iran is like.
He noted that the internet has played a role in allowing female artists to prosper, “this is art that is made by people that have been under a pretty tight sanction routine. The internet has made such a difference allowing people to transcend these cultural boundaries.”
He also concluded with how significant it is that women are creating this art. He acknowledged, “I see it and I see art that could not have been made by a man.” In addition to giving us insight on the lives of young women in Iran, contemporary Iranian art also demonstrates that there is a historical shift that is currently going on. Iran is changing and modern art is mimicking the way that the country is attempting to balance tradition and modernity.
Bhattacharya’s discussion mainly reolved around the last ten years of contemporary Iranian art, because within the past decade a renaissance of contemporary Iranian art has surged throughout major cities such as Tehran, Shiraz and Tabriz. As stated before, many underestimate women’s contribution to the art industry. Within these cities are private galleries as well as collectors in the Middle East and Europe that have helped support this artistic reawakening.
Bhattacharya also informed the audience that this artistic resurgence is supported by female artists who consist of about 75 percent of the major painters in modern Iran.