Khosrow Hassanzadeh Solo Exhibition at Arndt & Partner in Berlin

Arndt & Partner in Berlin will present the first solo exhibition by the Iranian painter Khosrow Hassanzadeh in Germany. The artist, whose work is currently also on show at the 53rd Venice Biennale, is one of the most prominent representatives of the Iranian art scene today. His fascinating, versatile oeuvre spans a wide range of media from screen-printing, painting and drawing to collages and assemblage. His Berlin exhibition will include work from his latest series Ya Ali Madad (2008-2009) and from his earlier series Terrorist (2004), where screen-printing and painting combine to produce powerful and complex compositions with – as in all the artist’s works – human figures as the focal point.

Khosrow Hassanzadeh
Khosrow Hassanzadeh (ca 1945-present) Ya Ali Madad 2008 Silkscreen and oil on paper

Hassanzadeh’s work is deeply rooted in his own culture; unlike many of his fellow Iranians, he decided to remain in his homeland to practice his art. Formally, his pieces are primarily inspired by popular culture in Iran. He sometimes paints on cheap packing paper or incorporates fruit boxes and used objects from the bazaar, combining these with calligraphy as well as religious imagery and artifacts. In terms of content, his work addresses social topics and recent Iranian history. He is not afraid to tackle controversial or delicate issues such as the Iran-Iraq war (in which he served), the position of women in Iranian society, prostitution and the war on terror. For instance, his poignant Faheshe (Prostitutes) series from 2002, exhibited in Berlin’s House of World Cultures in 2004, features portraits of 16 prostitutes who were murdered by a religious fanatic in the holy city of Mashhad in 2001. Although the killer was subsequently hanged for his crimes, many conservative Shiites defended his behavior, and for a while a wave of indignation about the extent of prostitution in the city overshadowed the murders and the trial.1 Using screenprinting techniques, Hassanzadeh copied and enlarged the police photos of the women that had appeared in newspapers. He then used powerful colors to paint over the duplicated black-and-white photographs of the women’s faces, creating a striking, harrowing effect with just a few deft brushstrokes. Hassanzadeh’s pieces, which seem to have been inspired by Andy Warhol’s portraits from the 1970s, thus constitute a courageous tribute to the murdered women – one that explores the complex interplay of power and gender in contemporary Iran. Exhibiting the uncompromisingly critical portraits in Iran today is as unthinkable as it was back then, when the events were fresh.

Since joining the Western art scene, Hassanzadeh has become increasingly preoccupied with the images and concepts of Iran prevalent inWestern society. One example is his complex Terrorist series (2004), which is now being shown at Arndt & Partner. In its combination of images and text, the series reflects a more conceptual approach. On enormous canvases, he presents largerthan-life full-body portraits of close family members such as his mother and his sisters – and even himself. The style and composition of his pictures follow an old Iranian photographic tradition that is still found in remote areas of the country to this day. He has tinted the pictures in the manner demanded by the popular aesthetic and surrounded his subjects with collages of personal effects, photographs and other items of sentimental value. Each of the portraits, transferred to the canvas by screen-printing, exists in several versions of various colors. Next to the canvases are signs that bear the word “Terrorist,” followed by some snippets of information about the people pictured. These are formulated in the manner of wanted posters for terrorists such as those featured on the FBI’s website. The denunciatory descriptions clearly focus on the religion of the people portrayed – they are all Muslims. Terrorist is the only one of Hassanzadeh’s series to be explicitly aimed at Western viewers. On the one hand it exposes the stereotypical ideas of Islamic culture that have become anchored in theWestern consciousness since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and particularly since 9/11. But on the other hand, Hassanzadeh uses the work to question his own identity as an Iranian artist on the international art scene, whose aesthetic judgments are still primarily shaped by Occidental values.

In his new series Ya Ali Madad (2008–2009), Hassanzadeh examines a facet of culture in Iran that is in danger of disappearing. The paintings are based on photographs of celebrated wrestlers trained in Varzesh-e Pahlavani, an ancient Iranian martial arts discipline that combines elements of pre-Islamic culture with the spirituality and ethics of Sufism. The Pahlavan wrestler is not only expected to be strong, but pure, humble and magnanimous, as well. Alhough the sport’s popularity declined after the Iranian Revolution, one can still see photographs of champion wrestlers on the walls of many restaurants and tea houses and they have made their way into the Iranian collective consciousness. Hassanzadeh’s series Ya Ali Madad pays homage to this dying culture.

Born in Tehran in 1963, studied in Tehran – first painting under Iranian artist Aydeen Aghdashlou and at Mojtama-e-Honar University, later on Persian literature at Azad University. In 2003 he received a grant to attend Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Alongside his painting, Hassanzadeh also works as an actor. He lives and works in Tehran. Besides numerous solo exhibitions in galleries in London, Tehran, Dubai, Beirut, Damascus and Phnom Penh, Hassanzadeh has presented his first retrospective in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam in 2006. He has also taken part in several group exhibitions, including Iranische Kunst Heute ( Iranian Art Today), Museum of Contemporary Art, Freiburg;Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East, British Museum, London (both in 2006) and Far Near Distance: Contemporary Positions of Iranian Artists, House of World Cultures, Berlin (2004).

His work is currently on show at the 53rd Venice Biennale as part of the exhibition East-West Divan: Contemporary Art from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan (until October 4, 2009), and in two group exhibitions: the Jameel Prize 2009, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (until September 13, 2009), and Iran Inside Out, Chelsea Art Museum, New York (until September 5, 2009).