Hesam Rahmanian's paintings employ sensitivity and wit as they chart the turbulent ideas at play in his native country. As an artist born in and informed by Iran, Rahmanian's works often highlight his own relationship with the country. In 'Hit Me With Your War Tune' each of his expansive paintings acts as a window into a society that, following last year's events, has been discussed in much detail. His works add colour, both literally and figuratively, to the global understanding of a country that is caught in the midst of various conflicting ideas.
Artist Statement :
Anatomy of the Iranian condition.
I view Iran as a country made up of a precarious mix of culture and religion, with the latter overpowering the former whenever politics is involved. This has led to a society that encourages fundamentalist, narrow-minded, and corrupt behavior that respects no other opinion. Self-importance and arrogance has escalated, and the already precarious mix has started to come apart, along with a loss of the aesthetics and delicacy of both culture and religion.
A self-important society, run by religious fundamentalist authorities, is one in isolation from other nations. It is a society that begins to rot from within as it continues to be ostracised by the rest of the world. It is a society on the path to brutality.
In Hit Me With Your War Tune, I look at this and other notions of the modern Iranian condition. In Human vs. Human, I specifically focus on members of similarly vicious societies, while Never-Ending Story, shows the long-term struggles of these nations. After the election of 2009, the world witnessed the Iranian regime’s crackdown on peaceful protests, suppressing freedom of speech and human rights. The obvious recreation of this can be seen in Follow the Leader, which portrays a despotic figure looking on as a scene of persecution and oppression takes place below him. To me, this painting brings back many of the harrowing images of that period – images that were only available to a global audience through the energy of citizen journalists and plucky souls on social networking sites.
I am fascinated by contemporary pop culture and the ways in which it differs in the US and in Iran. In the US, pop culture is governed by an obsession with products and celebrity, the country is bombarded with slick imagery every day and its people are consumed by the ideas fed to them. After witnessing the aftermath of the 2009 elections, and participating in peaceful protests in NY, I realised that political engagement had somehow taken on the role of pop culture in Iran. People both within the country and elsewhere were engaging in political discussions, but were often not united enough to project a solid voice. Different groups of people from different political parties would come forth and present their point of view, clouding an already confusing situation. In one particular instance, Noam Chomsky gave a fifteen-minute speech on the turmoil in Iran. Soon after, at the very same gathering, the famous Iranian singer Googoosh called the attention of the people to the previous dynasty and praised the Shah’s regime. As the protesters cheered the singer on, it was as if they had forgotten the very purpose of the gathering. The more these protests continued, the more I became aware of the uncomfortable relationship between politics and pop culture.
I have come to the realization that the reason we crave such politically charged entertainment is because by dramatising Iran’s political complexities - in songs by bands such as Kiosk, 127 and Mohsen Namjoo; and in television programs that mock the backward antics of political figures – we succeed in desensitizing ourselves to the situation. Because all we are doing is indulging in entertainment that, despite its mockery of reality, is unable to shift this reality.
One painting in Hit Me With Your War Tune is directly influenced by contemporary Iranian music. You Fight so I Can Dance focuses on a lyric by the band Kiosk which talks about the unreasoned systems of the government:
“Boxers and wrestlers are the representatives of people in parliament,
they solve issues with a Hard Turn (a manouever used in wrestling).”
I have studied and practiced graphic design for a few years in the US. One of the main purposes of graphic design is its use in advertising to draw attention to products with the simplest visual message. Since I have learned that the pop culture of Iran is the consumption of politics, I have used the same approach but changed my media to paint and canvas, while preserving some characteristics of graphic design. I know that less is more, so I keep things simple by focusing on the obvious, while exaggerating the sarcasm and satire to create an easily digested idea. When I paint, I let the progression of my painting guide me to the finished product without any forceful thought. A Powerful Nation originally started as a portrait of two girls, but when I turned the painting sideways, I saw an abstract image of a bull and so I decided to explore that further. This exploration built upon itself, incorporating my concerns and distress into the paint and canvas. Through this process, I have found painting to be an ideal medium to document the condition. I think painting is more fluent and gives me more freedom to express my thoughts. Also, by documenting Iranian pop culture using paint and canvas, I manage to make ephemeral issues permanent.