The word ZENDEGI, which gives its title to this exhibition, means “life” in Farsi. By choosing to use a word in the Persian language, Esmaël Bahrani suggests that we go through an inevitable translation to enter the space. It is evidently essentiel to invoke Iran in the context of the current insurrections that the country is witnessing, and which are the basis of a future sustained by hope but threatened by the extreme violence of the Iranian regime. Yet for Esmaël Bahrani it is as difficult not to talk about Iran at the moment as it would be to make a direct and unambiguous link between his work and his country of origin. Today we chose to talk about Iran because it is important to do so everywhere and with vigour. Nevertheless, the contributions offered by Bahranis’s work do not take the shape of a direct comment on a political situation, and deal with life above all, as well as the power of the moment.
In these works, it is not only an attempt to translate pieces of life as it is felt or experienced on a canvas, but to have this both gentle and wild agility to propose forms of it, translatable by everyone. In this sense, the enigmatic figures, the specters thrown onto the canvas by Esmaël Bahrani for them to continue to live their own lives, are indicators of what is happening in him as much as what is happening in and around us. Like autonomous forms of life, they create their own worlds, without the reference to a predefined territory being conclusive to approach them sincerely. What matters above all is the moment. It constitutes the powerful vector of the artist’s creative process and the foundation of our interpretations.
Esmaël Bahrani moves between territories with great agility. Perhaps he moves, as it were, in worlds to which he alone holds the keys. The Iran of his childhood, or Iran seen from the distance of exile. The echoes of his native country distorted by the media’s translation, and those tenuous and fragile echoes passed on by conversations with his relatives who have remained there. Between all these points of life, the position that Esmaël Bahrani chooses is to paint in the present and decisive moment, “action-painting” as he likes to remind us, as if to make us understand that something in his gesture thwarts a certain status quo. It is so much so that it would be almost impossible to link his work to a particular territory, or to a clearly circumscribed state. The way in which he evades any expected narrative invites us to move from the question “where to locate Iran in his work” to “where to locate life in his paintings“. The elucidation of the latter perhaps opens the way to freer and more inventive interpretations, without ever losing its political efficacy, because talking about the lives of all humans is a formidable way of placing Iran back into life.
NADA MAJDOUB, associate curator at Institut du monde arabe, Paris.