IRAN X CUBA: Beyond the Headline

Artists: Sasan Abri, Mimi Amini, Camino Al Eden(Alex Hernandez and Ariamna Contino Mendoza), Ali Chitsaz, Adrian Fernandez, Alex Hernandez, Kamzar Kafaie, Amir Nasr Kamgooyan, Maryam Khosrovani, Glenda Leon, Frank Mujica, Allahyar Najafi, Reynier Leyva Novo, Ivan Perera, Behring Samadzadegan, Leslie Sardinas, Myriam Quiel Tami, Hoda Zarbaf

For the first time in the United States, this group exhibition celebrates the diverse works of emerging Iranian and Cuban artists in one place. Forgoing the jargon of headline news, this exhibit reintroduces the often-overlooked dimensions of people, culture, and the artistic vibrancy of Cuba and Iran. With the recent thaw of relations between the United States and its two former adversaries, and with the renewed interest in the discovery of, and travel to both countries, IRAN X CUBA: Beyond the Headline is without question timely and unique.

Iran and Cuba share little in common. Their geographic location, history, language, and religion bare no similarities. However, the one defining event that unites them is the experience of a major revolution in the 20th century, leaving both countries isolated and economically challenged. The Cuban revolution erased religion by force for it had no place in the communist ide-ology, while the Islamic revolution in Iran enforced it as the main manifest and an umbrella under which all changes in the country were justified. Years of isolation and economic sanctions have prevented both countries from fully participating in the global economy, but instead of passivity, one finds a positive struggle, a relentless drive to survive, and a tremendous amount of hope. More surprising is that, despite all their limitations and dif-ficulties, both countries have thrived artistically.When I visit Iran and Cuba, despite the visible challenges and restrictions, I see the beauty of the land, the pride of the people, and the history and culture, which permeates every aspect of life. I see the passionate, generous, lively and colorful citizens. I see the creativity and innovative spirit. I see courage and patience, which allows them to fight for their rights with dignity while enduring hardship and roadblocks at every turn.

In recent years, the emerging generation of Iranian artists has started to make their way into the western art world through limited programs, res-idencies, and the support of art patrons in diaspora. These participations however are limited because acquiring visas to travel is still extremely diffi-cult for Iranian artists.

On the other hand, in Cuba, the visual arts are already globalized as some privileged artists are allowed to travel, exhibit, do residencies, and even live abroad for part of the year. This freedom of exchange however remains a dream for most Iranian artists. I have therefore made it my mission, my man-ifest to cultivate audiences by representing talented, but under-represented Iranian artists, and to promote and share their works through exhibitions, performances, public programs and partnerships in New York City. 

IRAN X CUBA: Beyond the Headline is the portrait of a generation of artists who reverberate the turmoil of their cultural background with bold individu-alism. Independent of genre or style, all the exhibited artists came of age in a period of political and socio-economic challenges, in the aftermath of rev-olution and continued isolation from the United States. Rather than simply present a western new frontier, the exhibit seeks to showcase the singular work of those who have been unable to speak the language of the expect-ed.With this presentation, I hope to build a playground for both groups of artists to exercise their freedom while signaling the social underpinnings of a complex period in their respective histories. In my white cube, only truth, beauty, color, technique, and subliminal or explicit concepts are the rule of the game. Here I try to demonstrate what happens when the willpower and culture is used to bring us all together. The only possibility of attaining freedom is through the sphere of individual utopia. Freedom unfolds in the realm of artistic play, characterizing the creative impulse of Iran and Cu-ba’s contemporary artists. History has proved that closed societies cannot contain the arts; soon enough artists take the matter into their own hands and create virtual artistic escapes away from the tight grip of authority and the promise of Utopia /and heaven on earth; "The detachment these artists have made has provided them the comfort zone they require to construct their own imaginary world yet they are still influenced by their history, their origin."(Sohrab Kashani)Through satirical paintings, imaginary watercol-ors, political posters, art installations, and other means, these artists com-municate with us on the issues paralyzing their societies. These artists are fully conscious and present, proud of their oeuvre, and excited about the opportunity. They are ready for me to share their messages and their stories through their art. 

Roya Khadjavi


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