Persepolis, Solmaz Shahbazi, production still, 2005.

The Knowledge is an ongoing series of public programmes, which explores visual culture from the Middle East & North Africa, one city at a time. Taking its title from London’s famous black cab drivers’ training, the second ‘stop’ was Tehran after Damascus in 2009. This series of events focused on emerging artistic networks and strategies in the youthful Iranian capital. With contributions from Amirali Ghasemi, Malu Halasa, Vali Mahlouji, Mahmoud Bakhshi, James Neil and Solmaz Shahbazi.


Mahmoud Bakhshi: Bahman Cinema

Private view: Tuesday 5 October 2010, 18:30 – 20:30
Opening times: 6 to 19 October 2010, Mon – Sat, 10:00 – 18:00

Bahman Cinema (2010) explores the tight relationship between culture and socio-political context. The word “Bahman” refers to both, the eleventh month of the solar calendar (a month of victory for the Islamic Revolution of 1979) and a popular Iranian cigarette among working classes. In downtown Tehran, on Revolution Square, the location of many protests (since 1979 and more recently in 2009), the Bahman Cinema was established in 1965, broadcasting films for a large audience. Current resident artist Mahmoud Bakhshi’s new mixed media work features four Bahman cigarette boxes, in which small-scale, carton replicas of a cinema’s screening rooms have been fitted.

Mahmoud Bakshi was born in Tehran, Iran. Recent exhibitions include the Saatchi Gallery (27 September to 10 October 2010), The Barbican (2008) and the 4th Auckland Triennal (Auckland). In 2009, Mahmoud Bakhshi was awarded the first Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize.

Mahmoud Bakhshi’s residency at The Delfina Foundation was made possible through the generous support of Maryam and Edward Eisler.


Film Screening: The Tehran Trilogy, by Solmaz Shahbazi
Thursday 7 October 2010, 19:00 – 20:30

Solmaz Shahbazi’s trilogy explores the recent historical, social and urban trajectory of the Iranian capital, a city that has experienced several revolutions in the 20th century and counts over 12 million inhabitants today.

Tehran 1380 (by Solmaz Shahbazi and Tirdad Zolghadr, 45min, 2002). Through interviews with permanent inhabitants and visitors, professionals of architecture and non-professionals, juxtaposed with images from Tehran, Shahbazi and Zolghadr ask pertinent questions about the place of the city in the process of globalisation, and carve out a portrait of Tehran as a socially heterogeneous, ever expanding metropolis that does not fit into any existing urban planning or aesthetic standards.

Good Times / Bad Times (31 min, 2003). With over 70% of the population aged under 25, Iranian youth culture is an incredible transformative power that shapes the country’s social, economical and political trajectories. Good Times / Bad Times follows five young people, each as a representative of a certain group in the Iranian society. The documentary looks at some of the strictures confronting Iranian youth and examines the practices of everyday life through which young people demonstrate defiance against the official culture and parental dominance.

Persepolis (2005, 17min), the last video of the trilogy, is as much a tale about Tehran as it is about how individuals situate themselves in relation to the grander narratives of history. Set in a large scale, bourgeois housing complex in Tehran, the video explores a layered history through composed interior shots, played back against the voice of their owners, as they recount their lives in this neighbourhood and its place in the city’s recent evolution, often referring to “before” and “after” the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Solmaz Shahbazi was born in Tehran in 1971. She completed her studies in fine arts and architecture at the Akademie der Bildenden Kuenste in Germany in 2000, and since then, has been producing video and photographic works. She uses the documentary format in both her videos and her photography as a tool to analyse different modes of imagery, expectations of the unknown and affecting perception. Her collection of images testify to the potentially fictitious nature of the photographic medium, providing a view as to how we filter images, formulate conceptions, and ultimately awakening us to the fallibility of preconception, the power of the photographic frame. In addition to the 7th Sharjah Biennial, the 9th International Istanbul Biennial in 2005 and the 1st Thessalonki biennale, Shahbazi’s work has been exhibited widely in Europe, USA and the Middle East since 2001.

Lecture: Young Tehran – Artistic Strategies, by Malu Halasa
Tuesday 12 October 2010, 18:30 – 19:30

“The Internet, youth and fashion culture and the home-grown trends of the Islamic Republic fuel the city’s paradoxes – its pains as well as its pleasures. Sunk in permanent smog, tangled in traffic jams, suffused with the threat of war and unrest, life in Tehran is chaotic and unpredictable. Its passions and preoccupations make it a city like no other.” (Transit Tehran, 2008)

Writer and editor Malu Halasa discussed youth and popular culture, generational divides, cultural strategies and resistance in contemporary Tehran. Focusing on a new generation of young artists whose works document the social transformation of their country, Malu explored how Iran’s long tradition of artistic and cultural resistance has influenced young Iranians, and addresses two questions: what are Tehran’s young artists’ aspirations, and how much are their elders prepared to accommodate them?

Malu Halasa, an editor and writer, is coauthor of Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations (2009), with Maziar Bahari; Kaveh Golestan: Recording the Truth in Iran (2007) with Hengameh Golestan; The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design (2008), with Rana Salam;Transit Beirut: New Writing and Images (2004), with Rosanne Khalaf and Creating Spaces of Freedom: Culture in Defiance (2002), with Els van der Plas and Marlous Willemsen. Last year she curated Transit Tehran: Art and Documentary from Iran, with James Neil, for the Atrium Gallery, LSE.

Film Screening: The Real Bahman Cinema – New films and videos from Tehran
Thursday 14 October 2010, 19:00 – 20:30

Curated by James Neil, Parallax Media, this screening gathered a selection of documentary films, focusing on the complex relationship that young Iranians have to their rapidly evolving surroundings, as they negotiate their way through paradigmatic cultural shifts on the one hand, and a resistance to notions of modernity and contemporanaeity on the other.

Essi (directed by Reza Haeri. Iran, 2007). Essi was a salesman at the legendary Beethoven Music Store and the unofficial advisor to generations of Tehrani music lovers. He now gets by selling selected albums from his huge collection of LPs at the Friday morning flea market downtown. An eccentric connoisseur of eclectic music – from Elvis Presley to John Coltrane to Herbert Von Karajan – he lives in a world of real and imagined memories.

127 (directed by Reza Haeri. Iran, 2005). Jazz and Rock & Roll, and most other kinds of ‘Western’ music are officially banned in Iran. But, thousands of Iranians, and especially the young, love the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Metallica and Pink Floyd. Countless talented musicians have formed their own bands and are now showcasing their music in underground concerts. Among the most famous is the band 127, whose blend of Iranian jazz and rock has attracted a large following of devotees.

Imamzadeh Internet (directed by Reza Haeri. Iran, 2005). In south Tehran, next to the mausoleum of Imam Yahya, there is an Internet café, which attracts the young and the not-so-young. This is the starting point for a film about the impact of the internet on Iranian culture and society. From the crowded streets of the city to the small village of Shahkooh, we meet students, intellectuals, and members of parliament and hear their views on chat-rooms, sex-talk, and the larger issue of Iran and the West.

James Neil is a film practitioner and curator. He curated the Women’s Cinema from Tangiers to Tehran film festival, the African programme of All Power to the Imagination: 1968 and its Legacies, as well as a number of other specialist film programmes. He has worked as a cinematographer, script consultant and leads filmmaking workshops. James is editor of the forthcoming book Middle Eastern Cinema.

Artist Talk: Iran & CO, by Amirali Ghasemi
Friday 15 October, 18:00 – 19:00

Artist Amirali Ghasemi discussed Iran & CO, his ongoing curatorial project. Iran & CO includes an exhibition, a documentary and an archive project. The exhibition gathers a number of site and context specific commissions conceived by the newest generation of Iranian artists, who have all been invited to produce works outside of the gallery space.

The ‘documentary/film/installation’ Iran Beyond Borders (1960-2010) maps out the history of modern and contemporary art in Iran, from the late 50s to today. It aims to archive and review more than 100 Iranian art exhibitions in the last 10 years, and features interviews with key figures of the contemporary Iranian art scene (such as Khosrow Hassansadeh, Ghazel, Alireza Samiazar, Fereydoun Ave, Hamid Keshmirshekan, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Barbad Golshiri and Rose Issa) on subjects including the impact of the market on artistic practices, the local in relation to the global, the politics of representation and identity. The film was  premiered in Bruges, Belgium, in October 2010.

Amirali Ghasemi was born in Tehran in 1980. He graduated in 2004 with a BA in graphic design from Central Tehran Azad University. In 1998, Ghasemi established Parkingallery, an independent project space in Tehran, and in 2002,, a virtual gallery, which has become an online platform for many young Iranian artists. He has shown his photography/videos/design works in Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Canada, USA, Australia, Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan. In addition, he has directed audiovisual projects with Iranian rock bands. 
As a curator, he has directed many exhibition projects for Parkingallery project space and other institutions. These have included Among Them: Deep Depression (2004),Transition (2005), Deeper Depression (2006), Lost in No Space (2006) and Limited Access (2007).

Iran & CO is a production of the Cultural Centre of Bruges, with the support of the Vlaamse Gemeenschap, and Parkingallery projects Tehran.

Artist Talk: Mahmoud Bakhshi in conversation with Vali Mahlouji
Tuesday 19 October, 18:30 – 19:30

Current resident artist Mahmoud Bakhshi draws inspiration for his works from the political and social issues that surround him. He discussed his practice to date and his exhibition at the Saatchi gallery with Vali Mahlouji.

Vali Mahlouji is a London-based curator, writer and designer. Recent publications include Memories, Dreams and Obsessions: Sketching a Portrait of Y.Z. Kami (National Museum of Contemporary Arts, Athens), The Endurance of a Living Art (London Middle East Institute), Fantasies of the Imagination and Symbols of Transformation (Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris) and as a co-contributor on Arts & Education at The Guardian.

[Watch the event recording]

In collaboration with

Magic of Persia
Parallax Media