Monday, September 25, 2017

Meet An Artist - Hojat Amani

“In fact all children like doodling and it seems that it is part of our nature as human beings. Children like drawing or working with color even before learning to read and write. Moreover, it has a long history, for example, early man did the same thing and the rock art found in different parts of the world shows this clearly. But the point is that, some people continue this and for them it becomes a passion and a career. As for me, that was the case,” says Hojat Amani, the Iranian artist whose Angel series are quite popular and whose infusing of the traditional and the modern in his visual language has made him quite unique. Though engulfed by the crises of war and suffering, Amani tries to focus on the beauty and sanctity of life.


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Hojat Amani


Deepa Gopal Sunil: To begin with tell us something about yourself, your background, your education etc.

Hojat AmaniI took up visual arts as a major. Of course my family did not want me to do so, because they considered the arts as an extra-curricular activity. However, others’ support encouraged me to keep on pursuing my purpose. Neither was there any historical background related to the arts in my family nor any valuable artistic source to support me (including: libraries, gallery and so on). The only source that I had was a collection of stamps and they were a kind of model for me to practice drawing. In those days, we didn’t know anything about jobs and when we were asked about our favorite jobs, we used to say “I want to be an engineer, doctor or pilot." We didn’t know that one could be an artist. But I always wanted to be different.  The time passed and I was accepted in the university as an art student and it was at that time that I realized how passionate I am about painting. It was as if a thirsty person after struggling a lot reaches an oasis to quench his thirst. However, I had an insatiable thirst for learning. To tell the truth, I didn’t like to get back home from college and I didn’t like my college days to end. College days were the best period of my lifetime. I was deeply engrossed in my major. I became familiar to some great people who influenced me and I am really indebted to them. Then I passed MA exam and I continued learning. I am very good at learning and I try to learn from everything. For instance, whenever I hear somebody knows something or has a special technique in Visual Arts, I go and visit him (not once, if necessary several times) to learn something. The next critical stage in my journey toward success was going abroad. For the first time I visited London, the mecca of Middle Eastern visual artists, and it was an unforgettable experience. It was there that I become familiar with the professional world of art business and visited extraordinary museums which are beyond description.


DGS: Where are you based now?

HA: I reside in Tehran at the moment. 


DGS: What are you working on these days?

HA: I am focusing more on drawings these days. I carry around a sketchbook and draw on it when I am inspired. These sketches are important for my artwork. In fact, when I draw, I draw without any predetermined and contemplation plans. The process is so much similar to how kids draw. I also do some mental exercises to make me grounded and centred before drawing. For example I do crosswords or clean the brushes.

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DGS: Would you like to say something about your process of art making/creation of your stunning images?

HA: I use mixed media, for example for my angel series, I’ve combined many media - painting the wings on the curtain, photography, public space in this case etc.  together. I started with a performance; I decided to create angels from ordinary people with two wings. With a nod towards traditional Islamic and Iranian paintings; I combine Persian motifs and elements sometimes with calligraphy. I painted wings upon a white screen (curtain) in the style depicted in the fifteenth century “Miraj Nameh “manuscript and set off on a journey.  


DGS: You were a calligrapher and then you moved out in search of new pastures. What made you to decide so?

HA: I entered the world of art through calligraphy, an art form that though expressive works to liberate the artist from that which ties him to this earthly life through constant repetition: an art form that only allows beauty to be created by a person who has been beautified first from within. The very repetition in calligraphy acts as a mantra to allow that which lies in the deepest confines of the artist’s Self to come forth and shine through the work. When I realized that I had to find a way to join the traditional with the modern in order to give my viewers a cathartic purification and a promise of freedom from the difficulties of contemporary life, I wanted to find a way to make my work a safe haven to which the exhausted people of our times could turn and find relief. In fact calligraphy isn’t a global language and I was evoked to find a language to connect with all people and all religions.

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DGS: There’s a mix of traditional and modern in your works...quite distinct of your region and yet speaking a universal language be it the “Angel” series or the feminine faces. You even have calligraphic intervention too in your works. Is there any specific reason to mix the *Qajar/Safavid visual language with pop culture? 

HA: Perhaps we can cautiously say that the new and contemporary art of Iran are imported phenomena and rooted in many artistic movements of the world. These artistic trends, which were initially welcomed, especially by the young generation, after passing the initial excitement, are now developing and evolving on a more logical basis. Some Iranian artists, by using and relying on Qajar motifs, have indicated the problem of national identity and its necessity in their works that is still a growing trend.

Qajar is very important for me – why, due to the arrival of photography in Iran. Qajar period is the beginning of Modernism in the art history of Iran. Because of this historical event, the art concepts underwent a metamorphosis and new structural, technical and thematic outcome has entered the artistic trend of Iran. However, On the other hand, another phenomenon such as picture archive took place in Iran that helped stabilize historic authenticity and expansion of artistic approaches. In fact, this development is a realistic portraying of the past, which has the ability to relate to our nostalgic feelings of the past.

Ancient history is important for me. The extravagant and iconic portraits of amorous wine-imbibing couples, dazzling concubines performing acrobatic feats on hennaed hands, and stern-faced, resolute monarchs, replete with monobrows, fulsome moustaches, and other sundry varieties of facial hair in vogue at the time somehow stirred my interest. If Iran ever had a movement dynasty, it belonged to the Qajars.

Women were an important part of Qajar era, and the kings were very fond of ladies to the point of choosing multiple wives. I feel that the physical look of Qajar woman is very symbolic of Iranian woman, not the stance they took, and hence the reason I used it in my art. 


[*Qajar art refers to the art, architecture, and art-forms of the Qajar dynasty of the late Persian Empire, which lasted from 1781 to 1925. The boom in artistic expression that occurred during the Qajar era was the fortunate side effect of the period of relative peace that accompanied the rule of Agha Muhammad Khan and his descendants. With his ascension, the bloody turmoil that had been the 18th century in Persia came to a close, and made it possible for the peacetime arts to again flourish.

*Safavid art is the art of the Persian Safavid dynasty from 1501 to 1722, in present-day Iran and Caucasia. It was a high point for the art of the book and architecture also including ceramics, metal, glass, and gardens. The arts of the Safavid period show a far more unitary development than in any other period of Iranian art. The Safavid Empire was one of the most significant and greatest ruling dynasties of Iran with artistic accomplishments, since the Muslim conquest of Persia.]

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DGS: Your ‘Angel’ series is a striking fusion of your signature style...tell us something about the evolution of the series. Why is it termed so? What are your thoughts on angels? (Since we do have a tradition of angelic forms and other realms in many cultures... how much of it has influenced your thought?) Another striking feature is that the wings adorn all irrespective of gender.

HA: Man has always been in search of meaning and looking for a sanctuary. In the current era, when geographical boundaries have been removed, it is easier for us to search for our true home, which is reflecting upon one’s true being. This will put an end to alienation between people. We have lost our innocence to the virtual world of machines and media. We have become estranged from our own essence, and our values have been reduced to mechanical efficiency. The same is true with art, but its value has been reduced to its material objects. 

Man’s anxiety and restlessness is the result of his alienation from his own soul. The belief in metaphysics and faith in the unseen helps man to find his soul and inner peace of mind. Art has the potential to enable him to regain this peace; art can rescue man from his anxieties and inner turmoil. I believe that Art’s potential is more than beauty: It has the potential to heal. The reporting art and realism are beautiful, but they cannot heal. An Art that is based on man’s essence and points to the beyond is the type of art that heals. Our traditional art has always considered the other realms. While Jean Gustave Courbet was asking to see an angel before he would actually draw one, Eastern artist were drawing angels. In the secular imagination, as well as in many religious traditions from the Near East, there have always been angelic beings. They were depicted by Zoroastrians in Iran, Buddhists in Bambina, the Arabs of Mesopotamia, Mani’s of Babylon, and Aramaean prophets. The depicted images were indication of belief in God, and superhuman capacities, and the same type of beliefs can be seen in Islamic traditions and sacred books. 

As an art student, I used to draw without any pre-contemplation. As the ink would touch my paper, I would play with it and it would turn into an angel. This was the beginning of my contemplation about angels, and thoughts of how I could create contemporary angels with new narratives and new experiences. I thought about creating angels from ordinary people. I painted wings on a white screen (curtain), and asked people to stand in front of these screens and to imagine their desires and to imagine that the wings belonged to them, without any judgments. Thus the models “tried on” the wings, and projected their feelings about angels. In retrospect the appearance of the angels was not a coincidence. They were messages from the unconscious beckoning to be actualized in a form of a contemporary angel. Often people were serious, other times they had fun with it. Both of these reactions were important to me. In my country, there are many who don't like to be photographed, especially women, because of their religious beliefs. But for this project, people were often eager to experience standing in front of the wings. Nevertheless, there were people that thought that they were too big (fat) to fly, and some felt that they were too sinful to stand in front of the wings. In some places the police prevented me from proceeding with the project because the concept was very unusual to them, and was considered as anti-religious by others. Working with these people was extremely interesting and exciting. They believed that their wishes had been granted and that this was the actualization of their dreams. In Iran, most private galleries tend to veer towards political and gender themes. I believe all people can become angels in character regardless of gender. Perhaps the modern world and technology has separated people from their essence with issues like war and racism, but the imagination of being an angel even for a short time is pacifying to people. To me, it brought great satisfaction to record such moments, and for me these angels were a rewriting of heaven in the modern world.

As Rumi says: “We lived in the heavens and were friends of angels …there will we once more return for that is our rightful place.”

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DGS: Are they (people in “Angel” series) people whom you know personally or are there strangers too? Was it done outdoors or indoors?

HA: No I didn’t know some of them yet. For women is a hard to be a modelling for photography, in Iran for reasons and limitation of religion. I photographed common people from the street but I started with my family. Most of them were done outdoors.


DGS: Have you been with one of your wings? How did you feel?

HA: Yes. I have. I felt like a fallen angel!

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DGS: You depict female forms, beauty, grace, elegance, old world charm. How important are these to you? Since there’s constant shift in the understanding of female beauty, how do you gauge your concept of beauty?

HA: I believe beauty is in our mind if we look at the female as sexual we lose the beauty so it’s very important for me how I look at women. They need to be looked at with respect.


DGS: Are you a ‘feminist’? There have always been men who are staunch feminists who advocated women’s cause, so just curious.

HA: No, I don’t like separate terms. Man and Woman are two parts of one thing. Example: a bird has two wings for flying, no more nor less.

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This interview is in two parts. 
To be continued...

Qajar/Safavid detail from wikipedia


Friday, September 22, 2017

Winged Journeys - Call for Submissions


Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers


What do you think of WINGS?

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Wings painted on one of the walls in Fort Kochi. Artist anon.

It is said:

"Until you spread your wings you will have no idea how far you can fly."

There are so many of us who like – love pictures where wings are portrayed. Probably that’s why we love fairies. There’s a certain element of magic to the whole theme of wings. Apart from that there’s this sense of freedom, courage, lightness that we connect with wings...that makes us often wonder at the sense of liberty birds enjoy...sometimes even the tiny forms of wings...butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies...evoke a sense of awe. There's always this wishful thinking..."If only I had wings..." 
Probably that's why I like the story of Icarus and his tragedy strikes a chord! 

So what about wings? Why am I talking about it today?

I am calling for submissions.

Of what, you mean?

If you have ever taken a picture of yourself in front of any wings – painted, assembled, carved, hand-made etc. etc. etc. I request you to email the picture with a pretty good resolution. This is to compile an assortment of pictures which will then be published in this blog. And if there’s some story behind that picture...it’s an added aura...rather an added feather!!! 

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When I  grew wings in Dubai - Dubai Garden Glow

It was the first time I had been to 'Dubai Garden Glow' the last summer vacation. It wasn't open when we were residents of Dubai that was until 2013. Though we have visited Dubai after that on other occasions we couldn't make it then. I am usually not very fond of my pictures being clicked. This was the first time I was taking a picture, standing on the pedestal while others were watching! A small queue had formed for their pictures to be taken. Such are the power of 'Wings'!

So friends, what are you waiting for? Also need your permission to share the blogpost/story in Facebook as well. Share and spread the word dears. Remember to share the details below. You can use the hashtag #wingedjourneys #huesnshades in your post.

Email your pictures with stories to mail.huesnshades@gmail.com (Remember there is a DOT between MAIL and HUESNSHADES). Please check the email address before you hit the send button.

On a closing note:

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Looking forward to your 'Winged Journeys'...

#wingedjourneys #huesnshades


ps: stay tuned...next post will be about an artist who can awe and stir us with wings. 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Girl with the Owl


Recently I was part of two exhibitions - 'Visions: Prosperity' held in Indriyam Art Gallery, Mattanchery and the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi's Annual State exhibition held in Durbar Hall Art Center, Ernakulam. There is an upcoming show, FineXT Award and National Exhibition of Mini-Artwork-2017 which is to be held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh in October. I am deeply touched by the Universe's conspiracy in helping me out...as they say. Since I had been busy with exhibitions, travelling between Palakkad and Kochi, writing, creating, managing homely affairs and everything in between that takes up an awful lot of time, I couldn't post last week.

Female forms, feminine psyche, our issues and our alter world is something I am totally interested in. Somehow I reach a zone I hadn't been looking for...it just comes naturally but gradually. It's a subject I can't shake myself off for now anyway. Every woman carries a world within her and that is something her own whether that be one of happiness or otherwise. Sometimes one doesn't even know that it exists until a situation arises. Sometimes it doesn't make sense while at times that is all what is left. To explain such nuances and subtler emotions is also highly dissatisfying probably that's why we end up painting. There are some feelings where words lack. Mostly it is the news from different channels or newspapers regarding women and their condition that hurts me...it leaves a gash somewhere and subconsciously starts invoking it. For this, I did have a reference photograph to draw from.

'Visions: Prosperity' had 21 artists; all women..so it was basically about female perspective and it was quite fascinating to see them all. How our collective psyche works! There's this invisible thread that links us all...knowingly or unknowingly. And that's the beauty of such getting together. Thanks to Narayanan Mohanan,  Sreekanth Nettoor and Onyx Poulose, the bearers of Indriyam Art Gallery for this memorable opportunity. It was also wonderful as I made some new friends and strengthened some old bonds. Women prowess!

My work from 'Visions:Prosperity' (Indriyam Art Gallery)
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Acrylics, 34x28in


In the quiet and
Still, my mind kept whispering
Hoot-a-hoot, all night.

(my haiku as title)


I will be publishing a really interesting interview of an absolutely wonderful artist soon. So stay tuned. 


Saturday, August 12, 2017

In the quaint lanes of Bastakiya


Just before you take the turn towards the Dubai Museum and the temple, you come across a serene locale amid the bustling streets as if time has stood still and is watching everything else pass by in fast motion. As you enter the Al Fahidi Historical neighbourhood you are engulfed by the old world charm of yester era with stony pathways and wind-towers earlier called Bastakiya while the quiet lanes intersect, taking you to small cafes, hotels, art galleries, art studios and vendors of spices, antiques and Persian carpets.


On a warm day, my daughter and I set out to explore those quiet lanes as if we were doing it for the first time (we were visiting the place for the fourth time in 3 years). The first stop was the XVA Gallery. Since the cafe/gallery was just opening, not many people were around except for the staff and we were left to explore at our will.

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 This image is altered using 2 images together

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We leisurely strolled around, closely observing each work of Samira Abbassy, an Iranian artist, who was on a solo display, “Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns”, in the gallery.


Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns” - Samira Abbassy

Samira Abbassy’s work has a distinct flavour even when it reminded me of Frida Kahlo. The self-portrayal, the braided hair, the serpent, the knots and all the elements speak of the shackles of probably not just her but of all women; the womanhood, their trials and tribulations – social, political and emotional, while overcoming it through contemplation and reflection. One could see the evident influence of Persian as well as Indian mythology.

In artist’s own words:

“This selection of works consists of works on paper and oil paintings on gesso panel. They are worked, reworked and occasionally destroyed.

These works take on questions and ideas of how to reveal the figure as a psycho/emotional being, and how to depict "a state of being" rather than making objective portraits of the figure.

My work can be described as autobiographical, and perhaps even confessional. I make appearances as various avatars evoking archetypes from various traditions; Greek myths, Old Testament stories, Hindu deities and Muslim folklore.

The titles offer clues to their source of intellectual, cultural, mental and emotional dilemmas, with which we all struggle. By excavating the art of cultures that were considered to be outside the “Western Canon” (Indian, Persian, Tibetan, Hindu/ Muslim/ Buddhist etc.), I concoct fictional or mythological histories.


The canvas becomes a place of self-examination; “a mirror of inclusion”, a place to contextualize the Self and establish an identity. The central figure appears as an archetype rather than a literal attempt at self-portraiture, as if attempting to depict myself from the inside out, starting with how it feels to be me, or rather, how it feels to be human.


By fusing together disparate languages, conventions and myths, I’m seeking an iconography of hybridism, where their underlying common threads can be found. My work attempts to transcend cultural boundaries by proving the porous nature of cultural influence through migration, both historically and currently.”

-Samira AbbassyJanuary 2017


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About XVA

XVA Gallery opened in 2003 by Mona Hauser. Mona Hauser is an art major who is innately artistic and has creatively put everything together reconfiguring one of the ruined houses with the permission of HH Sheikh Mohammed. Now she has four houses under XVA with 13 guest rooms designed by local artists. She has carefully chosen what goes best with what while renovating the space selecting apt colours that suits best with a neutral background since it is a historical neighbourhood. The house that she chose were originally built by the Siddiqui family and it took four years for the Dubai Architectural Heritage Department to refurbish it.

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Mona Hauser

The neighbourhood opened in 2001 which makes is relatively new. The gallery leads the contemporary, conceptual and middle-eastern based artwork and they were one of the first in Dubai. They are also a boutique hotel with a vegetarian café catering to a niche group also because of the location as it is one of the major tourist attractions.

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Vision of XVA

XVA stands for position, velocity and acceleration which is quite apt for the booming art scene in the Middle-East particularly Dubai. 

The gallery mainly likes to have artworks about the sub-continent and the Middle-East. It primarily aims at promoting artists from the same region. The selection of artworks depends on the owner and gallery director which is sometimes subjective and quite interesting.

XVA does offer artists’ residencies to their in-house artists’ who come and exchange their art work. They could stay, work, enjoy the space, be inspired and create a body of works. Some names include Alikhaan Abdollahi, Mohsen Ahmedvand, Imran Channa, Simeen Farhat, Mahmoud Hamadani, Farouk Lambaz, Hussein Al-Mohasen, Saba Masoumian, Akim Monet, Jakob Roepke, Wissam Shawkat, Katia Al Tal, Barbara Wildenboer, Morteza Zahedi and others.

They used to be based in DIFC as well for a short period and used to exhibit in other galleries too but it all depends on the timing of their events. They do look forward to collaborations with galleries and other artists as well. They have been part of Sikka Art Fair, Design Dubai, Art Dubai and several others in the region. They are eclectic in choosing which art fairs they like.

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As told to me by Banna who works in XVA gallery and was extremely enthusiastic in sharing the details.


image of Mona Hauser from Gareth Rees. Rest my own.
Referred XVA gallery website for some additional information on the artists.


Friday, June 23, 2017

I wanted to be a feminine animal sometimes – Paula Rego





Paula Rego is a Portuguese artist who pounced upon me, to my utmost elation, unawares. It was an artist friend who introduced her by bringing a book - Paula Rego by Fiona Bradley - and asking me to read it. This was sometime in May last year. I think it was one of the greatest feat by my friend as it turned out to be one of the best reads so far. Paula Rego’s work is something I would have loved from the very beginning had I known it before. An artist who doesn’t stick to the norms, who explores new territories, plunges and expunges into the unknown, makes tangible social commentary and moves vigorously forward with surmounting enthusiasm. I lovingly recall now the phases as I like to call it when her work transform and transcend to a new depth and height as they glide through it. Each one distinct and a treasure...a treat to the eyes, the senses and the conscience while rattling our depths very often with an inexplicable sense of empathy, guilt and perhaps even shame.




While Paula’s collages stir you up, ‘Girl and the Dog’ series start to nudge you somewhere. There is a menacing quality to it where you come across intense complex relationship with inimitable ambiguity. Printmaking is quite satisfying for Rego. Her etchings seem to sway you towards her with a newness both in the application and in the feel of it. Rego’s etching on ‘Captain Hook and the Lost Boy’ is one of the most surprising interpretations. ‘Flood’ is one of my favourites along with ‘Flying Children’.







As they move along to the murals, grandeur replaces it and the intricate details start to impinge you as if you are a witness to the happenings. The ballet women series is one we would have ever seen anything like it...the women who are caged in ‘girls’, who are disillusioned and who appear to have grown up and yet cannot escape from the tutu. They are all tied up! When the ‘Dog Women’ (pastel drawings) happens then there is no retreat...you are in chains and there’s no escape from the shared guilt and shame...it lets loose the beast/wild in you...Rego speaks of it as being a positive quality to be able to do so. It's not undermining or making the women downtrodden instead it's letting the wild side free.

Lila is given much credit for being one of her favourite models and perhaps a muse to Rego. The Dog Women series originated by one of the poses that Lila naturally conducted.








Rego’s ‘revenge’ through her works is also a unique way of expressing repressed feelings. She reacts through her art. Faces fear through her work. It is revenge that she exemplifies through them. That I find is a kind of catharsis which if applied could purge one of all negativity and recharge one with renewed enthusiasm. In art, I suppose, it could enliven the entire picture and realm of creativity. 











Paula reminds me of Gerard Richter only in her diverse ways of expression. She is a seasoned artist whose varied interpretations and de-interpretations, the social comments... have all created a consortium of consciousness which could point out to the exigencies of ‘nature’ both within and without, more so with the inner realm. These fine vagaries of fancy are what haunt me the most. Thus said I present the most exotic blossom to this exotic goddess as my humble tribute. 


images from pinterest