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Ala Ebtekar: 1388

Essay for exhibition catalog

Ala Ebtekar: 1388
October 8 - November 5, 2009
The Third Line
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

2 pages, fold-out brochure, 6'' x 8.5''
The Third Line (October 2009)

Ala Ebtekar's work inhabits a realm where past and present collide in a perpetual dance of deconstructed and reconstructed time and space. Equally informed by history and contemporary popular culture, Ebtekar generates a catalytic visual language that expands the circle of cultural conversation. Born and raised in Northern California in the United States, he developed an early artistic and conceptual voice through the vibrant, immediate medium of graffiti. However, it wasn't until Ebtekar made a trip to Tehran in his late teens to visit extended family that avenues for his artistic expression were fully uncorked. Initially studying with a traditional Persian miniature painter in Iran, Ebtekar soon discovered the mid-20th Century style of qahveh khanehei painting (Iranian coffee house painting), a style defined as much by its popularity amongst regular folk as its distance from court arts. In contradistinction to the official court painters of the time, qahveh khanehei painters brought fine art from the exclusive province of those with money and power to the domain of the common people. A singular characteristic of qahveh khanehei painting was its freedom, as artists of this style created their work with neither external themes nor the attention to proper anatomy and perspective as seen in miniature paintings. Qahveh khanehei painters worked entirely from their imagination and creative ability. It's entirely fitting that Ebtekar found early artistic inspiration from the worlds of graffiti and the modern tradition of qahveh khanehei painting, as his work has encompassed comparable populist sensibilities spanning continents, celebrating the stories and lives of heroic everyday people across time.

In his first solo exhibition in Dubai, 1388, Ebtekar continues along the trajectory he has been traveling on for the past several years. In its world premiere at The Third Line, Ebtekar's newest series features reverential portraits of Iranian women through multi-media pieces that employ photography, fashion, and painting. Capturing these women in resilient poses that emanate strength, resolve, and determination, he portrays them as warriors, simultaneously hinting at ancient Persian epics and the most recent call for freedom by Iran's youth - a movement led quite visibly by young Iranian women. Well known for an earlier series of intricate paintings on pages of religious manuscripts, on which he situated scenes of epic battles of warriors donning helmeted armor and wielding medieval swords and modern day bandoliers, Ebtekar choreographed a world that referenced both the past and the present in a seamless fusion of mythologies separated by centuries. In this earlier work, Ebtekar introduced modern day visual references into older source material of historic manuscript pages. In this new series, he conjures the past with brush painted silhouettes of wings, quivers, and arrows emerging just beneath the photographic surface. The compositions that result from combining these layers celebrate the often unsung lineage of Persian female warriors, who materialize as spirits existing behind and alongside the vivid portraits of young women today wearing contemporary fashion and historic helmets. With the exhibition title 1388, Ebtekar refers to both the medieval period on the Gregorian calendar and the present year on the Persian calendar, making manifest the journey that links the past to today, framing a narrative as fluid as the fabric of the women's clothing and the brushstrokes of his own hand.