Curatorial Projects > One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran (2009-10)

One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran - A project organized by Taraneh Hemami & Ghazaleh Hedayat

November 4, 2009 - January 23, 2010
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

This exhibition compiles a collective narrative of everyday Tehran, Iran – the largest city in the Middle East and the 16th most populated city in the world with over 8 million residents, larger than London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Bogotá, and Berlin. One Day features the work of eight artists living and working in Tehran – Nima Alizadeh, Saba Alizadeh, Mohammad Ghazali, Ghazaleh Hedayat, Abbas Kowsari, Mehran Mohajer, Neda Razavipour, and Homayoun Askari Sirizi – alongside new work by San Francisco-based and Iranian-born artist Taraneh Hemami. In 2007, Hemami began working on this project with co-organizer Ghazaleh Hedayat, who moved back to Iran after graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute. They selected a group of artists in Tehran to engage with their immediate environment by responding to the mundane and the ordinary through observations of people, objects, and rituals. For over a year and a half, Hemami and Hedayat maintained regular communications and held meetings with the collective of artists in Tehran to both form and inform the work for this project. However, the recent turn of events in Iran preceding and following the country's presidential elections this summer sparked even more complex dialogues among the artists.

As Taraneh Hemami states, "We discussed the exhibition – which at this point brought out a lot of questions for everyone. With the tight focus of the world on Iran, and the government of Iran blaming the West for instigating the demonstrations, accusing the opposition and the people of being funded and agents of the West, the motivations about the show itself went under question for us. We discussed how an exhibition about Tehran, at this particular juncture in time, would carry an expectation by audiences that would create a specific reading of all the works. Given that most of the work was created before the elections, this became a concern. Yet, we found that the change in the reading of the work in some ways had added to their power, becoming almost a premonition of the events occurring. For instance, Neda Razavipour's video that asks the audience to find the missing person from two identical scenes becomes a commentary of the missing and dead from the events after the elections; and in a more subtle way, the traveling maps of Ghazaleh Hedayat now has a second reading as the routes of the public gatherings that became violent throughout the city."

"Yet the hesitation was why now? Why Tehran? Why an American audience? There were voices amongst the artists that were feeling completely committed to doing it at this time, to keep their voices alive outside the country, and to embrace this cultural exchange as being the best form of communication – that no matter what the weight of the media might bring to the exhibition at this time, it is necessary for these international exchanges to continue. Yet some of the artists questioned art as a form of engagement at this time, feeling that political activism was what was needed and anything that would distract from that should be avoided by all costs. As the news of Iran became more infrequent and shifted from the people in the streets to sanctions and negotiations with the government, it was important to the artists that we should indeed have the exhibition at this time, and allow the work to create a dialogue about the ways in which historical events have affected readings of their older work. Some of the artists also chose to create new work for this exhibition. For example, Saba Alizadeh's sculptural sound piece is a monument to the people who lost their lives this summer and Nima Alizadeh's recordings of Tehran radio during the time of the elections became a much more dominant element of the exhibition. We collectively decided to have these aural and textual elements as the unifying element of the exhibition, linking all the work together and adding to the weight of the reading of the other works."

This project in a way expands the dialogue initiated in a 2007 collaboration between Intersection and Hemami entitled Most Wanted. In that solo exhibition project, Hemami explored the nature of perception, recognition, and representation while examining how the image of the "new enemy" has been constructed and misused. Initially inspired by an official U.S. government document produced after 9/11 that depicted countless, blurred portrayals of “most wanted terrorists,” she investigated stereotypes, cultural representation, and cultural understanding through a sculptural and video installation. Whereas Hemami challenged how the West portrayed those from the Middle East in Most Wanted, now she, along with the collective group of artists in this exhibition, present their voices and perspectives on their own terms. Resonating with recent years in this country, we must be reminded about the fallacy of equating people with government, and to truly look, listen, and experience what makes us all human, the desire to be understood unencumbered by stereotypes and preconceived notions.