Artist Iranian visionary


Shirin Neshat was born in Qazvin ( about 100 kilometers northwest of Tehran, the Iranian capital ) in 1957. She was one of a wealthy family with five children , his father was a doctor, she describes as a " well educated and progressive people " ( " Shirin Neshat : Iranian exile and artists "). His mother was " a typical Iranian woman " who have received almost no education , has family and domestic life ( MacDonald ) committed . Neshat 's family supported the Shah of Iran , Reza Pahlavi , whose goal was modernization and Westernization Iran so he could be a world power with Western countries .

     Neshat family wanted to get their children to a Western education when Shirin was at the age of 17 ( " Shirin Neshat : Iranian exile and artists " ) sent to the United States. She attended school in Los Angeles for a Hochschulabschlussund attended college at the University of California , Berkeley, then . Neshat has remained his mastery of painting at the University for his BA , MA, and in 1983. Two sisters abandoned their studies , return to Iran and eventually marry ( MacDonald ) .

Wise men from the east


Zoroastrian traditions in Persia and beyond

 24 October 2013 – 27 April 2014 at British Museum, London

Farvahar, Aida Foroutan, 2003. The winged figure is seen by the Iranian artist as a symbol of national identity. © Aida Foroutan 

by Wall Street International

This small exhibition will explain Zoroastrianism, an ancient but living religion named after the Prophet Zarathustra, through objects and coins from Persia (Iran) and beyond.

The display will feature a variety of ancient and modern objects and coins, and will highlight the importance of Zoroastrian traditions in other religions. It will touch on the concept and imagery of the Three Kings of the Christian tradition, who are described in the New Testament (Matthew 2.2) as Magi from the east – Zoroastrian priests in the Persian tradition.

Magnificent Islamic coins from Mughal India which follow the Iranian Zoroastrian calendar adopted by the emperor Akbar (1556–1605) will also be on display.

Modern objects will show the ongoing legacy of this ancient Iranian religion and its significance as a symbol of national identity for Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian Iranians in modern Persia and beyond.

Silver coin of Bahram I (AD 273–76), Sasanian king of Iran, showing the Zoroastrian fire altar. © The British Museum

Set of six Parsi tiles from Mumbai, 1980-89, showing in the centre the sacred fire, on the left the legendary King Lohrasp of the Iranian epic tradition, and on the right the Prophet Zarathustra. Donated by Adervad S. Deboo. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Modern gold pendant showing the Zoroastrian winged figure, fravashi/farvahar, which symbolises the immortal spirit of each human being that defends the material world against evil. Private Collection. © V.S. Curtis


Wall Street International Magazine: Wise men from the east

Notes from Underground

‘In Iran, we’ve learned how to speak our minds without creating problems for anyone’

by Joobin Bekhrad, REORIENT

A few months back, on a sunny Thursday morning, I met a lanky, wavy haired wild child for tea at Tehran’s Khaneh-ye Honarmandan, a cultural centre in the smoggy heart of the city. I’d been in touch with Moslem Rasouli for a while online, after having developed an interest in his ingeniously clever Facebook images, mostly featuring his face superimposed on those of Qajar concubines, subjects of  Renaissance paintings, and Hollywood belles. It was only later, of course, that I discovered his recordings, and his experiments in fusing classical and folk music from Iran with modern, electronic sensibilities, and his ambition for preserving his country’s musical heritage.

Sipping on a cup of hot Indian chai, overlooking the leafy square below us (where a few individuals had been hanged only weeks earlier), Moslem and I chatted about his rise to comic fame, our shared Rashti roots, and his penchant for Spongebob Squarepants, as well as Tehran’s underground music scene, his life as a twenty-something musician in Iran, and his work.

Having been recently featured on a UK radio programme, and with a new music video out on the net, Moslem is one emerging musician who’s been making quite a ‘sound’ these days, as we Iranians like to say. Exclusive to REORIENT, the following is his first media interview.

How long have you been working as an electronic musician, and how did you enter the Iranian alternative music scene? I know your father is a poet … did he and others around you encourage you to become a musician, or was it more of a decision you made on your own?

I can say I’ve been working as an electronic musician since I was 12 or 13 years old. At the time, I began creating mixes of various songs; the mixes were fraught with imperfections, although gradually I began to find my way as a musician, and my music started to become more ‘professional’. That being said, though, I’m still learning and experiencing things, and I hope to one day reach a much more advanced level.

I had wanted to put together a collection of mixes of songs that I had heard – just songs that I had listened to, not necessarily ones that I had edited or worked on. That’s essentially how I ‘entered’ the alternative music scene in Tehran.

What’s interesting for me when it comes to this sort of music is how it can bring together people from different corners of the earth so closely together. For instance, a German prog rock band sampling the music of an old villager in some remote part of Iran … you never know – I might find my ‘hidden half’ on the other side of the world one day as well!

Regarding my mother and father … my father gave me lots of freedom, and really supported me, although I must say that my mother, first and foremost, has been the one who has been the most encouraging. It was my mother who bought me my first instrument … she had to sell some of her gold jewelry to do so.

As a musician working in a non-traditional genre, and one that doesn’t receive much support from the Government, have you ever encountered any obstacles or impasses? If so, how did you go about dealing with them?

I haven’t encountered any particular problems to date … the only thing is that I sometimes receive messages from ‘purists’ who think I’ve ‘insulted’ traditional Iranian music. In my opinion, the Government doesn’t really have an issue with underground music. Recently, they’ve even been supporting it, to a degree; it’s this society that doesn’t change. A half-naked woman, for instance, poses no threat to the Iranian Government … it’s society that wouldn’t accept something like that, and that would oppose it. In spite of all the difficulties, though, in Iran, we’ve learned over the years how to speak our minds without creating problems for anyone.

In the film, No One Knows About Persian Cats, Bahman Ghobadi tried to cinematically portray the alternative music scene in Tehran. How close would you say his depiction was to the reality there, taking into account the experiences of you and your colleagues?  

I don’t know enough to be able to comment on the works of Bahman Ghobadi, but I can say that although things have gotten better in Iran, the case is more or less the same as Ghobadi depicted.

I was once speaking with Ashkan [a member of the now London-based indie band Take it Easy Hospital, featured in Ghobadi’s film], and he was telling me about how Ghobadi’s film was a representation of the general situation of that particular time, not necessarily of the state of underground music.

From what I’ve seen and experienced, there are many in Iran who still believe that a music scene ‘exists’ in Iran, as well as many other things, and that we shouldn’t be critical … but when you step outside the country, you see that a music scene doesn’t really exist in Iran; everything here is inherently flawed.

Mosfata Heravi has made a new video, using one of your songs as its basis. Where did the idea for the project come from, and what’s the story? As well, where has it been released to date, and what do you think of Mostafa’s interpretation of your work?

I was very happy to collaborate with Mostafa Heravi. Mostafa is currently making a film about movement and dance, and as he said, there are certain types of music that add to his work. The music for Unlikely Lullaby was an excuse to collaborate together on that video, and he will be producing a number of other works in the same vein.

The video has only been released on the Internet so far. In terms of the story … well, naturally, Mostafa had something in mind, although I myself, when it comes to producing a work of art, don’t necessarily look for stories or concepts; I instead try to produce something I enjoy – especially when it comes to producing accompanying music for a dance project, which is all about form and movement. Generally speaking, the concepts behind dance aren’t too complicated, and we don’t have any set ‘rules’; for instance, we wouldn’t say, this movement means ‘this’ or ‘that’ – everyone has their own interpretation. There are many dance productions that have storylines, although the focal point is always form.

In Unlikely Lullaby, we presented a form of modern dance … even though it was quite ‘simple’, and aesthetically it wasn’t anything grandiose, I am quite proud of what Mostafa achieved.

I know you’re very passionate about Iranian folk music, from all around the country. What importance does folk music hold for you, as an electronic musician? Many in Iran – especially those of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations – believe that the two styles of music are irreconcilable. What do you think?

A few friends and I began listening to various styles of music from around the world. Afterwards, one of us became interested in electronic music, the other in jazz and classical, and another in metal, while I developed an interest in folk music. I was looking for emotion, which I found in that style of music. In folk music, there are all sorts of emotions and feelings … for me, a classical piece performed by the best musicians in a symphony orchestra pales in comparison to the thrill of listening to the voice of an old villager in the middle of nowhere.

It’s only natural that folk and electronic music are often at opposite ends of the spectrum; however, even though they’re very different, essentially, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be reconciled. The mixing of the two styles is like the friendship between two people with fundamentally different beliefs – who says they can’t still be friends? In fact, one of the reasons I combine the two is to bridge the gap between these two generations you referred to. I thought that maybe as a result, our parents could forge a relationship with today’s music, or vice versa, that the young people of today’s generation could develop an interest in Iranian folk music.

We were recently talking about Iranian underground music from before the Revolution, and you seemed quite sad about the fact that certain groups weren’t received very well and given enough support to continue making music. Have any of these groups influenced your music in any way? As well, what do you make of the recent fascination in the West with many hitherto unknown rock, psych, and funk records from Iran?

There were a lot of groups that were active before the Revolution, like the Rebels, Ojoobe-ha, the Jokers, Tak Khal-ha, and many others, who in the long run, weren’t received too well and slowly disappeared over time, or whose members went on to form other groups [such as The Rebels’ Shahram Shabpareh, who later performed with other legends such as Ebi and Farhad as the Black Cats]. After the Revolution, of course, while the music scene effectively disappeared, the music itself did not. The fact that record labels in the West [e.g. Finders Keepers, Pharaway Sounds, Light in the Attic] are interested in the songs of that era is wonderful to hear. Great works – even in the absence of their composers – remain, and will always keep their name and memory alive.

What are you working on at the moment? What’s next for Moslem Rasouli? 

Right now, I’m working on a project called Genital Instrument, a collection of covers of popular rock songs, as well as songs from other genres, on the setar [a long-necked Persian lute, meaning literally, ‘three (se) strings (tar)’]. Aside from my personal projects, I’m also working on music for television programs, short animations, trailers, and video games.

Translated from Persian by Joobin Bekhrad


Paul Revere rides again in 'Persian Visions'


Revolutionary potential in Iranian photography show at USM

Untitled by Ebrahim Khadem Bayat
by Daniel Kany, Press Herald

In America, we don’t typically think of artists as intellectuals. Warhol proffered the idea of artist as ringmaster – mixing theater and salesmanship with talent. The Abstract Expressionists were sold as hard-drinking brawlers isolating themselves for their own self-expressive spiritual journeys. Now we aren’t sure if Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst are even on our side or if they’re just selling snake oil.

But somewhere in there is an American notion of an avant-garde with truly revolutionary ideas. We can hardly forget, after all, not just Paul Revere’s ride, but his highly-propagandized image of the “Boston Massacre.” After all, it is often argued that it was Revere’s artistic license with this engraving that set the revolutionary fire alight. A similarly credited image is Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die” engraving of a snake chopped into its component colonies.

These images do not illustrate facts or traffic in settled notions. Instead, they seek to stretch the viewer’s imagination forward. While Franklin used the logic of wartime (and economic) alliances, Revere mobilized fear: If citizens of Boston could be shot down in the street by British troops, no one in the Colonies would be safe.

The power of these images created by our most famous leading intellectuals led average citizens to conclude marshal action was necessary. This is how the American Revolution went from unthinkable to logical to inevitable – to history.

Governments have long understood the power of art. History is dotted with Savanarolas getting Boticellis to toss their own paintings onto bonfires. There are Daumiers and Hogarths and Malevichs: The Soviets came to fear the revolutionary potential of Malevich’s abstract paintings because they saw how he became a leader in a successful revolution – their own – so they turned on him and banned his abstraction. Now, we are reading about Cornelius Gurlitt’s hoarding of 1,500 allegedly Nazi-confiscated paintings; a reminder that the dark genius of Hitler – a talented painter – did not overlook the power of entarte Kunst – “degenerate art” – and its propensity to inspire revolutionary ideas.

USM’s “Persian Visions” is a photography exhibition that shows us what edgy art made in oppressive regimes can look like now. While it was created by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and the University of Minnesota, this widely-travelling show had to pass through government filters, but it nonetheless bristles with mystery and a pervasive sense of paranoia in forms essentially alien to American cultural thought. This alone makes the show worth visiting, but even the obvious questions (like, to what extent was it redacted by Iranian censors?) inspire thoughts that genuinely stretch our intellects on the topics of culture, freedom and the role of art within a society.

The three score photos (and two videos) by 20 artists on view at the USM Art Gallery in Gorham and USM’s Portland campus Area Gallery also comprise the first survey of Iranian photography on display in America, so – as compromised as it may be – it is a historic show.

“Persian Visions” largely features photographs of people in interiors. It is set thick with mystery and anxiety. Considering it is a society of law-enforced burkas (which, according to a feminist dialectic, assigns revolutionary power to a woman’s displayed sexuality; a idea rich in Koroush Adim’s unnervingly ravishing “Revelations 2,” for example), we see life in Iran as happening indoors where families can take off their public masks. In other words, the dialogue is not public/private as we know it, but political/private as Iranians ostensibly live.

Self-portrait by Shokoufe Alidousti. Courtesy Press Herald.

Farshid Azarang’s “Scattered Reminiscences,” is a standout work, but it holds tight to the mortal domestic concerns of the show. It features 11 panels in three lines starting with old snapshots of family members. These images are then followed by photos of television screen static (images of televisions play a surprisingly large role in “Persian Visions”) and then return to newer portraits, cut to black (brother, undoubtedly dead) or finish with a blurred image (sister, Alzheimer’s? dementia?)

A deep theme is the unknown, and it is very different from American-style tension usually defined by its resolution. One of the two very strong videos, “White Station,” follows an old woman during a white-out blizzard as she ventures out of her apartment building to the bus stop. And when the bus doesn’t arrive, she moves to the next stop before, ultimately, giving up. In a video looped for an exhibition, this takes on a fascinatingly doomed-to-endlessly-repeat-itself feel.

Shokoufeh Alidousti’s self-portraits show her in black with only parts of her face revealed (hinting at a sophisticated take on synecdoche – using a part to represent the whole) on a black ground with black and white family photos of her as a little girl with mom, dad and siblings. This weaves a gorgeously tangled web of blocked or hidden narratives about her interior life (in both senses). And it presents an artistic way of seeing the world that could hardly be more different than Maine’s art of ocean and nature scenes, or even our labor-intensive contemporary art of process and craft.

Just as Franklin and Revere looked to the cutting-edge communications technology of the printing press, “Persian Visions” presents photographs ripe with the digital potential to squeeze out to the world through any tiny access point to the Internet.

It is also a reminder of the critical issues of identity that accompany or even drive radical societal change. After all, when Franklin and Revere made those famous images, they were not yet Americans: They were Englishmen.

“Persian Visions” is not a typical photography show for Maine. It is thoughtful, smart and – despite passing the censors – potentially subversive.

“Generous Butcher,” a composite image, by Esmail Abassi. Courtesy Press Herald. 

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland.

Via Press Herald

Related Link: 'Persian Visions,' Ovations concert promise 'diverse immersion' in Iranian culture 

Persia meets Europe in Zurich

by le mag, Euronews

The artistic dialogue between Persia and Europe is at the heart of a new exhibition in the Swiss city of Zurich.

It explores the way Europe and Persia, today’s Iran, began to inch closer 400 years ago – politically, economically, culturally and artistically. Europe dispatched trading companies and religious orders; the shah sent his ambassadors. Rubens drew inspiration from Persian miniatures and Muhammad Zaman created works inspired by Italian and French painters.

An exchange that lives on to this day according to curator Axel Langer: “I think it really comes from both sides. There isn’t one side which has less or more [impact] than the other. But, what I thought is interesting is that the two react differently to each others’ art,” he said.

The adaptation of famous engravings by Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi is a prime example of the way European art influenced Persian painters. Semi-naked bodies had long featured in Persian painting, but nudes were used solely to illustrate stories and were not intended to be sensual. The encounter with European art brought about a dramatic artistic evolution.

“The Persian nude was something that might have been developed through contact with European sources. We don’t expect it, because we have a certain prejudice or certain idea of Islamic ethical behaviour, and we think this didn’t exist, but it is not true. it was for private use only. It was not copying European sources but they turned it to something new,” said Axel Langer.

Persian art was enthusiastically imitated in Poland. The first silk sashes, which soon became a must-have accessory among the Polish nobility, were brought over from Persia in the 17th century. By the end of the 18th century, sashes with Persian patterns were made in Poland.
The exhibition also features artworks by seven contemporary Iranian artists that reflect the globalisation of cross-cultural exchange:

“We integrated contemporary art because we wanted to show that Iranian art is also global. That means it is not influenced anymore by Europeans or only the West, but this is a kind of art that is reacting to a global market or to global ideas, which might react to an Iranian presence or situation, but which are also giving ideas to audiences all over the world.”

The Fascination of Persia” runs at Zurich’s Rietberg Museum until January 21.

The dialogue between Persia and Europe is echoed by the work of the Nour Ensemble, a unique artistic experiment combining Iranian and European music. Euronews’ Mohammad Mohammadi attended a concert by the group at the Zurich museum.

The head of the ensemble, Christophe Rezai, explained how it came about: “Why did I chose medieval music for the European part of our ensemble? The reason is I think it has three elements in common with Persian music. Firstly, it is modal. Secondly, it is inspired by the people. And the other common element is improvisation, which played an important part in medieval music,” he said.

The ensemble is made up of French and Persian artists, who share their musical tradition and reinvent traditional Kurdish, Persian and European repertoires.

“Everyone in our ensemble plays his part by bringing in his own musical tradition. Each artist engages in the conversation in his own language. For instance, one part is Iranian and then turns European, before the two are mixed to create a new language,” said Christophe Rezai.

The outcome? A creative melting pot of classical, traditional and contemporary music.

Via Euronews

'Persian Visions,' Ovations concert promise 'diverse immersion' in Iranian culture

“Untitled”, Arman Stephanian, 2003. Courtesy MaineToday Media.

by David Carkhuff, Portland Daily Sun

The universal character of art is one of the revelations offered by an exhibit of Iranian photography at University of Southern Maine.

The lesson: "It's not so foreign after all. Art does flourish, it's part of our aspect of being and it will flourish even at times of repression," said Carolyn Eyler, director of Exhibitions and Programs at University of Southern Maine in Gorham and Portland.

"Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran," on display until Dec. 8, gives visual clues to life in Iran, a nation also known as Persia with deep roots in ancient Asia. For years, Iran has dominated the news cycle in America for different reasons, generally as a result of policy tensions and political conflicts. Yet, the photographs reach into a deeper understanding of Iranian life, Eyler noted.

"It's interesting that the country that we knew as Persia still exists, there's a place, a people, a culture, there's a particular sensibility," said Eyler, describing a "very refined aesthetic sensibility," as illustrated in ornate tapestries and other works of art. The photography often cuts against the grain of tradition. albeit with subtlety and nuance.

"From over a dozen artists, 58 works, you can see a variety of personal expressions, which in totality gives us a glimpse, at least a slice of the overall cultural sensibility," Eyler said.

Reza Jalali, American-Iranian scholar and writer, and coordinator of the USM Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, explained in a press release, "Modern Iran, the heir to the 2,500 year-old Persian civilization, is home to a vibrant artistic community, which despite state censorship and decades-old sanctions, continues to create and express art that demands our attention."

Jalali will explore the context of contemporary Persian performing and visual arts Saturday with a lecture, "Unveiling Contemporary Iranian Arts," at USM's Hannaford Hall in Portland. The lecture, from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., is a lead-in to another cultural experience, that of a concert by four-time Grammy nominee Kayhan Kalhor, renowned for his mastery of traditional Persian music. Kalhor will perform at Hannaford Hall at 8 p.m., in a production by Portland Ovations, a premier nonprofit performing artists group active in Portland since 1931.

Aimee Petrin, executive director of Portland Ovations, said the group has sought out Kalhor for some time. "He's been on our wish list for several years," she said.

The "Persian Visions" exhibit helped spur Saturday's concert into becoming a reality, Petrin said.

"Once we heard through our partners at USM that this exhibit was coming, we thought this is the perfect timing," Petrin said.

The Gorham Art Gallery will be open noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday (at presstime, indications were the Portland gallery would be open Friday but not Saturday, per normal hours). So, with a little bit of planning, for those embarking on an art-and-music combination, the photography exhibit could be the first part of a multi-pronged experience.

"I think if someone goes to the exhibit, and then comes to the preconcert lecture and then the performance they would get a pretty instant and diverse immersion in Persian art," Petrin said.

"I think they provide different insights into Persian art," Petrin said of the images and music.
Eyler said the Persian photography has parallels in history.

Speaker Pamela Karimi, assistant professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, at a lecture earlier this year in Portland, expressed an analogy of African-Americans whose art often held masked meanings.

"All countries have had their moments, with the music of African-Americans, looking back to the 1920s and '30s there are a lot of coded words and things they couldn't say directly," Eyler said.

Likewise, the photography exhibit features "cultural references and perhaps a sense of repression that can only be pointed toward," she said.

"It appears it's a very important culture particularly right now to get to know better," Eyler said. "Isn't it wonderful that here's an opportunity to bypass all the middlemen, the media, and stand face to face in front of a personal expression of an Iranian or Persian artist?"

At USM, the multicultural population is one of the growing populations of students, reflecting changing demographics of the Portland area, Eyler said. This trend, she said, adds significance to the USM art exhibit, the Portland Ovations concert and a Portland Museum of Art exhibit, "Ahmed Alsoudani: Redacted," from American-Iraqi artist and Maine College of Art graduate Ahmed Alsoudani.

“Untitled”, Ahmad Nateghi, 1998. Courtesy  MaineToday Media.

For more about the Master of Persian Music: Kayhan Kalhor concert, visit
For more about Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran," visit

Event Details:

• "Unveiling Contemporary Iranian Arts" at Hannaford Hall, University of Southern Maine, Portland. Saturday, Nov. 23, 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Writer and community organizer, Reza Jalali introduces examples and explores the context of contemporary Persian performing and visual arts.

• Master of Persian Music: Kayhan Kalhor, at Hannaford Hall, University of Southern Maine, Portland. Saturday, Nov. 23, 8 p.m. Internationally acclaimed virtuoso on the kamancheh (a four-stringed, upright Persian fiddle, ancestor to the violin), four-time Grammy nominee Kayhan Kalhor is a major creative influence in today's global music scene. His performances of traditional Persian music and multiple collaborations have won him fans around the world. Recognized for his classical playing and compositions, Kalhor has appeared in solo recital at Carnegie Hall and as part of Lincoln Center's MostlyMozart Festival. He is a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project. In Portland, he will be joined by additional musicians, to be announced, for an evening of masterful music.

• A University of Southern Maine art exhibit of 58 works of photography and video installations reflecting life in contemporary Iran is now open and on display until Dec. 8. "Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran," noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday, Art Gallery, Gorham Campus, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Friday, AREA Gallery, located in the Woodbury Campus Center, Portland Campus. "Persian Visions" was developed by Hamid Severi for the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran, and Gary Hallman of the Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C.

Via Portland Daily Sun

Infinite Regress


Two Iranian Artists Multiply Their Spiritual Images

The Golden Gate Bridge and clouds are kaleidoscoped to resemble the mind-expanding art adorning mosques. Courtesy SF Weekly

by Jonathan Curiel, SF Weekly

With an arts tradition that goes back more than 5,000 years, and a modern art scene that embraces everything from graffiti to avant-garde film, Iran is one of the world's greatest countries to experience the visual arts. It's a travesty that Iran has been off-limits to most Americans since 1979, when a revolution turned it into a pariah state. But the détente that has emerged on the political front with the election of a new Iranian president (who, by the way, is on Twitter) parallels the opening of three new exhibits that are giving Americans a first-hand look at the intricacies of Iranian art and sculpture.

The largest show, "Iran Modern," is at New York's Asia Society, but San Francisco has two sterling exhibits: "The First Family" at Haines Gallery, which features the work of longtime Iranian artist Monir Farmanfarmaian, and "Twisted Sisters: Reimagining Urban Portraiture" at San Francisco City Hall, which features the work of Sanaz Mazinani, who spent her early life in Tehran and now lives in Bernal Heights.

Mazinani's montages take traditional Persian motifs and infuse them with modern touches — and a San Francisco aesthetic. Golden Gate Bridge, for example, has red sections of the span's towers floating in a blue sky, where they connect with cloud puffs and geometric shapes to form an otherworldly kaleidoscope. Influenced by patterns found in traditional Persian carpets, and utilizing Persian blues that adorn some of Iran's most dazzling structures, Mazinani made Golden Gate Bridge for a series she calls "Forever in the Sky." In 16th and Mission, also on display at City Hall, Mazinani has tall, thin palm trees floating in the air next to an assemblage of alluring shapes. In Sutro Tower, it's the top of San Francisco's tallest transmission structure that hovers high in the sky, Persian-style. The patterns — like the patterns of floral shapes, calligraphy, and architectural swoops that cover Iranian mosques — are designed to both focus the mind and free it.

"I was doing research, and I found that the reason Iranian mosques are covered in this pattern is to allow your eyes to fall into it and to go elsewhere intellectually," says Mazinani. "It's a spiritual thing."

"Twisted Sisters," which celebrates San Francisco's Sister City relationship with Zurich, Switzerland, showcases the work of five Bay Area artists who tear down touristic stereotypes of San Francisco. Mazinani, who's 35, was an ideal choice for the exhibit — someone who's lived in four countries (Iran, Turkey, Canada, the United States) and knows how easy it is for reductive impressions to become the normative view. Her family left Iran in 1989, after the Iran-Iraq war that killed more than a million people. Mazinani, who moved to the Bay Area in 2009 to get an MFA from Stanford, frequently addresses issues of war and conflict in her work, as with her photographic series of the Occupy movement and her art series examining media representations of war. Mazinani's "Sky" series combines painterly touches with photography. Mazinani has been taking images of clouds for a decade.

"I was always really interested in borders and issues around land and landlessness, and being an immigrant, and I found it really rewarding to look up at the sky and see these beautiful clouds moving — without any limitations, without checkpoints, without passports," she says. "I was making works about war and conflicts and activism and all this stuff and this is a way for me to also make it beautiful. It creates an accessible way for people to enter my work. They can see what they want in it. I really like having work that's open to interpretation."

Monir Farmanfarmaian's art at Haines Gallery also has an interpretive quality, and adopts patterns that are completely transfixing. Farmanfarmaian, who's almost 90, used thousands of mirror pieces to create shimmering triangles, squares, hexagons, decagons, and other shapes. Mirrors are overlaid on mirrors. Angles jut into other angles. Approaching one of Farmanfarmaian's creations is like approaching a hall of cascading mirrors, except that Farmanfarmaian's works are small — anywhere from 2 to 4 feet across.

In Persian culture, the mirror is used frequently in art, architecture, and religious settings to signify a connection to the divine. So Farmanfarmaian's art at Haines Gallery — besides being intensely beautiful — has an underlying spiritual element. It's there if you want it, just as it is in Mazinani's art. Like Mazinani, Farmanfarmaian has lived in both Iran and the United States — Farmanfarmaian's initial tenure was in the 1940s and 1950s, in New York, and put her in touch with some of America's most formidable artists of the time, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Andy Warhol. Warhol was a fan. Farmanfarmaian's early years in the U.S., where she studied at Parsons School of Design and at Cornell, changed her life and her art. So did returning to Iran in the late '50s, where she gave Iranians a new way to experience the art form of mirrors.

"I did art because I loved to express myself, but didn't expect that I'm doing something unusual. Now, I realize that I have done something unusual that brought the medium of mirror work and geometric design for the public," Farmanfarmaian told an interviewer last year. "It was always in the ceiling or the wall or the palaces, but it never was in people's houses."

Iran's 1979 revolution was devastating to Farmanfarmaian. The country's religious authorities confiscated her early works, and she fled to New York — though she returned to Iran in 2004. She says Iran makes the only type of thin glass that's ideal for her work. Farmanfarmaian laughs a lot in interviews. She's happy to still be an active artist using a medium she loves. Mirrors, she says, give everyone "a reflection of your soul." That type of Sufi thought is embedded in Iran's culture, and is carried — not surprisingly — in the art of both Farmanfarmaian and Mazinani, wherever they choose to live or exhibit.

Details: Through Jan. 17 at San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, S.F. Free; 554-6093 or Dec. 21 at Haines Gallery, 49 Geary, S.F. Free; 397-8114 or

Via SF Weekly