Curator Mona Kosheghbal talks painting, contemporary Iranian art and the opening of the new CAMA gallery in London.
How did your interest in visual arts develop and what made you want to curate art shows?
I am a painter, and so my interest in visual arts stems from there. I began painting when I was a child and went on to graduate from the Tehran University of Art with a degree in painting. I taught art and painting for many years after that. Becoming a curator was completely accidental. Several years ago, I was involved in organising an exhibition with several young artists, each of whom are now well-known in the field. Just before the opening, the gallery owner told me that they would not showcase several of the works, even though the works had already been confirmed. I left the gallery with a feeling of disappointment and I decided to make my own way in the curatorial world, with the aim to change the way artworks are selected. I wanted to change the system from one based on personal taste to a more professional one based on the informed choices of directors of the galleries, curators, dealers and those involved in art in general. I want to give equal opportunities to artists of all kinds and showcase valuable art in an open and honest manner.
What is the story behind the CAMA gallery?
Transparency and honesty are our founding principles for the CAMA Gallery. So much so we want to change common practice by presenting the prices of artworks publicly, introducing buyers to artists and expressing everything in an open manner. CAMA believes that there is no higher power than truthfulness, operating through a system based on the combination of motivation, faith, knowledge and expertise. We are a team of young, passionate and motivated individuals from all over the world. As experts in our fields, we have united our strengths through the shared belief that Iranian art has a special potential that has not yet been realised. We are here to take this major step. Art has always played a fundamental role in the creation of culture across all societies. Art has come to promote kindness, eliminate violence and send the message of peace. We are keen to work with artists who seek to create art capable of crossing borders and promoting global peace.
Why did you choose London to open the new gallery?
London is one of the most important centres of arts in the world. It is the pulse of art and economics on a global scale, home to some of the largest artistic enterprises, art organisations and auctions. Occupying such a singular and vibrant space in the artistic and economic arenas, it seemed only right to open our new gallery there.
The London gallery first exhibition, Sensation, is quite eclectic. What was the thinking behind putting together the show and what do you hope visitors will take out of it?
Sensations! I believe Iranian people and artists are very much in touch with their emotions. This is evident in the history and literature of the East and Iran, which focus heavily on the representation of the self and 'interiority'. We chose the name of the show, Sensation, as it is the best word to represent all the works in the exhibition. It should be noted that, for opening show we have gone to great efforts to show the variety of genres, techniques and visions of some of the top young and contemporary Iranian artists.
I am interested in how you choose the artists you work with. For example, you seem to have a specific interest in working with female artists.
Working with female artists is a very important aspect of our work, not only because I am a female curator but because we want to represent an inclusive and all-rounded selection of artists that truly embody the spirit of the modern and contemporary Iranian art scene. We feel that art knows no gender, what we seek to show is the best of all Iranian art from all viewpoints.
What is the contemporary art scene like in Iran at the moment and what do you think is unique about it?
Nowadays, Iranian contemporary art is growing substantially. With the efforts of knowledgeable and informed Iranian artistic directors, the contemporary art scene in Iran in recent years has been truly blossoming. The presence of auctions, such as the Tehran Auction with its extraordinary turnover, have encourage a number of young artists to pursue careers in the arts whether that be producing their own or offering unique artistic products. I believe what makes Iranian art unique is the longstanding thought and philosophy behind Iranian artistic production, an artistic narrative that reaches far back and references original Iranian traditions. This is a subtle kind of narrative, told through the presence of myths presented in hidden and mysterious forms, a prominent feature of Iranian art, literature and philosophy.
Some of the artists you work with, such as Morteza Pourhosseini, have been vocal about criticising through their work the current repressive treatment of women in Iran. Do you think art has a real role to play in bringing changes in society and making political statements?
Unfortunately, we did not have the chance of having his works showcased in the opening ceremony of CAMA Gallery as he is engaged with a different exhibition at the same time. Pourhosseini is a remarkable conceptual painter. His works, at first glance, may seem about the repressive treatment of women in Iran, but at the very heart of his work, in his own words, is the power of women rather their suppression. His art shows that sometimes this power is hidden under layers of tradition and cannot be seen easily, while what is visible is the masculine face and the symbol of oppression.
Historically, Eastern culture has believed in the value of women, believing in the need to protect and hide them, as you would a valuable piece of jewellery or art. Pourhosseini shows through his work that under what may seem like a fragile and vulnerable beauty hides an astonishing power.
In contemporary Iran, women are continuing to play a key role and be increasingly successful. I am proud to be a female curator from Iran, who has arranged an exhibition showcasing successful female artists from the East.
More information about the CAMA gallery can be found here.