The Biennale 2015 # 2: Iran’s pavilion

Iran's pavillion at the red banners
Iran’s pavillion at the red banners

Year by year the “third” Venice Biennale venues outside Giardini and Arsenale – i.e. all over the rest of the city in apartments, palazzos and old factories – grow relatively more interesting and diverse.

It is fun to be forced to find one’s way to the most hidden places, through a little door in a wall, through a garden, or whatever. And those searching walks give you a break from looking at art all the time – something Giardini and Arsenale doesn’t permit you to do. And one never gets bored by exploring the millions of small alleys through Venice.

The Biennale is now so huge that you can anyhow only see a fraction – and so you have to choose. Together with quite a few other exhibitons in town, I chose Iran’s because of my interest in Iranian contemporary art and my peacebuilding-related work in Iran.


Most far away from everything else and close to the Jewish ghetto area Cannaregio, Iran has found its’ place in an old ship-building factory. The contrast between the hard, raw, worn-down machine halls and the exquisite, often elegant, art pieces was very exciting.


Iran hasn’t participated in The Biennale since the 1970s but is back with a bang, one must say.

And not only Iran. In a visonary attempt – and a successful one at that – it has given up the idea of a national pavilion and instead built its presence on a great idea – The Great Game. This alludes to the late 19th century battle between the Russia empire and the British empire competing for control of the larger Middle East/Central Asian region from India to the Persian Gulf – of which Iran sees itself as centrally places, of course.


Thus, Iran not only shows some of the finest contemporary Iranian artists. It has invited artists also from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Central-Asian republics and Kurdish regions under the sub-title “Art, Artists and Culture from the Heart of the World.”

And there is a wonderful catalogue book in English, Italian and Farsi published by Silvana Editoriale, richly illustrated and worth every of the € 34.


So the whole show with some 50 artists, is socio-political, historical-contemporary, multi-national and so attractive and sometime thought-provoking. The works will linher in your memory for long – although a visitor to the Biennale in Venice is overwhelmed by the thousands upon thousands of works to see. You can spend hours at “The Great Game” for sure.

This show is organised by the Faiznia Family Foundation, a non-profit organization along with the – amazing – Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. And curated by Marco Meneguzzo and Mazdak Faiznia.

It will tell you very clear that Iran is a civilisation of its own with 7000 years of history and great art and a hugely dynamic and big culture scene today – about 100 modern art galleries in Tehran as an example – but with such a twisted media image in Western media. It is back on the global art scene and makes a point of being inclusive and telling a story through its history and its modern art and that of neighbouring countries.


Here is The Guardian’s take on this show.

That the Iranian ‘ship-building pavilion’ is imbued with symbolism and historical references is reported very well by The Guardian; here is what it says about just one of the pieces:

“There has also been buzz surrounding the inclusion of the late Iranian painter and video artist Farideh Lashai. Her multimedia works, many of which were her last before her death in 2013, are compellingly dark and ethereal. Lashai’s video painting Rabbit in Wonderland based on the aftermath of the 1953 coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh melds the uncertain reality of political events with the phantasmagoria of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. A figure, perhaps Mossadegh himself, appears spectral, swathed in mournful robes of black and grey. Beside him hops an animated white rabbit, accompanying him down the rabbit hole of Iranian history.”

I’m no expert on Iranian art – just a grateful observer every time I go there – and get so happy and overwhelmed. I can do no better than offering my pictures below for your enjoyment. It’s what is left since the Biennale closed down on November 22. And do consider buying the 270 pages book – its value goes way beyond the show itself.


In the online “Public Walls” Rachel Heidenry has written a fine article about this show accompanied with lots of pictures. A Google search reveals that the Western media, with the exception of The Guardian, missed yet another opportunity to learn about the other – real – diverse and creative Iran they have no understanding of. What a pity!










This is not an art work by some Iranian or other artist. It’s an anonymous piece made by those who, once upon a time, worked in these fascinating ship-building halls…


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