"My work has a lot to do with Iranian culture on the verge of being absurd. It can be described as an all you can eat buffet. There is this famous Iranian wedding anecdote once dinner is served theres a sudden rush for the dinner table. You might get once chance, so you put the appetiser, main dish and dessert on the same plate, just to make sure you get it all. Once you have your kebab and rice, on top of that, you'll slap on some red Jell-o! I try to reflect that sort of attitude, visually." (Farhad Moshiri quoted in An Artified World: Interview with Jérôme Sans in R. Janssen, The Third Line, Perrotin & T. Ropac (eds.), Farhad Moshiri, Brussels 2010, p. 18).
Providing a subtle yet subversive socio-political commentary in his masterfully executed works, Farhad Moshiri has positioned himself at the forefront of Contemporary Iranian art. His artistic innovation has produced some of the most exciting and varied output of which the present lot, Secret Garden executed in 2009, is unquestionably in the highest tier of the artists oeuvre and offers an overwhelmingly stunning visual and intellectual experience.
Rooted in a Pop dialect, pioneered by the likes of Warhol, Wesselmann and Rauschenberg, Moshiri's technique similarly takes up themes of contemporary consumerist and branding culture. He draws inspiration from the clash and modernity in 20th century Iran, a world where the paradox reigns. Islamic fundamentalism is juxtaposed against a thriving music and arts scene where television personalities glitter in the public eye whilst a larger poverty lower class struggles to make a living. But this nod to Pop culture, and particularly to the work of Jeff Koons to whom Moshiri is often compared, can also be construed as an appreciation of the Baroque and Mannerist movements, which were marked by ornamental and extravagant excess. As a result of the lax political rules that afforded the Iranians under the Khatami reign, Moshiri has used this lexicon to provide a social commentary on the lavish excesses of Iran in the 2000s.
The artist's earliest works exemplified this subject matter through his choice of technique; large, loud and very much present, he explored the various possibilities of embroidery, acrylic cake paintings and the incorporation of Swarovski crystals amongst many others. Each element in itself a reference to both tradition and modernity in the artists native homeland; choosing local craftsmen to execute his own saccharine, morphine-like, paradises of colours, Moshiri thus injects a sense of whimsy and indulgence.
Equally, his choice to use a cake piping set - one that he discovered in a basement - to pump out luscious acrylic cakes of his own, painstakingly piped in multi-layered burst of thick and creamy colour, took inspiration from the palatial confections coming from Tehran bakeries, the outrageously baroque excesses of Iranian middle class weddings and the plaster-ornamented buildings in the city. This too provided the artist with the weaponry to provide a socio-political commentary on the change and integration happening in Iran on an exasperating level, with the people adapting equally as quickly.
To this point, the gaudy tastes or lack of taste coupled with the excess of the nouveau riche prompted the artist to integrate found objects that represented their respective predispositions. The chandeliers that hung in the houses of the rich served as a starting point for Moshiri to incorporate crystals into his works, alluding to the artificial make believe lifestyle Iranians emulated, the glittery and shimmering stones thus impossibly blurring the lines between what is fake and what is real.
In one of the rare examples, Secret Garden brings together an amalgamation of all Moshiris varied media and techniques. Seemingly superficial in its composition it offers a sophisticated thematic undercurrent.
The subject of the work references the artist's imagination of a fairy-tale like scenario where a young boy drinks water from a contaminated river that puts him in a momentary deep sleep. A large overwhelming shimmering bear carries this seemingly dreaming boy in a protective embrace into a beautiful and painterly garden, lusciously full of three-dimensional glittery flowers, evoking a sense of simplified and innocent happiness. On closer inspection of the work, one realises that the little boy is in fact a self-portrait. Instead of choosing to portray himself in his adulthood, Moshiri recreates a cartoon-like character of 'Farhad joon' (Dear Farhad) that takes the viewer back to where the artist's conscious self watches through the perspective of an assumed childhood. In some ways, the artists visual vocabulary references the self-portraits of the acclaimed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who, isolated from her social surroundings, used her own self-portraits as a sort of therapy to highlight her alienation and suffering and used animals, notably monkeys, as tender and protective symbols. In this sense, in Secret Garden the bear becomes the artists saviour and although usually a figure that symbolises fear and power, is transformed to become soft-hearted in the way teddy-bears are revered amongst children. By carrying the young Moshiri into this secret garden the bear transports the seemingly frail boy into the haven that is his own world, immersing the artist in his art where he feels comforted and safe.
A notoriously social recluse, perhaps the present work alludes to the artist's sentiments following the spotlight of the success imbued on him by the hype in the Middle Eastern art market. The bear heavily embellished with shiny beads and glittery crystals could be interpreted as the artists intention to highlight the growing pressures of success and jetset lifestyle that was afforded to him in 2009, when the work was executed and when Moshiri had already achieved the ultimate commercial success by selling a work for a record price at auction.
In some ways a reference to an almost fairytale childhood memory, Secret Garden's large exaggerated size and colours diffuse a cynical undertone to the work. The viewer realises, in the artificiality of his choice of media, that this seeming happiness easily gives way to a send of empty promise and in doing so offers a melancholy aftertaste. Moshiri has used his own type of ornamentation as an effort to offer a personal social commentary on art, Iran and how things and people perceive and are perceived. In doing so, this work raises uncomfortable questions about taste and faith and wittily pushes the limits of expression with a deliberate irony and Neo-Pop aesthetic.
Secret Garden is undoubtedly a collector's piece which in its rich visual vocabulary offers insight into the most challenging and talented artists of today.