Reviving identity : an investigation of identity in Iranian artworks in the period 1958-1966 in relation to a contemporary fine art practice

Takht Keshian, Fatemeh and Harland, Beth and Davies, Gerald (2016) Reviving identity : an investigation of identity in Iranian artworks in the period 1958-1966 in relation to a contemporary fine art practice. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This practice-based research explores the notion of Iranian cultural identity as reflected in artworks exhibited in the Tehran Biennials (1958- 1966) and in a particular individual practice. This research uses the five Tehran Biennales and their national and international context as a tool to reveal the development of their influence on the construction of new images of Iranian identity. The research frames these national exhibitions within the influence of Western modernism and Western critique of orientalism. It frames its enquiry in historical and theoretical research and my studio practice as a contemporary Iranian artist. It constructs a methodology appropriate for visual analysis across the five events and for examination and comparison of individual artists and artworks. A core aim of the enquiry is gaining better understanding of the tensions between Iranian-Islamic and pre-Islamic traditions and of the changing national sentiment and the influence of Western modernism in the arts. My method includes ‘action research’ that juxtaposes the theoretic, historic, and artistic aspects based on a ‘self-observer’ and ‘observer of others’. By its cycling of studio production and reflection through critical and visual analysis, this method has enabled me to explore theoretical and historical contexts in my works. The research also examines the motivations and influence of Iranian state ideology on the formation and discontinuation of the biennales as instruments for cultural innovation and internationalisation. As all biennales by their nature seek to survey a field of activity, the research has remained sensitive to a wide range of artists engaged across a spectrum of practices between 1958 and 1966. For some, the period marked a return to their traditions and heritage to recognise and distinguish their national identity from Western art. For others, the new challenges enabled new representations relevant to Iran in the twentieth century. Between these poles, there were many types of ‘return’ and re-emergence, some to Iranian and Islamic heritage, others to an earlier hospitality for international influence. This ten-year period holds the key to my own understanding of my studio practice and the emergence of collage as a technique central to my work. Collage and mixing media have become powerfully associated with the challenges I face in negotiating between East and West, old and new values, and my changing perceptions of myself. The different layers in collage and its variety of media metaphorically suggest the concept of Iranian identity as a layered and collective identity. While my practice comprises autobiographical elements, it is nonetheless analytical in that it draws on the history of the Biennial period. The Tehran Biennials and their attempts to form a new Iranian art provide the background against which I project my conceptions of identity and memory. They are part of the legacy that enables me, a contemporary Iranian woman artist, to explore the various perspectives regarding Iranian identity and the means by which artists visualise it. Moreover, the practice-based method adapted in this research has enabled me to combine historical overview, visual analysis of modern art in Iran, and contemporary insights to offer new an understanding of how art reflects changing identities. This study defines identity, in a personal level, as a multi-layered identity, including fragmented and fragile layers that form within socio-cultural and individual values.

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Thesis (PhD)
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13 May 2017 03:32
Last Modified:
02 Apr 2024 00:59