by Jino Rahimi
The bright and solid colours of Iman Raad’s paintings, their flat aesthetic, the freshness with which the birds, bowls and fruits are depicted and the great attention paid to the background and patterns evoke Persian miniatures. And yet his richly decorative figures are freed from the primary purpose of the Persian miniature: illustration. Raad transforms the ordinary and the static into an alluring choreography. He defamiliarises the elements of the miniature and transfigures them into entirely new imageries.
In the painting Untitled (birds) for example, the meticulous arrangement of the elements narrates a tale of dysfunction. The tags on the birds’ feet draw our attention to themselves. These unique ID numbers remind us of the classification, categorisation and marginalisation of peoples, cultures and histories. The “master” bird’s reflection is no longer a representation of its “true” self and the repeated birds are starring into a destabilised unknown future with uncertainty. Thus the central role model cannot function as the leader anymore and the idealised dream of unity is threatened, and as a result, a chaotic social condition is created.
There is an essential narrative of the chaotic and a tale of a disrupted history in all the paintings. This unstable and ephemeral moment manifests itself fully in the sculpture The Hero: a kneeling figure holding up a flag with repeated faces of a demonised character. The Hero is about to surrender to a more powerful force while demanding resistance. Its ears are paintbrushes and its torso is an appropriation of Barbara Kruger’s renowned Untitled (your body is a battleground) created in 1989, the year that is considered by many as the origin of the acknowledgment of the marginality of non-Western artists in the international art scene. Raad’s face is on the appropriated image and it reads: Your body-of-work is a battleground. The margins that decorate the torso are filler Persian motifs referencing the classical oriental manuscripts in which often the task of drawing the miniatures was divided between the principal painter, who drew the outlines, and amateurs who coloured in the drawings.
The sculpture is indeed the artist’s self-portrait. Raad, who migrated to the West, lingers in a temporality that belongs to neither of the two art histories. The sculpture explores the contemporary condition where multiple art worlds find themselves subordinated to the methodologies of the Western art history and the discipline of art history concentrates generally on Western art.
Through this body of work, Raad boldly proposes the rethinking of cultural representation of the marginalised in the West. He highlights the incompatible coexistence of different histories in the centres of power where different temporalities are drawn into the same narrative for the sake of “inclusivity”. The in-between state depicted in these works refers to the peripheral artist’s hopeless attempt to rethink the current art system in the West. It opens up a space and time for the viewer to question how the differences between histories can be understood and how we can revisit the methods of representation of multiple histories to open up new imaginaries.
The artworks in this series reference a particular art history and yet attempt to reexamine the current situation in a different temporality. Inharmonious Motifs is a deliberate interrogation of the representational strategies. It forces us to think about cultures as universal resources and highlights the hidden discrepancies and harmonies between narratives.
Iman Raad graduated from Yale University with a MFA in Painting. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.