IRUS Art: Collaborative Art between Iran and the U.S.

I received an email from Avisheh Mohsenin of the Pasfarda Arts & Cultural Exchange,  a group that  was founded in Chicago in the summer of 2007, and is sponsoring an upcoming exhibit and panel discussion Friday and Saturday. The group is doing some difficult and intriguing work, so I asked some questions of Morehshin Allahyari, the organizer, who explained IRUS Art in her own words.

– Kathryn Born

The Story of IRUS Art

Morehshin Allahyari, Organizer and Participating Artist

I met a member of the Kinda Collective (an art community in Denver) at a lecture at the University of Denver. Then we began meeting and thinking of ways we could collaborate on a cultural and artistic project with a focus on cultural barriers.

Liz & Negin - Life & Lines

After two months of meetings with our small group of artists in Denver, we decided to develop a group in Tehran.  I invited a friend of mine in Iran -who is also a great artist – Negin Ehtesibian, to join us and start a group of artists in Tehran in order to collaborate with us on the project. By the time our art team in Tehran formed (some are students, some are professional artists) we had more artists gathered in Denver, ready to work.  We started with developing our ideas, making a mutual name for the both groups, IRUS which stands for Iran (IR) and U.S., and then kept a blog for each team with details of each meeting, our conversations, issues we wanted to share with the other group, photos from us working, etc.

Iran’s blog was written in Farsi and the American blog in English. I used to translate them for each team and then for our meetings in Denver, I would have a piece of paper with all the notes, issues, and points that Iran’s team had discussed in their previous meetings. For a long time, the Iranian team met on Thursdays of each week and we would meet each Saturday. So this would give me some time to translate things back and forth.

Once we decided on the details of the project and specifically our subject (Dialogue), and the medium that each artist was going to use, we started to make works. The main goal was to have dialogue through making art together with the opposite culture – in order to first understand each other’s perspectives and beliefs about specific things,  and then ideally a greater understanding of one another’s cultures.

The first process of our collaboration was that the Iranian artists make art works and send them to the American artists. After receiving their works, our team in Denver would complete the dialogue by choosing one (or some) of the art works of the Iranian artists. It was the same process for the American artists. We also had the choice of either working on a work individually, or with another artist in the same team. Also,  we could either add things to someone else’s actual work or could create something newly related to the concept of the existing work.

Natalie & Vana

We spent a lot of time and money mailing physical art works between the U.S. and Iran and I believe that was one of the challenging parts of our project. Because we couldn’t mail our artworks directly from Iran to the U.S. or vice-versa, we had to either mail them through Istanbul, or I had to ask relatives and friends traveling between the two countries to take them for us.

We gathered all the works and had our first show in March 2009 in Denver. This show in Chicago is our second show, which includes some updates and changes on some of the works. Because of all these details I think the process of our work and the details of it are much more important than the actual works and that’s where I see the power of our project.

About Pasfarda:

Pasfarda Arts & Cultural Exchange was founded in Chicago in the summer of 2007 by a group of like-minded individuals who strongly believe that through dialogue and artistic exchange, cultural misunderstanding can be subsided.  We open doors for Iranian artists and intellectuals in the U.S. through the use of exhibitions, screenings, performances and other special events.  We create and strengthen alliances and/or coalitions with like minded individuals and groups of all stripes to disseminate artistic expression regardless of political borders. We strongly view dialog, education and artistic exchange as a means of eroding prejudice and promoting peace in our shared world.

Pasfarda has contributed in introducing various independent films and filmmakers, and artists. One of the featured documentaries introduced the underground music in Iran; an avant-garde fictions-documentary which juxtaposed historical Tehran with modern Tehran and touched on contemporary global issues.

Pasfarda is currently working with a group of curators and art consultants on an art show introducing selected emerging Iranian painters to Chicago in 2010. They are sponsoring IRUS Art, opening on January 29, 2010 at Co-Prosperity Sphere, in Chicago running through February 4, 2010.

IRUS Art is a multi-disciplinary collaborative project between two teams of artists, one in Denver and one in Tehran who use the theme of “Dialogue” to develop art but also to participating in a functional dialogue with each other. One component of the show is the Persian story of Scheherazade (Thousand and One Nights) alongside the stories of Mark Twain as a conceptual framework for the art promoting the exploration of, and interaction between the two cultures.