Ubayd Zakani

Ardeshir Mohassess Iranian

Not on view

Iranian-American artist Ardeshir Mohassess was a celebrated satirist of contemporary life and politics in Iran. Introduced to the Iranian intelligentsia at a young age by his mother, a poet and educator with a prominent literary salon in Isfahan and Tehran, Mohassess began publishing drawings in Towfiq, Iran’s leading satirical and literary journal in 1951, at the age of thirteen. His work reflected an ongoing fascination with media culture, photographs, newspaper clippings, Hollywood films, as well as Qajar-era lithographs and coffeehouse paintings. Mohassess also collaborated with many of Iran’s leading twentieth-century writers and intellectuals such as Ahmad Shamlu (1925–1999) and Sadeq Hedayat, and was well-known with Iranian artistic circles of the 1960s and 70s. His thinly veiled depictions of violence and political turmoil in contemporary Iran recall canonical works such as Goya’s The Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra) (1810–20) and Honoré Daumier’s lithographs.

The irreverent satirical writings by 14th-century Persian poet Ubayd-i Zakani, or Nizam al-Din Ubaydallah Zakani (1300–1371 AD), inspired a number of drawing series by Ardeshir Mohassess. Like many of Iran’s pre-revolutionary intellectuals, Mohassess drew on Persian literature in order to express veiled opposition to the contemporary political and social status quo. In this series, he takes up Zakani’s satire of a theme typical of Persian poetry, or the young boy’s entry to adolescence marked by the arrival of a beard. The series combines Mohassess’ longstanding engagement with Persian literature and satire with a surprisingly frank treatment of the homoerotic subject of Zakani’s text. The work is both politically motivated—targeting the hypocrisies of Iran’s postrevolutionary religious regime, and delights in Zakani’s treatment of topics of strict social censure.

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