Sohrab Kashani: If There Was Ever A Time To Come Together Regardless Of Our Differences & Beliefs, It Would Be Today
“I was born after the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. I am the byproduct of that history. It is difficult to imagine what life could have been if neither of those events had happened. Maybe I’d be a different person. Maybe I wouldn’t exist today. Listening to the people who had lived before these events, having gone through them, and now living in a society dealing with their effects, it is apparent that these events to this day have largely affected the social and cultural fabric of our country. In certain aspects, it brought people together and for some, it drew them apart. As artists, we often draw inspirations from society and our social conditions,” said Sohrab Kashani, an interdisciplinary artist, art curator and writer from Iran.
He was 19 when he established Sazmanab — a not-for-profit curatorial platform based in Tehran. His desire to explore a space that held no definition that constraints and structures held in the traditional sense; a space whose identity could change and evolve over time led to its inception. “When you define something or yourself for that matter, you are trapped in and leave very little room for experiencing new things, for changing and evolving. As an artist, I longed to work in such a space, to collaborate with other like-minded people and learn from them. Of the many reasons why I started and continued Sazmanab,” he explained, “The following causes led to its continuity: experimentation, collaboration (both local and international), representation, and education — which I came to realise later was the most important of them all.” Sazmanab was meant to be temporary; a gesture of some sort to demonstrate to his friends and colleagues that such a commune was possible.
Apart from a few privately-owned commercial galleries, the state-run museum of contemporary art and other state-run galleries in Tehran, the artist revealed that back in the day, there were few spaces meant for experimentation and collaboration. Funding Sazmanab over the years proved to be a monumental task as there was no government support or private foundations, he believed, that supported art and culture in Iran. He soon started accepting freelance graphic and web design assignments to pay for its running costs. Later, they applied for international grants and asked for support from their related embassies in Tehran which were primarily European. “This posed a risk to the ‘balance’ of programming as most of the funding and therefore programming would come from certain European countries,” said Sohrab, “Tackling this was difficult but over time I was also able to collaborate with artists from Asia, South East Asia, and artists of other ethnicities and regions by locating the necessary resources and funding to help set them up.”
Sazmanab will now be revived as a physical space that it once was at the Dastan: Outside Electric Room in Tehran. It will showcase some of its old furniture, published materials, and other items along with random mash-ups of videos and documentation from previous programmes, and CCTV footage database over the last decade. “This is a collaboration with my childhood friend Siavash Naghshbandi who is an artist. I was approached by Ashkan Zahraie, the artistic director of the Electric Room – a pop-up alternative exhibition space set up by Dastan’s Basement — a Tehran-based gallery run by Hormoz Hemmatian whom I had the pleasure of collaborating with in the past. I learned that this would be their 49th exhibition out of a planned 50. After this, they will work on one more project of their own before the space shuts down. So I decided to set up a mini-Sazmanab at the Electric Room and share parts of our archives before it closes,” said Sohrab who further explained that the timing of the event couldn’t have been more perfect considering what was happening in the Tehran art scene today with respect to corruption and the infinite dilemma of what constitutes right and wrong, “I felt obliged to remind my friends and colleagues that there is even a greater need for smaller non-profit and artist-run alternative spaces. If there was ever a time to come together and stand for our shared values, it would be today. The archives of Sazmanab remind us of a time when we would all come under one roof regardless of our differences and beliefs.”
Aftermath of US Sanctions against Iran
My best friend, Mohsen, and I were very close in our early twenties. We used to stay up all night playing video games and listening to music. We also worked and travelled together, organising group exhibitions and touring them around Iran. In 2008 we were busy preparing to open an art space and studio together, wrote Sohrab many years ago. Mohsen was travelling to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan that year. He worked as a photographer for an Iranian movie. On August 24, 2008, a charter flight operating on behalf of Iranian Airline crashed while returning from Manas to Tehran. Of the eighty people that travelled that day, more than sixty died. Mohsen was one of them.
The United States sanctions against Iran that refers to economic, trade, scientific and military sanctions imposed against the country has had an adverse effect on Iranians over the years. Amongst other things, the sanctions included an embargo on dealings with Iran by USA, and a ban on selling aircraft and repair parts to aviation companies in Iran. Abysmal safety regulations, substandard parts and lack of technical support have resulted in some of the most devastating aircraft accidents in aviation history.
“The impact it had on Iran’s art community included travel, shipping artworks, and scarcity of materials used in creating art. As the sanctions take their toll on our economy, it becomes much more expensive to travel,” said Sohrab who went on to explain that shipping art work today has become impossible and much more difficult for galleries than it was before, “As sanctions take effect, depending on your artistic medium, some materials are more difficult to procure or need to be replaced with substitutes. The United States’s recent pull-out from the Iran deal has had a major effect on Iran’s economy. In the arts community, this spells more compromises for artists and other art practitioners. They would have to take on certain assignments and work with entities they would normally not collaborate with to make ends meet.”
In 2009, the artist developed an alter-ego called Super Sohrab. It was a result of his frustration with incidents occurring around him that either had a direct or indirect influence on his livelihood such as travel restrictions imposed on Iranian passport holders. In conversation, he mentioned he doesn’t believe that art is capable of bringing a massive change to the social fabric of our society on its own. “In my opinion, art and culture at best remind us of the emotional beings we are,” he said, “It helps us connect on a more fundamental level. It helps us look beyond our differences and instead focus on what we share. Art can act as a vessel and a manifestation of ideas that can be later incorporated into our future selves and future societies. They can be stories, feelings, ideas, and other things. The best ones: they stand the test of time…”
Sazmanab at Electric Room will be open to public view from September 14 to September 25, 2018.
written by Akshatha Shetty
images courtesy of Sohrab Kashani