Life Lines

To Amirhossein Akhavan “nature” is not an abstraction. “Nature,” he tells me, “is not the forest and the trees as we so often define it, but all is nature.” Nor is painting an abstraction. The subjects or objects of painting can only be understood in relation to the environment that they were conceived and to the environment in which they appear. Thus understood, subjects or objects lose their sub/objectivity and connect to a totality. This is the meaning of ecology – the science of seeing the relationship of organisms to their surroundings.

The ecology in which creatures of Akhavan appear is the gallery. Their habitat is an art gallery. This is important for us, as viewers (and especially collectors who will take them home), to keep in mind. As I see it, these creatures are not meant to bring out the “beauty” of nature. They are nature, framed in a particular way. They constantly push us to search for their mainspring outside them. What is absent here is the “the forest and the trees as we so often define….” Let me put it differently. The nature of these creatures is the gallery itself – Aaran Gallery. The technique and compositions that Akhavan employs leave us with no other way of seeing them. His creatures are not meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia. They are not “beautiful” in the classical, nature sense. We won’t get a chance to regret having lost what used to be. We find ourselves in an art gallery in the middle of Tehran, faced with pixelated images that from a distance can form an impressionistic whole. Tehran, in turn, is a pixelated ecology that draws insatiably from its natural surroundings. It attracts resources from near and far. It is a city connected to the planet in direct ways. As citizens of this city, we have access to products that come from all corners of the world, neatly packaged in a promise of good things to come. We, citizen, it, Tehran, want more – food, comfort, and the promise of good things to come. So on and so forth.

Tehran owes its existence to its outside. But it is difficult for us to see this. Even if we did, it is difficult to maintain a healthy connection to the dehors. Vast amounts of comestibles (dairy, meat, vegetables, and fruits), minerals (metals, precious stones, salt, oil and gas), and ethereals (low frequency electromagnetic fields) are at our disposal. Without these, city life will be inconceivable. Let me go on. Tehran is a megacity – an exception – not situated next to a major body of water. Its water comes from near and far, above and below ground. It expends its resources with reckless abandon. It wants more and it seeks more. It is ready to spend. Sometimes – often – the price paid for our comfort is beside the point. When the price is “beside the point” then we have pollution. Every time we turn on the ignition, every time we bite into a burger or negotiate with pomegranate seeds, we are connecting to a different ecosystem, a different geography, a different piece of the earth. But it is hard to see the connection because Tehran’s relationship to its surrounding is long distance.

The creatures of Akhavan bear the same relationship to their habitat (gallery) that we do to ours (Tehran) and that Tehran, in turn, does to larger Iran and the planet. As a particular species living on this planet, we have drawn boundaries to manage the boundless diversity of life around us. Change is welcomed insofar as it goes the way we can predict. But then, nothing is predictable. Life is a current, which means that nothing is solid, though the viscosity of each element differs. It, life, cannot be contained by the walls, dams, and structures that we build to secure stability.

Portrait of Asiatic Cheetah, Oil on canvas, 170×140 cm, 2015

Blue cheetah face, Oil on canvas, 100×110 cm, 2015

The creatures of Amirhossein Akhavan are bound by their frame. They represent “the wild” without being in the wild. They are creatures of a gallery, of an art exhibit, one that invites the viewers (and buyers) to see beyond the frame and connect to something wild – something that cannot be contained. They do so in the same way that a poem does, with its own ecology. Take “Sometimes I Say to a Poem,” a Daniel Ladinsky translation of a Hafiz poem:

Sometimes I say to a poem,

“Not now,
Can’t you see I am bathing!”

But the poem usually doesn’t care
And quips,

“Too bad, Hafiz,
No getting lazy—

You promised God you would help out

And He just came up with this
New tune.”

Sometimes I say to a poem,

“I don’t have the strength
To wring out another drop
Of the Sun.”

And the poem will often

By climbing onto a barroom table:

Then lifts its skirt, winks,
Causing the whole sky to

The creatures of Amirhossein Akhavan will not cause the sky to fall. If anything, they are in the midst of disappearing, and this is not meant to sound an alarm, but point to an absence. It is true, we don’t find any happy stories here, but there are also no doomsday scenarios. The creatures of Akhavan will continue with their existence even if their counterparts cease to, even if buyers domesticate them, and wrench them from their natural habitat.

On the other hand, by viewing them or, better, by purchasing them you won’t save their counterparts. They are disappearing. But at least you will “help out” and this is very important, because what counts is not the look, the money but the soul that the look/money carries with it. It is the intention. Only through the right view and compassionate money will the viewer/collector connect to nature, which according to Amirhossein Akhavan, includes this city in its every manifestation. Right intention is of vital importance for all of us and Persian Wildlife and the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation provide a conduit through which we can connect to our surroundings with care, compassion, and generosity. This way we will help in bringing back a degree of sanity and health to (our) nature.

Sohrab Mahdavi, 2015

  • Exhibition: Aran Projects, Tehran, Iran, (2017)
  • Concept : Dr Kavous Seyed Emami, Ron Tomlinson, Sohrab Mahdavi, Niloufar Bayani
  • Production: Amir. H Akhavan & Ron Tomlinson
  • Research: Amir. H Akhavan, Houman Jokar

Geese, Oil on canvas, 124×180 cm, 2015