“A​ ​moment​ ​of disturbance​ ​to​ ​reality”: artist Iman Raad on his latest work

30 August 2017
Reading Time
4 minute read

Appearances can be deceiving, as Iranian-born artist Iman Raad’s latest exhibition Tongue Tied demonstrates. At first glance soaked in vivid colour, a second look reveals scenes of an altogether darker nature. We spoke to the now Brooklyn-based artist to unlock the secrets behind the mysterious set of works.

Where​ ​are​ ​you​ ​at​ ​the​ ​moment and what​ ​are​ ​you​ ​working​ ​on?
My​ ​life-and-work​ ​partner​ ​and​ ​I​ ​just​ ​moved​ ​in​ ​NYC​ ​after​ ​four​ ​years​ ​of​ ​living​ ​in​ ​New​ ​Haven,​ ​Connecticut, where​ ​she​ ​got​ ​her​ ​MFA​ ​in​ ​Sculpture​ ​and​ ​I​ ​got​ ​my​ ​MFA​ ​in​ ​Painting​ ​and​ ​Printmaking​ ​from​ ​Yale​ ​School of​ ​Art.​ ​At​ ​the​ ​moment,​ ​we​ ​are​ ​arranging​ ​our​ ​new​ ​live-work​ ​space​ ​in​ ​Brooklyn​ ​and​ ​are​ ​eager​ ​to​ ​start our​ ​work​ ​in​ ​this​ ​fresh​ ​environment. We​ ​moved​ ​to​ ​the​ ​US​ ​in​ ​2013​ ​from​ ​Tehran,​ ​Iran.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​BE​ ​in​ ​Mechanical​ ​Engineering,​ ​but​ ​I’ve barely​ ​touched​ ​any​ ​engineering​ ​tool​ ​in​ ​my​ ​whole​ ​life.​ ​I​ ​used​ ​to​ ​run​ ​my​ ​own​ ​small​ ​graphic​ ​design studio,​ ​as​ ​a​ ​self-taught​ ​designer​ ​in​ ​Tehran.​ ​My​ ​design​ ​works​ ​have​ ​been​ ​always​ ​on​ ​the​ ​edge​ ​of​ ​design and​ ​art​ ​though. Despite​ ​my​ ​background​ ​in​ ​graphic​ ​design​ ​in​ ​my​ ​home​ ​country,​ ​immigration​ ​gives​ ​me​ ​the​ ​opportunity to​ ​refresh​ ​my​ ​knowledge​ ​and​ ​career​ ​towards​ ​art,​ ​so ​I​ ​went​ ​to​ ​Yale​ ​School​ ​of​ ​Art​ ​to​ ​study painting​ ​and​ ​have​ ​been​ ​focused​ ​on​ ​painting​ ​since​ ​then,​ ​however,​ ​my​ ​work​ ​is​ ​fluid​ ​between​ ​disciplines and​ ​I’ve​ ​been​ ​always​ ​organically​ ​resistant​ ​to​ ​classification.

Tell​ ​us​ ​about​ ​your latest exhibition Tongue​ ​Tied​ ​and​ ​the​ ​ideas​ ​that surround it.
In​ ​spring​ ​of​ ​2017,​ ​I​ ​gathered​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​works​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​made​ ​in​ ​2016​ ​in​ ​an​ ​exhibition​ ​at​ ​Sargent’s Daughters​ ​Gallery​ ​in​ ​New​ ​York,​ ​all​ ​under​ ​an​ ​umbrella​ ​of​ ​one​ ​single​ ​title:​ ​_Tongue​ ​Tied_. The​ ​show​ ​included​ ​a​ ​series​ ​of​ ​9 x 12​ ​inch​ ​egg-tempera​ ​paintings,​ ​lying​ ​down​ ​on​ ​their​ ​individual​ ​narrow shelves.​ ​White​ ​bowls​ ​with​ ​red​ ​roses​ ​decoration,​ ​fruits​ ​-mostly​ ​oranges,​ ​candles​ ​on​ ​a​ ​table​ ​covered with​ ​tablecloth​ ​with​ ​fruits​ ​pattern​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​ornamental​ ​wallpaper.​ ​Paintings​ ​represent​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of disturbance​ ​to​ ​reality.​ ​I​ ​create​ ​this​ ​disturbance​ ​through​ ​wrong​ ​perspective,​ ​disordering​ ​physical​ ​rules, image​ ​replication​ ​inspired​ ​by​ ​digital​ ​glitch​ ​on​ ​screens​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​representing​ ​momentary​ ​events​ ​as threshold​ ​of​ ​a​ ​crisis.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​paintings​ ​objects​ ​and​ ​fruits​ ​appear​ ​to​ ​be​ ​self-conscious​ ​animate​ ​things. I​ ​also​ ​included​ ​a​ ​large​ ​marker​ ​drawing​ ​on​ ​paper​ ​in​ ​the​ ​show.​ ​This​ ​drawing​ ​represents​ ​a​ ​complex interplay​ ​of​ ​ornamental​ ​tablecloth,​ ​wallpaper​ ​and​ ​carpet​ ​interrupted​ ​by​ ​long​ ​rows​ ​of​ ​overlapping​ ​birds move​ ​across​ ​the​ ​painting.​ ​The​ ​work​ ​narrates​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​confrontation​ ​between​ ​different​ ​sorts​ ​of order​ ​and​ ​disturbances​ ​in​ ​an​ ​unknown​ ​yet​ ​familiar​ ​environment​ ​that​ ​is​ ​getting​ ​occupied​ ​by​ ​flock​ ​of birds.

Two​ ​3D​ ​works​ ​were​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​exhibition.​ ​One​ ​includes​ ​two​ ​acrylic​ ​paintings​ ​on​ ​raw​ ​canvas,​ ​eight marker​ ​drawings​ ​on​ ​paper,​ ​two​ ​acrylic​ ​paintings​ ​on​ ​artificial​ ​plants,​ ​dyed​ ​found​ ​fabrics​ ​and​ ​decorated wood​ ​sticks.​ ​The​ ​painting​ ​on​ ​the​ ​front​ ​side​ ​representing​ ​a​ ​pink​ ​flower​ ​and​ ​the​ ​back​ ​painting representing​ ​a​ ​colony​ ​on​ ​Mars.

My​ ​installations​ ​appear​ ​like​ ​a​ ​collection​ ​of​ ​unrelated​ ​pieces,​ ​but​ ​reading​ ​them​ ​together​ ​would​ ​suggest a​ ​narrative​ ​of​ ​the​ ​whole.
Also,​ ​a​ ​mural​ ​I​ ​made​ ​inside​ ​the​ ​gallery​ ​that​ ​presents​ ​a​ ​collection​ ​of​ ​paintings​ ​and​ ​colourful ornamentation​ ​that​ ​is​ ​influenced​ ​by​ ​South​ ​Asia​ ​Truck​ ​Paintings.


Iman Raad: Tongue Tied


Iman Raad: Tongue Tied

Despite the oppressively bright colours which define the visual works in Tongue Tied, it’s easy to spot mythical, mystical symbols; devils, eyes, fire. Can you tell us more about where those came from?
My​ ​research​ ​interests​ ​have​ ​been​ ​recently​ ​around​ ​communication​ ​structure​ ​between​ ​believers​ ​and images,​ ​objects​ ​or​ ​places​ ​that​ ​are​ ​made,​ ​owned​ ​or​ ​collect​ ​together​ ​in​ ​association​ ​with​ ​their​ ​belief.​ ​I’ve been​ ​thinking​ ​how​ ​an​ ​artist​ ​can​ ​generate​ ​feeling​ ​of​ ​belief,​ ​or​ ​how​ ​an​ ​artist​ ​can​ ​face​ ​you​ ​to​ ​an​ ​unknown belief​ ​from​​, maybe,​ ​an​ ​unknown​ ​far​ ​future​ ​of​ ​human,​ ​to​ ​suggest​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​doubt​ ​and​ ​uncertainty​ ​in your​ ​everyday​ ​normals​ ​and​ ​to​ ​shake​ ​safe​ ​bases​ ​of​ ​our​ ​thoughts.

Murals​ ​transforming​ ​the​ ​space​ ​through​ ​high​ ​impact​ ​of​ ​bright​ ​primary​ ​and​ ​secondary​ ​colours​ ​and​ ​variety of​ ​mysterious​ ​and​ ​humorous​ ​images​ ​and​ ​ornamentation​ ​seducing​ ​people​ ​with​ ​beats​ ​of​ ​detailed patterns.​ ​Primitivity​ ​of​ ​visual​ ​language,​ ​marks​ ​and​ ​material​ ​in​ ​my​ ​work​ ​push​ ​back​ ​the​ ​barriers​ ​of mastery​ ​and​ ​proficiency​ ​and​ ​face​ ​viewers​ ​more​ ​of​ ​raw​ ​imagery.​ ​Under​ ​this​ ​charming​ ​ornament​ ​is​ ​a thorny​ ​bush​ ​presenting​ ​our​ ​insane​ ​brutal​ ​world,​ ​our​ ​failures​ ​of​ ​hopes,​ ​our​ ​disease​ ​and​ ​disasters,​ ​and our​ ​weakness​ ​and​ ​pitifulness.

My​ ​work​ ​presents​ ​a​ ​contradictory​ ​combination​ ​of​ ​beauty​ ​and​ ​fear​ ​to​ ​may​ ​generate​ ​mixed​ ​feeling​ ​of pleasure​ ​and​ ​pain.

Some​ ​aspects​ ​come​ ​from​ ​my​ ​interest​ ​in​ ​psychology​ ​and​ ​notion​ ​of​ ​reality.​ ​My​ ​work​ ​addresses humankind’s​ ​anxieties​ ​about​ ​existence​ ​by​ ​staging​ ​a​ ​traumatic​ ​scene​ ​of​ ​a​ ​disturbance​ ​in​ ​reality.​ ​This rupture​ ​occurs​ ​through​ ​displacement​ ​of​ ​objects​ ​and​ ​interruption​ ​of​ ​perspectival​ ​and​ ​physical​ ​order. My​ ​paintings​ ​often​ ​explores​ ​the​ ​subjectivity​ ​of​ ​“being”​ ​through​ ​non​ ​human​ ​subjects​ ​including self-conscious​ ​animals,​ ​fruits,​ ​objects​ ​or​ ​imaginary​ ​creatures.​ ​In​ ​one​ ​body​ ​of​ ​work,​ ​fruits​ ​become animate;​ ​in​ ​another,​ ​birds​ ​are​ ​self​ ​aware​ ​and​ ​take​ ​the​ ​place​ ​of​ ​humans. My​ ​work​ ​insist​ ​on​ ​orders​ ​and​ ​disturb​ ​that​ ​itself​ ​to​ ​reveal​ ​our​ ​very​ ​selves​ ​we​ ​have​ ​lost​ ​in​ ​different​ ​sort of​ ​social​ ​and​ ​psychological​ ​structures. Digital​ ​glitch,​ ​which​ ​causes​ ​replication​ ​of​ ​digital​ ​images​ ​in​ ​the​ ​screen,​ ​has​ ​also​ ​informed​ ​my​ ​way​ ​of thinking​ ​about​ ​the​ ​role​ ​of​ ​a​ ​subject​ ​in​ ​a​ ​composition.​ ​Condensed​ ​repetitions​ ​in​ ​my​ ​paintings​ ​create lines​ ​of​ ​image-of-objects​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​representing​ ​concrete​ ​physical​ ​objects,​ ​effecting​ ​a​ ​sudden malfunction​ ​of​ ​perception​ ​of​ ​physical​ ​reality. And​ ​it goes without saying ​that​ ​humour​ ​is​ ​always​ ​present​ ​in​ ​my​ ​work!

Where did you look for new ideas?
I​ ​remind​ ​myself​ ​that​ ​studio​ ​practice​ ​evolves​ ​the​ ​idea,​ ​not​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​idea​ ​itself. In​ ​cases​ ​that​ ​I​ ​have​ ​no​ ​deadline,​ ​I​ ​start​ ​to​ ​draw​ ​with​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​subject​ ​matter,​ ​for​ ​days​ ​without pressure.​ ​And​ ​I​ ​read. In​ ​cases​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​under​ ​time​ ​pressure,​ ​I’m​ ​usually​ ​useless​ ​and​ ​just​ ​trust​ ​my​ ​destiny​ ​with​ ​hope​ ​of last-minute​ ​breakthrough.


Iman Raad: Tongue Tied

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Bryony Stone

Bryony joined It's Nice That as Deputy Editor in August 2016, following roles at Mother, Secret Cinema, LAW, Rollacoaster and Wonderland. She later became Acting Editor at It's Nice That, before leaving in late 2018.

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