It is the belief of sculptor Jamshid Moradian that statues placed in spots around the city of Tehran should have shelf life, after which they should be sent for permanent storage or display at museums nationwide.
Moradian is also a contemporary poet. That’s why a short conversation with him got us into a host of other issues about science, history, philosophy, literature and suchlike. He says contemporary sculpting began in Iran with Abolhassan Seddiqi (1897-1995). Seddiqi is the creator of Ferdowsi's statue and is known as the second Michelangelo of the Orient.
Unlike Seddiqi, however, Master Moradian works with wood. Perhaps, this is because he likes the purity, the warmth, the color, and the soothing of it. He recommends the beginning craft men to start with the fine art of wood carving. He says wood carving offers several advantages. The wood that you work with has a warm and gentle feel to your hands as you create your design. Many woods even have a light pleasant aroma as you work with the carving blank. He goes on to argue that urban life is not just made of steel. Part of it is traditional wood art - one of the oldest developed skills in man’s history.
Elsewhere in the interview, he argues that the Tehran Municipality should never place each and every statue in spots around the city. Instead, it should display the selected statues for a while and then tuck them away or send them to museums where they belong. After all, this is not the Classical period (1730-1820) during which people had to see or appreciate a statue for 80 years. More on that in the following:
We have Persepolis, also known as Takht-e-Jamshid, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC). This makes us believe that sculpting has a long history in Iran.
What we have in Persepolis is an extension of ancient structures and art in Egypt and Assyria - the ancient Near East and the Levant. True, we are proud of our Persepolis heritage. It is a unique structure. The question is, if this exemplifies the Achaemenid style of architecture and if we could build such a magnificent palace, how come we could never build similar terraces and palaces in other parts of the country? After the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, we stopped building such colossal buildings and structures. Why? The answer is simple. We built it with help from foreign sculptors and architects. This shouldn’t be viewed as discouraging. This has happened in other parts of the world. The King of Kings used it for official audiences. That’s all really. After that, we stopped placing sculptors in public spots. Instead, we turned them into tilework, ceramic tile and natural stone - or the floor and wall tiles - reflecting the current trends in the 15th century AD of the Teymourian dynasty or that of Safavid dynasty (1501 to 1736).
The trend continued until the time of Mohammad Ghaffari (1847-1940), better known as Kamal-ol-Molk, a painter who trained Abolhassan Seddiqi. He deserves to be referred to as the second Michelangelo of the Orient. Not many people know that Seddiqi is the creator of Ferdowsi's statue, or the statue of Khayyam in Laleh Park of Tehran, or the portrait of Abu-Ali Sina. The magnificent statue of Ferdowsi is at the mercy of currents. It should be transferred to a museum and only a replica should be placed for public display.
The same argument could be made about importing statues from China, mimicking foreign designs on computer monitor, or selling art. It is wrong to sell art works to galleries before even creating them. It is wrong for galleries to force art collectors to buy certain works. It is wrong for an artist to expect the general public to both understand him and his works. Something is wrong when the society admires all your works and galleries buy all your works. You need to be ahead of your time.
Else, we will go nowhere. Poets likes Sa’adi, Hafez and Ferdowsi went through difficult times to create their masterpieces. It takes self-sacrifice to stay in the game. You cannot be a painter and at the same time a taxi driver. Only when you sacrifice everything else do you become a true artist.
This is the information age and explosion of social media. How does this affect the art in general?
This is welcome news. The problem is, we are not playing a part in it. For those who created the digital age this is good for big business. But for us, as consumers, it will only bring further despair and ruin. We are now at crossroads with conceptual art and performance. But we are yet to fully embrace it. Some artists have no idea about the concept of structure. They paint and display their works notwithstanding. This kind of practice will get them nowhere. People go to art galleries and museums not because they like to see art works, but because they want to spend time there.
In the absence of art, there will be behavioral violence - of any sort that falls under ruthless persecution. People need to know the importance of art in their lives. Here, the press media should take the helm in correcting our misconducts, our misbehaviors, and our words. The only way to calm the situation down and soften the mood in society is to revive art. In the absence of art, the society as we know it is finished.
You work with wood. Why is that? What’s the difference between wood carving and steel carving?
In our culture, wood has a distinct meaning. You cannot send the same message through stone or steel carving. First, the initial investment to learn carving is very minimal - with just a few tools that create unique strokes. Second, this is a work that does not require a special place or area in which to work. A third advantage to wood carving is that it is a quiet and comforting craft. Yet, the most important feature of this art form is that you will never run out of ideas as to what to carve next. Wood carving is done in every style of design, from the simple repetitive patterns of chip carving to the extremely intrigue dimensional detail of a decoy sculpture. Unlike stone and steel carving, there is no limit as to what you can do with wood carving.
You were asked to design and create new spots and statues for cities. What happened?
I agreed to design and create a number of statues for cities but because of the distance and management reshuffles they never got off the ground. I did however create 6 wooden statues for the city of Karaj. I also did create a wooden statue for the Science and Technology Park in Semnan.
There is too much visual pollution in our natural and built environments. What could we possibly do to minimize the impacts of this aesthetic issue that impair our ability to enjoy a vista or view.
We need a comprehensive plan. We need to take control over what is built and assembled in public places. It is wrong for the municipality to overcrowd the city with billboards and irregular formations. An overcrowding of an area causes visual pollution. The municipality needs to build many more underpasses for pedestrians in city squares. This will beatify the natural and built environments. The same could be said about the number of sculptures in public display. The municipality needs to limit that number. They should be accessible. People should be allowed to stand beside them and take pictures.
A lot happened last year to the country’s art. What is your take on that?
Just like previous years, it was full of joy and sorrow. We lost film director Abbas Kiarostami. But we also watched Asghar Farhadi win another Oscar. We need these ups and downs just like any other nation. My hope is that this coming year will bring greater achievements to our art community. True, there will be hurdles along the way, but they can be overcome. Nothing can be achieved in the comfort zone. A dream doesn't become reality through comfort; it takes sweat and determination.
Translation by Bobby Naderi