Monday, March 11, 2013

Black and white

Australian artist Hossein Valamanesh, of Iranian origin, has produced an art work that highlights the good and bad of religion

By Shevlin Sebastian

To take part in the Kochi Biennale, one of Australia 's contemporary artists, Hossein Valamanesh had sent round light fixtures and cloth materials from Adelaide. Unfortunately, for him, he described the lights as globes and met a roadblock called the Indian Customs. “They presumed these were globes of the world,” says Hossein. “And they were worried about whether the division between India and Pakistan was clearly defined and done correctly.” 

But since the officers could not find the globes, they held up the consignment for two weeks. In between, a desperate Hossein kept sending images by e-mail of the light fixtures. “It took me a long time to convince them,” says Hossein. Finally, three days before the exhibition opened the consignment was released and Hossein rushed to finish his installation on time.

And it is one of the unique art works on show at the Kochi show. Before you step into the room, at Pepper House, where the work is placed, you have to take off your shoes and slide past a curtain.

Inside, you walk on carpets placed on the floor. “This resembles the carpets which are placed on the floor of the mosques,” says Hossein. “But while those in mosques all face Mecca, mine has no direction.” Towering over them are these cloth columns, made of voile, a synthetic material, about 12 feet high. 

Eight of them are white in colour, radiating a light, while another eight, interspersed, with the light columns, is in black. You experience a feeling of sanctity when you look at the light followed by a sense of foreboding when you stare at the black columns.

Yes, that was my stated intention,” says Hossein. “The idea of half light and half darkness, black and white, emanating light and sucking it in at the same time. The light columns highlights the positive aspects of our religious beliefs, while there are darker aspects also. As we know from world history, religion has damaged cultures, art, cities and has been the cause of much bloodshed.”

Hossein was inspired to make this installation because of his travels around the world. “Whereever I go, be it in Europe, the Middle East or America, I like going into mosques and churches,” he says. “I feel a sense of reverence when I am in these religious spaces. But at the same time, I don't believe in God or the religion which is being propagated. So, I also experience a feeling of confusion.”

Sometimes, feelings have energised Hossein. Of Iranian origin, at the age of 21, he fell in love with a girl in Tehran. When she emigrated to Australia, an obsessed Hossein followed. “I did not end up getting her,” he says, with a laugh. “But I found another woman, Angela, an Australian, and have been happy with her for the past 35 years.”

In Australia Hossein graduated from the South Australia School of Art in 1977 and has worked in all sorts of mediums: paintings, bronze and granite, branches, leaves, and seeds, He has also been a writer, photographer, sculptor and a theatre set designer.

Asked what his career would have been like, if he had stayed on in Iran, Hossein says, “It is hard to say. It could have been fine or I might have been imprisoned or shot dead, while walking on the street.”  

(The Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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