Them Who Dwell on the Earth
Mottahedan Projects launched its inaugural show this autumn with an exhibition by Iranian-born British artist, Reza Aramesh, titled Them Who Dwell on the Earth, running October 13 – 16, 2011.
An exhibition of the great ecclesiastical art of the seventeenth century, in a January 2010 show at the National Gallery, The Sacred Made Real, that cemented Aramesh’s ideas and photographs into sculptures. Mohammad Mottahedan has said of the artist: “Violent conflicts where the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake are the underlying and inseparable foundations of Aramesh’s art. It is a reflection of our society and who we are in a brief history of time.”
The exhibition at One Marylebone will showcase a collection of seven sculptures and six photographs by Aramesh in his first solo show in London. Aramesh uses the reportage imagery of conflicts, war, detention and political unrest from all over the world, including South East Asia, the Americas and the Middle-East. These become the raw material for the restaging of scenes that are then photographed. In the process, Aramesh uses non-professional actors, removing all instruments of conflict and the paraphernalia of war. In his photographs he decontextualizes the scenarios, often staging them in opulent surroundings.
The subjects are lost in this world, puppets in a play directed by others. These unwilling actors do not suffer for a specific belief or cause, but are rather symbols of the tragedy of being, of the often inescapable suffering in a human life. The title of the show takes inspiration from the Bible and highlights the plight of those who do not fight for an ideology, but rather are human beings upon whom ideologies wreak their anger and revenge.
These photographs are both art works in themselves and integral to the understanding of his sculptures. He employs seventeenth-century artistic techniques such as the application of the varnish and paint on to the solid lime wood sculptures. The figures are polychromed; their gestures are at times melodramatic (though often also unnervingly tranquil), and yet they have a rather alluring presence. The inlaid plinths express a luxurious presentation in wood marquetry incorporating Islamic geometric designs, a reminder that wealth lies at the root of many conflicts. The sculptures exalt us in their glorious beauty and the apparent good looks of the subjects, but they impart unease and sorrow. Rarely has ambiguity been pushed so far.
The exhibition space, previously a Christian church, is contextually pertinent for Aramesh’s sculptures. Through such a placement of the work, Aramesh brings a contemporary dialogue to longstanding debates around war, religion, ideology and economy. He brings his subjects in from war’s harsh exterior landscapes to the historically comforting yet problematic interiors of this converted church.
In the exhibition at One Marylebone, Aramesh draws on the rich iconography of war. His sculptures are evocative, intense and intimate confrontations with individuals who, cast in the role of victim, offer the world their emotions for scrutiny and compassion.