Collectionair Conversations: Ali Bakhtiari

Conversation Ali Bakhtiari

Collectionair speaks to Iranian curator Ali Bakhtiari about co-curating the most recent exhibition at TMOCA in Tehran, the Iranian art scene, and his focus on developing artist books.

Collectionair: What drew you to curating The Karnameh Exhibition of Visual Culture of Iranian Children at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art with Peyman Pourhosein and Yashar Samimi Mofakham?

A.B: Karnameh started about 12 years ago for me by collecting children books. First it was just a personal obsession but when the collection got bigger, I realised we didn’t have a credible reference about this visual treasure. Meanwhile I got acquainted with Yashar and Peyman who collected other fields of children visual productions and we decided to do Karnameh together. We all believe that collections which don’t produce knowledge are sterile; we focused on studying the collections and when it was more solid, we sent it as a proposal to TMOCA.

Collectionair: How does the space lend itself to the content (and curatorial approach) of the exhibition?

A.B: TMOCA is both a simple and very complicated space, especially for an archive driven show like Karnameh, which needed to sustain its coherency throughout the space. We designed the exhibition chronologically based on museum’s architecture.
Conversation Ali Bakhtiari
Conversation Ali Bakhtiari
The Karnameh Exhibition of Visual Culture of Iranian Children at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. All images courtesy of A.Bakhtiari.

Collectionair: Curating an exhibition of archival materials covering Iranian childhood must have been a very nostalgic experience – what has the public’s response been like?

A.B: It could be nostalgic for the children of that era but for us curators (we were all born after 1979-1980) there was no nostalgic charge in the stuff. The presentation also emphasised a kind of prevention in the sense of nostalgia; though it was inevitable for the children of that time who visited the exhibition. Some described it like a time machine that took them to their childhood!
Conversation Ali Bakhtiari
Conversation Ali Bakhtiari
The Karnameh Exhibition of Visual Culture of Iranian Children at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. All images courtesy of A.Bakhtiari.

Collectionair: How do you see the Iranian art scene developing? Do you think the recent lifting of international sanctions will have an effect?

A.B: The Iranian art scene like many other social and cultural fields, has found a way to prosper, even during the time of sanctions the art scene was very active and resulted in many international successes, such as many international museum shows, acquisitions, auctions.

“Of course the lifting of sanctions will have a direct effect on what’s happening here. I believe people will travel to Iran more easily and this will create a more effective dialogue.”

Collectionair: How has your experience in curating shows globally – Saatchi Gallery in London, Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai, and the New York spaces of Leila Heller Gallery and Shirin Gallery – had an impact on your approach to curating exhibitions within Iran?

A.B: I believe as curators we are in constant interaction and dialogue with the exhibitions we see, books that we read and artistic experiences. My previous experiences are definitely the back bone to such an ambitious project as Karnameh.

Conversation Ali Bakhtiari
The Karnameh Exhibition of Visual Culture of Iranian Children at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. All images courtesy of A.Bakhtiari.

Collectionair: What is the best exhibition or project you’ve seen in Iran this year and why?

A.B: Aside from Karnameh? (Joking). MASS INDIVIDUALISM: A Form of Multitude in Ab-Anbar gallery was my favourite since the show was a precise articulation of a curator’s idea in the scale of a gallery.

Collectionair: Can you tell us about your project ABBookness –  and any future projects coming up?

A.B: ABBookness is focused on the production and development of artist books. My last issue is a collaboration with Ali Akbar Sadeghi, Book of Lovers and now I am studying a few artists for my upcoming projects, to be announced soon!

Collectionair: What has the response outside of Iran been like to to your work with ABBookness on projects such as Ali Akbar Sadeghi and Fareideh Lashai’s artist books, and your curated volumes of Persian discography (IRAN:RPM) ?

A.B: Artist Books has been very successful as many of them are now part of museum collections such as The British Museum, Centre Georges Pompidou, MAXXI… and the RPM series were also very well received and catalogued in many universities as reference sources.

The Karnameh Exhibition of Visual Culture of Iranian Children at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is on until August 15th.

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