I search my identity in the thirsty cracks of Kavir (desert) of Iran An interview with Gholamhossein Nami, the contemporary painter. The occasion was his painting exhibition held in Torento last year. Source: Iran newspaper Q: In most of your recent paintings, where you have used clay they represent Kavir and imply an Iranian identity. Was your aim in creating these works a hint at Iranian idiosyncrasies and Iranian art or did you have some other aim in mind? A: Let us first see what is identity and how Iranian identity can manifest itself in Art? Surely in our world today, nobody can be without an identity, particularly the artists. In contrast to certain incorrect interpretations that look for identity on the surface and pay attention to the appearances, to me identity is a hidden phenomenon. One's identity is evident in his deeds, behaviors, expressions and outlook. Identity is not something tangible that one could point at. It has no specific shape or color. The people who think that by selecting and presenting well-known shapes and superficial designs in their paintings, their works find an Iranian identity are making a grave mistake. In this way, they damage their own identity and the valuable traditions of the society, because presenting identity through a piece of artwork is not an intentional and obligatory act. It should happen spontaneously. When an Iranian artist is honest, experienced, learned and familiar with his country's culture and traditions and history, whatever he creates will possess Iranian identity.
Q: Do you mean that in order to avoid producing more or less the same designs over and over again an artist should be creative?
A: Yes. In general, creativity is innovation and saying something new and this has nothing to do with the repetition of phenomena and imitation. I thought about our local architecture passionately for forty years and used the color of the earth in my works, the color that is one of the basic and infra-structural and philosophical elements of our architecture. But in a trip that I had with a group of my friends to Kashan and Abyaneh seven years ago, I rediscovered Abyaneh and I was intensely moved by the architecture and the air of Kavir. This time instead of the color of the earth, I used the earth itself. I search my identity in the thirsty cracks of Kavir. Kavir has a strange depth for me and perhaps it is like that for everybody. Kavir, even its name sound symbolic and it has a different meaning for different people. Kavir is thirsty earth that in its crave for water it falls in love with mirage and knots its fate to aridity and thirst. In this way I think by using the element of earth and Kavir, I have approached some abstract signs of Iranian culture that can include my identity too.
Q: Your works show that you do not follow a fixed style. What is the relationship between the style of an artist in different stages of his life with his conception on one hand and with the corresponding social conditions on the other?
A: Styles are the product of social conditions. In other words, since the early times of cave-settlers to the present time, any artistic school and style that we see has been the product of the corresponding social, cultural, economic and political conditions of the society. In relation to my personal styles I should say that I have been working on a three-dimensional abstract �spatialism� for years and I am still continuing the same style. But what you said is in a sense quite sound. I have never stopped at a point as I feel that after years of experience and work, I cannot walk on the same line anymore. Today, style has no longer any meaning for me. What I create is quite freely and outside the conventional frameworks and restrains. Years ago, at the climax of my white three-dimensional abstract paintings, I produced works on the war with the rhythm of death that looked like two-dimensional figurative colored works. However my approach to Nature was a new modern approach.
Q: To what extent is the contemporary Iranian painting is known to the world?
A: Iranian contemporary painting has 60-70 years of history and has gone through many ups and downs. There was a short attempt to introduce Iranian painting to the world and as the result some of the museums came to realize the value of Iranian artists and some of them bought a few pieces of contemporary artworks. Unfortunately, such attempt did not last long and after the revolution there was a kind of stagnation here that continued until a couple of years ago. Of course this does not mean that Iranian artists were not active during this period of stagnation, but they held many valuable exhibitions inside the country. Only those who should have tried to introduce Iranian painting to the world failed in this respect. During recent years due to the activities of Museum of Contemporary Arts of Tehran and the interest that some of the authorities are showing in this respect, the air opened up and the relevant activities intensified and accelerated. In a way we can say that the activities shown during the last two to three years in relation to introducing Iranian painting to the world were much higher than any other time, but it is not still enough. We should have introduced ourselves a lot earlier and now we have to compensate for this delay. Today even Arab countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Kuwait have painters well known throughout the world and Iran with all her long cultural history is not yet known. If Iranian Cinema is now famous throughout the world, it is due to at least ten years of honest investment that was carried out in this respect.
Q: What sort of opportunities do we have to learn about the state of contemporary painting in the world?
A: This is in fact a mutual interaction. In other words, as much as there has been little opportunity to introduce our contemporary painting to the world, there has been little chance to introduce the world�s contemporary painting to our society. All our young artists and painters are in touch with the world, largely through books, magazines and Internet. They don�t even have much chance to buy art books and magazines. In regard to mutual relationship with the world we are indeed backward. We need relentless will and endeavor of our art professionals to solve this problem.
Q: What is the position of our professional painting and how does financial insecurity of our artist, particularly our young artists affect our painting?
A: Unfortunately, our professional painters cannot earn their livelihood through their own profession and those few who do, are living under unfavorable conditions. The fact that our young artists suffer from financial insecurity is just one aspect of the bitter reality that our society is struggling against. The sale of artistic work is stagnant and that has an economic root. When and if people have money, they prefer to spend it on their everyday expenses. But this is not the answer to your question. To me itt is to the task of our cultural artistic authorities to find a way to satisfy the financial needs of our young painters.
Q: What is the present school and style of painting in the world and to what extent is Iranian painting under its influence?
A: Modernism and post-modernism are the two major styles of painting in the world, while we still have problem in our understanding of modernism and we think that if we offer works similar to the modern painters of the world, we can call ourselves modern. This is not true. Modernism has a bed in whose absence it is not possible to work in this context. 70 years ago, the conditions of Iranian society made it necessary to look at the world from an economic, social, political and cultural point of view and to try to advance with it. That is why modernism became the center of attention. But unfortunately, our painters hurriedly appealed to modernism without any analysis, discussion and discourse and some of our problems and shortcomings in contemporary art are due to our incorrect understanding of modernism. Similarly, we should realize that post-modernism emerged out of the heart of modernism with this difference that it respects many past values and bestows them a contemporary life. All the pioneers of post-modernism, particularly in the field of painting, were also the innovators of modernism. Europe reached modernism after at least five centuries of cultural history or through a logical succession, but we have not gone through such a process and now in order to reach a correct understanding of modernism and post-modernism, we have no other choice than to study, discuss and explore our social conditions.
Q: For the art of painting to attain a lofty position in the society, is it necessary for it to be in harmony with the world, or is it enough to reach an expressive language to represent the peculiarities and needs of its contemporary society?
A: It is natural that the artists of any society are under the influence of the general air and problems of their society, but they should have their own language to express the problems of their society. Art knows no boundary or limitation and should have a discourse with the whole world. Today the problems and events of all the existing societies are inter-related and they sometimes share many cultural, economic, social and political features. Artists, who have always been the expressive language of their society and time, cannot be outside this international relationship.

Design by K. Nami | 2010