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Ahmad Amin Nazar: grappling with a certain ambiguity

The Iranian master Ahmad Amin Nazar has new works at the Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde.

The direct literary references, demon-head masks and shadowy characters from the Shahnameh, Iran’s 10th-century epic poem, have vanished from Ahmad Amin Nazar’s new paintings. The works appear stridently stripped down compared with his last Dubai show in 2010, especially without the greyish fugue of watery acrylic or ink that gave his earlier scenes their blasted feel.

But Amin Nazar has concentrated that chaos in the violently somersaulting characters seen here in Salto, a show of forthright, flourishing brushstrokes that declare themselves in a paint-speckled white space. Muscular bodies lock together and can appear embattled or embracing depending on which angle the work is viewed from (subtly directed by the tiny arrows that the artist has placed above his signature in several pieces here).

When Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde last exhibited Amin Nazar’s work, it hadn’t been seen outside of Tehran in 17 years. The show revealed an artist deeply attached to the literary and miniaturist traditions of Iran, yet resigned to their uncertainty in a present defined by its volatility. The heroes and tyrants of a mythos that informs so much of Iran’s sense of self were presented as paunchy and dissolute, rendered in Amin Nazar’s visceral style.

But Salto is strikingly physical in its direction. The images are consistently large – some two metres wide – and the artist crafted them by walking around the works on the floor of his studio, with footmarks on the paper as testament to his presence.

The bodies themselves serve to heighten that physicality. There’s a writerly economy to his brushstrokes here – without any of the complex shades of his earlier pieces and, in the absence of heads and hands, the bare and sinewy construction of these gymnasts contains its own knotted energy.

“As humans we are a big bundle of ambiguities and complexities,” says Amin Nazar via a translator. “One minute we’re full of hope and goodness and kindness, the next minute we’re bereft of all that and become so het up and agitated that mindlessness can take over, leading us to an act of aggression or violence.”

Schooled in etching and intaglio printing, Amin Nazar later tutored a generation of artists in universities around the country and his own home – notably fellow Iranian painter Rokni Haerizadeh.

But his own work had fallen off the radar of contemporary Iranian art, partly due to the reclusive nature of the artist but also to the upheaval in the decades following Iran’s 1979 revolution; the exhibition’s accompanying text describes him as part of a “lost generation” of Iranian artists.

Amin Nazar’s works on paper featured in the British Museum earlier this year. Salto offers further insight into this unduly neglected artist.


• Until January 10 at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai

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