In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art
In the Fields of Empty Days explores the continuous and inescapable presence of the past in Iranian society. This notion is revealed in art and literature in which ancient kings and heroes are used in later contexts as paradigms of virtue or as objects of derision, while long-gone Shi‘ite saints are evoked as champions of the poor and the oppressed. Beginning in the 14th century, illustrated versions of the Shahnama or Book of Kings, the national epic, recast Iran’s pre-Islamic kings and heroes as contemporary Islamic rulers and were used to justify and legitimize the ruling elite. Iran’s adoption of Shi‘ite Islam in the early 16th century also helped to fix the past irrevocably in the present through the cycle of remembrance of the martyrdom of Shi‘ite Imams. Both of these strands—olden kings and heroes, and martyred Imams—carry forward, even sometimes overlap, in contemporary Iranian art, rendered anachronistically as a form of often barely disguised social commentary.
The exhibition will examine this appropriation of the past, largely in the context of the present, by assembling 125 works of art in a variety of media—photography, painting, sculpture, video, posters, political cartoons, animation, and historical illustrated manuscripts. In focusing on the intersection of past and present, In the Fields of Empty Days will offer new scholarship and a novel approach to viewing anachronisms in Iranian art. In bringing together so many beautiful, historically significant, and varied works of art, the exhibition will demonstrate not only that Iranian culture is multidimensional, but also that in evoking the past, Iranian artists continue to create new visual metaphors to describe the present.