Smile! You’re on camera!

I am excited. I am very excited. Last night, I spoke to Romisa Sakai about her new body of work “Grasslands”. Romisa is 27, lives and works in Tehran, Iran. She teaches kindergarten by day and produces art by night. A true citizen of Tehran, she is also charming and refreshing to speak to.

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What I love about Romisa is that she says it like it is, without fluff, without pretence, without filter. I think the same earnest yet pointed approach shows itself in her work. Her new series, Grasslands, started with an attempt by Romisa to move her focus away from incidents which disturb her, towards matters which bring her happiness. Friends, picnics, the urban outdoors. She began to study the Impressionists, masters in painting the good times with their dancers, Parisian salons, walks in the park.

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Meanwhile, she took photographs of her urban surroundings. It was the photographs which brought her attention to the abundance of cameras, speakers, wardens in her urban surroundings. What started out as a project with the humble desire to paint good, happy things, has become a project which captures the current Tehran Zeitgeist in such a piercing way.

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Her “grassland” landscapes are flat and confusingly utopian. Painted in fabulous, but unreal colours, the characters appear happy and engaged. Yet the use of colour, outlining them in red or aggressive florescent colours, heightens the anxiety in the pictures. Everyone is happy, but the atmosphere is tense. The cameras are there, the speakers are there, just as part of the urban landscape, the silent, never absent presence. I like to call them instruments of “control through silent presence”. It’s all very 1984 in a very 2014 kind of way.

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I find Romisa’s work fiercely to the point. It reflects the anxiety present in urban life in Iran today, but also also the present spirit of a young society, that perseveres and continues to live and sometimes enjoy this urban life. Notwithstanding the cameras, the speakers, the “control through silent presence”.

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Romisa’s work was just exhibited at Shirin Art Gallery in Tehran.

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