Do you remember joy?

A lover of car paint, graffiti and site specific installations which create “joy” – the artist known on the street as Ebresk is one of my favourite artists working in Iran right now. Blurring the lines between urban and fine art with incredible skill – and apparently without even intending to do so.

He has been commissioned to do works of  public art, has plastered the faces of Iranian heroes history on the walls of Tehran, and recently made the Aaran Gallery all his own. His street art is very much a celebration of Iranian identity, often recalling movie stars of by-gone eras together with martyrs of the bloody Iran-Iraq war. His public art references iconic features of Tehran’s identity but has quickly become part of Tehran’s makeup itself.

Our guest correspondent Darya Alikhani sat down for a conversation with him about his work. 

Tell us about yourself

My real name is Ebrahim Eskandari and I was born in 1986. I live and work in Tehran and have an MA in sculpting. I also went to the army for a couple of years. I come from a family of artists and art has been a key part of my life since I can remember. My involvement with art started with painting, but I always wanted to expand my dimensions from 2D to 3D, so in university I gravitated towards sculpting. 

From childhood I have been interested in the works of George Segal and Duane Hanson (whose figures are life-size). I was in fact attracted to them because of the size and proportions of their work, so I stuck with the idea. My MA thesis was an installation of a man sitting by a TV. I assembled it in a room of 10m x 8m. I made everything in the room out of fibreglass, from his skateboard to his plate and the radio and television.

IMG_0701The room was colourful and the television was showing colour bars like those at the end of the programme, with the constant beep that accompanies it. The figure had fallen asleep watching television, creating a sense of being in a twilight zone: the beep was echoing, bothering the viewer, but the colours were there to please. This is where I first started using sound and my colours also moved from more matte to brilliant and shiny.

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Tell us more about the installation piece Meteorological Series which was exhibited recently at Aaran Gallery in Tehran.

This installation took around nine years to complete. I have been active throughout these years but I feel I have been an explorer thus far. While I was serving in the army I very much gathered my thoughts, sold my car, sorted out my finances and eventually managed to realise this work.

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In short, the installation covers a day in the life an airforce soldier on the 21st of Bahman (the critical day before the Iranian revolution). This date is so entrenched in the Iranian psyche, however, I wanted to come at it from a very different perspective.

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My ambition from the outset was to create immersive work that can transport the viewers to a different place. I stencilled very nostalgic city scenes directly onto the gallery walls. Scenes readily recognisable to any Tehran citizen. I then placed my soldier figures in the different stages of his day. Meteorological Series is rendered in bright colours, in fiber glass made to look like plastic. My figures in their bright colours tell the story of the soldier but also resemble toy soldiers. The use of bright almost primary colours was very deliberate in this regard.

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Usually toys evoke feelings of nostalgia and simple joy. Often, however, toys have a limited time-span. They are played with and either lost or discarded. The very real toy soldier at this pivotal moment in contemporary Iranian history reminds us of the fact that, whatever happened, the past can still hold within it simple, beautiful human memories. 

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While sculpture seems to be your calling, your street art and stencil work is recognisable and dotted through the city. Tell us more about them.

Tehran is a city in flux. While I recognise the need for change, much of the city’s identity is lost to materialistic ideals and the will of those with power. I regret to see that there is no longer any harmony. Identity and heritage are slipping away. So my stencil and urban art work focuses on resurrecting points of cultural identity by referencing iconic features of Tehran or iconic members of this city through history. In the same way that the London bus is an iconic part of London’s heritage, Tehran’s taxis, newspaper kiosks and post boxes are so quintessentially part of the city’s identity. That’s what I seek to preserve.

In my quest for understanding and preserving the heritage and identity of the city, I also reference its iconic citizens. Regrettably, society can be fickle, forgetting those it once recognised as heroes. So I go about stencilling the faces of those I feel make up the history and identity of Tehran. Sometimes to please myself but mostly to remind others of those they once held dear.

Your Public Art is becoming an important part of the city. Tell us how it all began.

I submitted work for the first Tehran National Sculpture Biennale in 2000, but the organizers didn’t accept my work, incentivising me to come back in the next round with stronger work. That year my work “Sandoghe Post” was accepted and won an award. The same year the municipality was selecting artists to create works for the city. I ended up installing the same piece in the city. The following year I participated again with “Telephone Kiosk” which was also chosen and placed in the city. 

I went on to participate in the next Bienale with “Javanan 57” (The Youth of 1978). It didn’t win an award, but was nonetheless installed in Tehran this year. People seem to like to take photos with it (which then get posted to Instagram) I like really like that – people relating to the art work. My city works are such that you pass them, enjoy them for a few minutes, perhaps gain some positive energy, then go about your day. That’s why I use these bright colours.

Tell us about the locations of your work and how you select them

I select the locations for all my public art myself. One of the issues with the city’s pieces is that the artists often don’t know Tehran very well or don’t particularly care about the location. The municipality asks us to find our own places and if they don’t, someone else picks one that often isn’t the best.

IMG_0696I believe that the locations of my installations are very integral to the pieces themselves. For example the Telephone Kiosk is located opposite the telecommunications office on Shariati Street where a kiosk like this would have been located in the past. Sandogheh Post is located opposite the Postal Museum on Sepahr Spehr Street (Emam Khomeini). People often mistake it for an actual postbox it’s so aptly located.

Javanan 57 is located in Nelson Mandela street (old Jordan street) a street known as cruising grounds for upper class kids in their cars. And the Peykan itself – a symbol of Iranian industrial growth and modernisation. The history of the car is very relevant, with the red model being the most famous, “ghermezeh dokhtar kosh” (the red lady killer), that road was and is a famous road and the car a famous car. The youth of that time used to take pride in this car and the figure standing next to the car references this pride.

Simply put, I Just want to make people reconnect with their city by referencing the city’s icons.

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