Siah Armajani, Murder in Tehran (2009)
Minneapolis artist Siah Armajani — who created the iconic Irene Hixon Whitney Footbridge across Interstate 94 — will be given the Chevalier Award of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. According to Meulensteen New York, the award will be conferred in Minneapolis next Thursday, Oct. 21 by Philippe Vergne (the Dia director and former Walker chief curator who received the same honor in 2004) and Marie-Anne Toledano, Cultural Attaché of the Consul General de France.
A resident of Minneapolis since 1960, Armajani’s work has often circled back to Iran, where he was born in 1939. In his 1962 piece Prayer, now on view at the Walker’s Event Horizon exhibition, he inked verses by Sufi writers Rumi and Hafez to create an abstract, poetic work, while one of his more recent sculptures directly takes on contemporary Iranian politics. His Murder in Tehran is a response to the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Iran following last year’s presidential election. Referencing Goya, Sufi poets, the murder of Neda Agha Soltan and his own disdain for the Iranian regime — the work includes the text “Satan, drunk on victory, squats at the feast of our undoing” — the piece is a multi-layered installation. The blog Leaves of Glass describes the work:
Composed of glass, wood, gravel, cast body parts, felt, masonite, paint, and applied and poetry from contemporary and Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000), “Murder in Tehran” scrutinizes sacrifices made by women in the 2009 protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “reelection” to the Iranian presidency. This sacrifice was illustrated most starkly in the shooting of Neda, whose death was broadcast throughout the globe. The installation also commemorates the way in which Iranians took to their balconies to denounce the government and the policies of the Revolutionary Guard in the days following June 12.
Featuring a balcony-like structure supporting a “human” figure, the tableaux of “Murder in Tehran” recalls the popular uprising of Iranians on their rooftops. With its long history of martyrs losing their lives in pursuit of freedom and justice, Armajani’s work recognizes their various roles in Iranian history.
At the base of this sculpture, the viewer will see scattered casts of body parts littered among the gravel – a reference to the mass shallow graves found in various corners of Tehran in the weeks following the unrest. In the midst of the body parts is a bloody hatchet, an illustration of the Shamlou poem whose text is inscribed on the sides of the piece: “The man who comes in the noon of the night/has come to kill the light/There the butchers are posted in the passageways/with bloody chopping blocks and cleavers…” In placing a sculptural illustration in proximity to the text itself, Armajani employs a technique found in ancient Persian miniatures that contain illustration, description, and poetry on a single page. Additionally, one finds seven pencil-on-mylar drawings in the show entitled “Murder in Tehran (After Goya)”