VISUAL ARTS | Painter Ghobad Hendessi, raising awareness of Iranian repression


Local painter Ghobad Hendessi is new to the art scene, but the Iranian-American has an important story to tell in his work. He has 13 paintings on display at the Dunn Bros. coffee shop at 530 University Avenue S.E. in Minneapolis, with an opening reception this Friday, February 12, from 5-8 p.m. Hendessi’s works focused on Iran include the image of a chalk outline holding a “Free Iran” sign on the Stone Arch Bridge, challenging the viewer to imagine what their world would be if life were disrupted here instead.

Hendessi’s other works are excursions into a variety of different painting styles, from exercises in technique to works based on unusual dreams. Hendessi hopes to finish another painting by the show, a mainly pointillist piece showing silhouetted figures of Iranian civilians standing in front of a fire while a realistic portrait of the artist looks out to the viewer, as if he’s reaching out of the canvas.

Hendessi hopes that his work will be inform his American friends (including me) about what’s going in Iran, in order to cause a stir and get something done. His works are necessary, but wouldn’t be something he could publicly do in Tehran, where his parents still reside.

Tell me about your upbringing, where you were born and grew up.
I was born in Paris, but when I was five my parents moved to Iran. So I was there for 15 years—kind of a hard time over there actually, because growing up over there, in a country like that, at home my parents were very open, but outside society was completely closed and you [couldn’t] say some stuff. From there I went to Paris again and stayed there for two and a half years, until I was 19. I studied there for two years at the Sorbonne. Then I moved to another university there, and from there I came here. I was at Hamline for a year, then I transferred to the U of M.

Tell me about what you’re currently working on.
Lately I’ve been trying to paint more about the situation in Iran, since my parents are in Iran and I’m worried about them all the time and since I can’t go back there for now, the least I can do is to show how I feel in paintings.

What do your parents do there?
They try to live. They try to survive, I guess. My mom doesn’t have a job and my dad has been retired for a long time. My mom had a restaurant, but she doesn’t have that anymore, either. So, they both are unemployed.

Where do they live?
They both live in Tehran.

Do you go and visit?
Yeah, last time I was there was a year and a half ago. It is changing, not in a good way. For example, you seen that Stone Arch Bridge painting, with the outline of a dead body? [I painted that because] one of the things I’m trying to do is get American or foreign friends [to] connect to the situation. The Stone Arch Bridge is a very famous bridge around here, and I was like, I’m going to paint something that says, “what if that was happening here.” Maybe that would make people think about Iran a little bit more.

What is the movement in Iran like right now?
There have been a lot of deaths in the past six months. So, I just got into it like every single Iranian in the whole world. You know, if you lived there, if you spent some of your time over there, you would totally do what I do. The nature of that country is beautiful, the system has just messed everything up. We have a lot of nice people over there. The only place that I could find some people that are close to my culture so far I guess is Minneapolis. I don’t know if it’s Minnesota Nice or fake nice or whatever, but it works for me.

Tell me about the censorship of Iran.
Every single artist who shows his or her stuff—it’s supposed to be something that is not offending Islamic Republic laws. But people do that in private a lot. There’s a book called Persian Mirrors [written by Elaine Sciolino]. It’s a very interesting book. It says that Islam stops at the doors, and inside, people do whatever we want—and that’s completely true. In Iran I had pool parties…I still haven’t had that much fun since I left Iran, but we don’t have that fun in public. All the fun is indoors. And that’s why artists show their work privately. They never put an art show like this and show their feelings about the government.

What do want your friends to know?
I want my friends interested in the situation. And I believe if more people are interested in this situation happening in Iran, it can help us—the Iranians that are in movements, it can help them a lot if they have public support. But, that’s why I’m trying to show “what if that was here.” For example, I don’t know if you saw the painting of the Iranian flag [and hands], and the red [hands] are scratching the green ones. So all these hands are a symbol of how Iranians got tortured. I wanted to express that with my paintings. I just tried to make people think about it. Some of my paintings are very complicated because I want people to think whatever they want about it or figure out some stuff themselves about it. With some of it, you need to have some information about Iran, or some information about this movement. You have to know the green movement, and what’s the color of the government. Then, if you put those together….

So, your family and friends are in danger?
Oh, definitely. [The authorities] don’t care about people’s lives. If a plane falls, [they say] “oh, God wanted [that to happen].” No! Fix the plane. There’s always a solution. There’s not always God in everything. That God that you’re talking about gave you a brain to think.