Birds and animals have often been credited, though in hindsight, for their behavioural ability to foreshadow natural and man-made catastrophes, alarming people about the looming danger. Much in the same way, Ilâj, a curatorial project by Yasaman Tamizkar, was a continual effort towards employing visual arts as a medium towards raising awareness about oneself and the problems that plague the world around us. It acted as a wake-up call, urging people to chart the way for hope, change, and in Tamizkar’s words, 'salvation'.
Ilâj was curated as part of the exhibition Playlist of Propositions by Khoj International Artists’ Association. It brought to the forefront issues of violence, petrification and consumerism not just rampant across Iran, but the world. Consequently, it acted as a forewarning of imminent cumulative consequences of these problems. In its attempt to shine a light on the problem or cause of pain, the act of recognition itself then becomes the first and indispensable step towards finding its ilâj or cure.
Iran’s more recent history of violence often overshadows its legacy of cultural, artistic and spiritual prowess. The poetry of Iranian Sufis spoke about practices to attain a peaceful state of being. The ancient wisdom in the myths, traditions, rituals like Zār, a holistic medical ritual going beyond merely a physical cure, have often been overlooked due to lack of awareness. Consequently, while the works of the artists chosen for the exhibition Ilâj were rooted in Iranian tradition, each work was a manifestation of a problem or pain that shrieks for a remedy.
In this light, Petrification by Sara Ghods exposed the process of petrification by which an object or being, under forces of pressure, turns into a new substance. In this process, however, the secondary meaning sometimes overrides the original identity altogether. Ghods stated, "On googling the word ‘Apple’, I only encountered search hits for the company, not the fruit.” In the modern era, a lot of ancient mythology and wisdom has been devoured. However, cultural essence and history is essential to chart a future path for humanism. She, however, believes, “Humanism needs culture, history and the acknowledgment of the origins to enter the future.” An understanding of this transformation and reversal is, therefore, necessary towards addressing cultural disambiguation.
An extension of the latter to cultural consumption was the concept behind Sadra Wejdani’s work Ceramic Bottle.His installation of ceramic and plastic water bottles was inspired from Omar Khayyam’s poetry on nature, who according to him, “sees soil as a material, which contains human bodies and organs and also a context of birth and death.” The artist wondered, “what if everything that was buried under the earth, visible or invisible, would turn into pottery.” The depiction of plastic bottles then is a metaphor for the so-called 'equality' resulting from the standardisation of commodities and humans. The resulting consumerism has major ramifications for our civilisation and the sustainability of our environment. For Wejdani, the ilâj lies in re-evaluating the phenomenon of consumption and what he terms 'conscious craftsmanship’.
Hamed Jaberha’s Agony, on the other hand, presented a blood-coloured book with a nail passing through hand imprints of the artist on each page. Jaberha described his work as “a metaphor for the crucifixion of Jesus, an oppressed hero and a symbol of pain". He further stated, “It was an international code for me to mention the mechanism of violence and savagery.” Jaberha is inspired by the third Aria 'To the Hands' written by Arnulf, which says:
What are those wounds
In the midst of your hands?
Hail, Jesus, good shepherd,
Wearied in agony,
Tormented on the cross
Nailed to the cross
Your sacred hands stretched out.
He, therefore, attributes the violence to the lack of intellectuals and cultural renaissance. According to him, it is not religions that are unethical per se, but the moralistic undertones and rules that are falsely exploited by those in power to propagate violence. By depicting images that scream of pain, Jaberha said, “I want to evoke people to remember that they can avoid this violence but they don't want it.”
For the artists, then, the pain and cure are inseparable. In becoming aware of a problem we instinctively or consciously also look for its solution, art being a conduit for the ilâj. Tamizkar’s ‘curation’ begins with the sound ‘cur’, once again, circling back to the ilâj her artists so earnestly urge the viewer to seek.