Iranian ex-pat speaks through art

Iranian ex-pat speaks through art

Iranian expatriate Hossein Khosrojerdi draws from a deep well of personal history for his first solo gallery show in the U.S.

By Michael Aushenker

Hossein Khosrojerdi fled Iran during the Revolution. Though separated from his homeland, he continues to connect with it through his art.

Khosrojerdi’s exhibit, “Redefining Home,” opens Saturday at Tara Gallery in Santa Monica. It will not be the first time he exhibits work in the Los Angeles area, but this is his first-ever solo exhibition in the United States.

Living in self-exile in London, Khosrojerdi includes references in his art to the events that drove him and his four children to seek political asylum there.

In one digital series, Khosrojerdi uses mummies not as macabre elements but as symbols of self-preservation. Of ambiguous gender, race and religion, his mummies take on a sense of universal identity as they wallow in sorrow. Khosrojerdi’s series on buildings, alive with scaffolding, hint at reconstruction, rebirth.

This is not strange territory for Tara Gallery, however. Sponsored by the American Foundation for Contemporary Iranian Art (AFCIA), the Montana Avenue art space represents contemporary Iranian artists. AFCIA President Homa Taraji, director of Tara Gallery, has been a curator of contemporary Iranian art in the United States since 2002.

“He’s very innovative and always ahead of other artists coming up with new ideas,” she said of Khosrojerdi’s acrylic and digital work.

While not all of his work is political, Khosrojerdi feels saddened by the West’s views of Iran over the past several decades as filtered and co-opted through the political aggression of its government and the violence of its militants.

“Hossein believed in helping the Revolution. He joined and tried to help them. [However], all the contemporary art galleries closed, museums closed — everything went away before the Revolution,” Taraji said. “Our Revolution was really hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists.”

Khosrojerdi, 57, has been painting professionally since the early 1970s. The Tehran-born artist studied at Tehran University School of Fine Arts. He represented Iran at the 2003 Venice Biennial, when Iran participated for the first time post-Revolution.

“Eastern people are living in dreams and imagination. We build a future and a picture of our lives that is not real,” Khosrojerdi said, speaking through a translator. “I do have a home, it is Iran, and I have strong feelings about it. However because my dreams about Iran never come true, I don’t have particular nostalgia because what is missing is good memories.”

Example: when Iran outlawed canines, police shot one of his son’s dogs dead in front of his young, impressionable eyes.

“I don’t particularly want to go back. In Iran, I was so involved in work and politics that I never had time to focus on myself. In exile I can focus on myself and rebuild myself,” he said.

Khosrojerdi fled to England rather than the U.S. because he feels London affords a metropolitan lifestyle less radically different than Tehran’s.

“They don’t feel they’re English or Iranian. They want to be global,” Khosrojerdi said of his children, who were raised in England.

Sahar, 32, studied architecture and is designing shoes. His other daughter, Salar, 30, composes music and does graphic design. Older son Amirali, 24, (whose dog was shot in front of him) paints and performs as a rapper. He collaborates with Khosrojerdi’s youngest son, Amirhossein, 22, a television producer, to create segments for an Iranian opposition TV network.

Khosrojerdi is hyper-critical of Western media’s coverage of Iran, or lack thereof.

“We know about the control, the media that is close to capitalism and money. That control results in American people not knowing about many things they should know about. They are being amused by things that are not important or not solving any problems. That’s why people are turning to social media to get the information that they need because they’re not getting it from the media,” he said.

“It’s a pity. Iranian people, with all their limited access [to the Internet], are trying so hard to find out what’s going on in the world. They have a lot more knowledge.”

Khosrojerdi will not appear at the reception for “Returning Home,” unable to process travel documents in time.

Instead, he remains in London, where he teaches art, people-watches and paints in his studio.

“Here, there is a serious effort to preserve the heritage,” he observed, as opposed to “so many ugly towers built without harmony” in post-Revolution Iran.

The English have been kind to Khosrojerdi, on the other hand.

“I like the respect that people have toward each other and the respect people have for people of different backgrounds,” he said.

The British penchant for politeness never ceases to amuse him.

“Everywhere I go, people apologize.”

“Redefining Home” launches with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday and continues through Oct. 15 at Tara Gallery, 1202 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 451-2417;