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How "Young Persian Artists" Heralds a New Wave of Iranian Art

Started by art-loving lawyer Mahsa Mergenthaler-Shamsaei, the initiative currently spotlights Tehran-based painter Romisa Sakaki's first ever international solo show at OPEN WALLS Gallery, Berlin.

Mahsa Mergenthaler-Shamsaei is a shipping lawyer, living in Switzerland, who moonlights as the founder of Young Persian Artists (YPA). YPA is a platform to highlight young artists from Iran and to bring their work to the attention of art lovers and critics abroad. In particular, the project aims to redefine largely flawed international misconceptions towards contemporary Iranian art. "In fact many of the artists labeled as contemporary (i.e. alive) are considered as ‘old-masters’ in Iran itself,” Mergenthaler-Shamsaei says, which is why she instead aims to “introduce and distinguish a new wave of Iranian artists who are young and often born after the revolution." In the past two years, the YPA founder has turned her “hobby” into a successful non-for-profit institution that not only showcases many young Iranian artists on the project’s website, but also has resulted in two shows in Berlin curated by Mergenthaler-Shamsaei—a group show in 2015 at Stattbad and now, Tehran-based painter Romisa Sakaki’s first ever international solo show at OPEN WALLS Gallery, Selfies in the City

The show concentrates on Sakaki’s colorful, crowded tableaus of everyday life in Iran, culled from the seven years of the young painter’s career. The work demonstrates Sakaki’s ability to capture the many paradoxes of contemporary Iran. Some paintings capture the lighter side of city life, like picnics in the park, while others confront darker truths, with images of rioting, pollution, and gas masks. As the curator tells OPEN WALLS, the subject matter of Sakaki’s work makes the viewer “review what has happened in Iran during these past very turbulent years.”

What unites these contrasting images of peace and unrest in Sakaki’s work is a distinctive ability to portray the paradox without simplifying it. “When an artist is truly talented they have a vocabulary all of their own,” says the curator, “The subject matter, style, time, mood, issues can change but the work is recognizable because of that very vocabulary." Sakaki's vocabulary is curiously journalistic and her primary object seems to be to record with equal accuracy both conflict and amity. This is done specifically through her attention to movement, the exaggerated vitality of her colors, and a partiality to the chaos of large groups of people. As Sakaki's curator confirms, "[Sakaki] is still a young artist (28 years old) but I found that she has already found and cemented [her] personal vocabulary.” 

Mergenthaler-Shamsaei adds, “This new wave of artists were born into a very different world—post-revolution, post-Iran-Iraq war—and are members of a tech savvy globalized world. Romisa and her work are a perfect example of this. Her work is relevant far beyond its geographical boarders and addresses the ‘human condition’ in a very current way.” 

Read further about Romisa Sakaki and Mahsa Mergenthaler-Shamsaei's work on Young Persian Artists' websiteSelfies in the City opens today at OPEN WALLS Gallery in Berlin and runs until April 23. 

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