Azari & Karimi - "Coffee House", 2009 - Video painting. LTMH Gallery / © Concept: Shoja Azari -  Still from a video installation, detail. Courtesy: East Central Gallery, London

LONDON.- East Central Gallery will present an exhibition curated by Nour Wali of collaborative works by Iranian artists Shoja Azari and Shahram Karimi, showcasing for the first time in a London gallery their revolutionary artistic approach, which intertwines the media of painting and video. Five artworks from the “Oil Series” will surround viewers, re-creating a cinematic experience through the canvases’ glow of mesmerising colours. Referring to the first Gulf War, and presented in the darkened subterranean floor of East Central, the “Oil Series” depicts scenes of deserts aflame, with fires scorching the skies, smoke bellowing in the wind, a soldier disappearing into misty horizons and tanks reining over ashen land.

The works sample images from Werner Herzog’s film “Lessons of Darkness”, with scenes slowed, edited and reframed by Azari, projected as brief looping videos onto Karimi’s hyperrealist paintings which are literally brought to life, while Karimi also interweaves on the canvases barely decipherable lines of his own poetry written in Farsi, evoking intuitive thoughts lying underneath the surfaces.

Exhibited in its own enclave in this seminal show is the stunning video projection “Coffee House Painting”, another creative collaboration between Azari and Karimi, which was then recreated as a video projection by Azari. Rich in political and historical references, and equally critical of global politics, the work is inspired by the traditional Persian coffee house paintings that were popular in early 20th Century Iran and which spoke of heroes and villains from Persia’s epic history of myth and legend.

Reinventing this ancient tradition, in an amalgamation of past and present, east and west, painting and video, Azari’s “Coffee House Painting” is dotted with scenes of real soldiers, recounting their acts of horror in intermittent cameos against a traditional backdrop of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell with Islamic saints and prophets arranged haphazardly. American soldiers confessing their acts of brutality and torture at Abu Ghraib emerge and disappear from bubbles of smoke, intercepted by threatening calls by head of Hezbollah Nasrallah in defense of Lebanon, chants of Shiite “Ashura” rituals and the firing of machine guns.

The exhibition brings together Iranian contemporary artists Shoja Azari-Shahram Karimi

A captivating yet sinister work that seems to reproach all nations, Eastern and Western, and emphasize the paradoxical pain and divisions that religious fervor has caused. Azari’s playful use of the video portrait cameos portraying documentary confessions evoke flashbacks to recent 2009 Persian “Twitter Revolution”, capturing snappy footage of the uprisings and street riots in Tehran in reaction to the alleged fraud of the Presidential elections. The “Coffee House Painting” brings to light not only Iran’s plight, but the tragic truth mirroring contemporary society that will probably represent the same looping reality even 20 years on.

Since 2006, Azari (New York based) and Karimi (living between Germany and New York) have worked in partnership to master a revolutionary approach to painting and video art. Featured in the celebrated “Iran Inside Out” group exhibition at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York (June-September 2009), this will be the artists’ first exhibition in Europe to showcase their sensational “Oil Paintings” (2009) and Shoja Azari’s “Coffee House Painting” video (2009).

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