Sides of Humor: Mostafa Choobtarash

30 October 2020 - 18 January 2021

Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar is pleased to present 'Sides of Humor' an exhibition of paintings by contemporary Iranian artist Mostafa Choobtarash, on view from October 30 through December 28, 2020 (extended through 18 January, 2021).

Mostafa Choobtarash combines three elements to create his art: the past, paint and humour.

The exhibition comprises a series of large, oil and acrylic paintings on canvas. Each work has two layers. The main visual element in each is a large, black and white, freely painted rendering of a historic element of Iranian visual history, be it an ancient stone wall-relief depicting Assyrian warriors, an illustrated page of medieval Persian manuscript, or a loose iteration of a black and white photo of an important figure from the time of the Shah. On top of these visual fragments of history Choobtarash paints, in bright colours and employing an engaging, cartoonish figurative style, little comic vignettes: On top of a manuscript illustration depicting a battle, float a pair of yellow and orange heads, seemingly drinking wine. Scrawled on top of a painting of a stone-relief are a cluster of forms; another disembodied orange head, a purple trumpet, a candle, a bowl, a rose, pink hearts and a scumble of yellow paint. A painterly copy of a photograph of Mohammad Mossadegh, once prime minister of Iran, is defaced, school-boy style with orange glasses and a clumsy moustache.


In graffiting his own paintings Choobtarash is, by symbolic extension, doing the same to these pages torn out from the book of Iranian history. With his irreverence and comic painterly style Choobtarash takes his place in the vibrant and distinctive strand of contemporary Iranian painting exemplified by the work of Tala Madani and the brothers Rokni and Ramin Haerizadeh. Uniting all their work is a robust, satirical spirit and a scepticism of official narratives. A similar spirit inspired much of the underground contemporary Russian and Eastern European contemporary art that flourished quietly and privately during the U.S.S.R. such as the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and the Moscow Conceptualists.


Choobtarash was born in Dezful (1983), a historic city in the southwest of Iran that suffered greatly during the Iran-Iraq war. Born a year after it started, the war and its long traumatic aftermath shaped the world he grew up in. Its marks were everywhere, from the walls of bomb-damaged buildings, to the wounds in the psyche of the people. As the artist explains “the sense of war, violence and turbulence lives on [after the end of the war] in the spirit of the people there”. This demotic quality and interest in everyday people and events, runs throughout his work. “I don’t address complicated subjects in my art, but instead everyday things, an interesting conversation I had with a taxi driver, seeing someone angry on the street slamming a door and wondering what made them angry, the flood of news on the TV… Even when I am looking at history, I am more interested in using it inspire a critical relationship with the time I am living in”. 


For Choobtarash, this makes his work part of an unbroken tradition of using visual culture to express the basic concerns of being human. “What were cavemen doing when they made their paintings on cave walls? They were visually expressing their fears, stresses, their adventures and conflicts. Their work has survived on those walls for countless years and we can we can still see their concerns with life in those paintings. My work critiques mass media and the social networks in which the truth and information becomes twisted and lost, but at its core, my work is old and traditional, not much different to those cave paintings”. 


Choobtarash's work expresses the humour and satirical spirit of everyday people living their lives as best they can, despite the chaos of the world.


Quotes taken from video interview with Beyond the Exhibit I. Contextualising Emerging Iranian Artist by Factory TT Berlin/Tehran.


Nick Hackworth

London, October, 2020


Mostafa Choobtarash (b.1983, Dezful, Iran) received a BA in painting in 2007 from Azad University, Tehran and a MA in Painting in 2010 from Soureh University, Tehran. Choobtarash has exhibited works in Saatchi Gallery, London; Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, Italy; The Rubelle and Norman Schfler Gallery, Pratt Institute New York, USA; Niavaran Cultural Center, Tehran, Iran; His works are in the collections of Imago Mundi – Luciano Benetton Collection and Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar.