During its twenty-three years of operation, Mojdeh Gallery has always pursued its mission of introducing young artists, as well as honoring master artists who, due to many reasons, were not introduced and appreciated as they should have been in Iranian visual art society. Mehdi Sahabi is one of the artists who was not introduced to the Iranian art community as much as he deserves due to his multiple facets of his career. Regarding the question why Mehdi Sahabi? We borrow an excerpt from the preface written by Mojdeh Tabatabaei in the book "Mehdi Sahabi A Retrospective" which was unveiled at the same time as this exhibition:
Why Mehdi Sahabi?
Mehdi Sahabi rightly deserves to be called one of Iran’s national assets whose art can be traced not only to the geographic and eventful history of this land, but can also be considered on the international realm as the work of an artist who strives beyond borders to represent a new world. In order to continue its goals a mission to better introduce contemporary Iranian artists, and considering the importance of the work and personality of Mehdi Sahabi, Mojdeh Gallery decided to publish a comprehensive and complete book (Analytical – Visual) of his work in order to help make his name and his ideas permanent, and to hold an exhibition of this artist’s works in collaboration with Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. (Mojdeh Tabatabaei, Mehdi Sahabi A Retrospective p.10)
At the beginning of the exhibition, when you enter the museum, around the ramp, you will see a selection of Mehdi Sahabi's professional life in the field of literature, which at the end of the wall invites you to view his visual works in galleries 7, 8, and 9. It is necessary to give a brief summary of the reasons for the presence of the literary wall and to prepare the audience's mind to see visual works from the words of Sohrab Ahmadi, the literary curator of this exhibition:
"Mehdi Sahabi had a wide imaginative geography, which has led to the creation of many artistic creations and translations. During his lifetime, citing Marcel Proust and the book "In Search of Lost Time", he differentiated between the personal self and the creative self, and although he considered the creative self to be rooted in the unconscious, he intended to complete his worldview by choosing different forms of expression. His art was through the conversation between painting, photography, translation and sculpture. It is the dialogue between his art and his translations that on the one hand leads us to a single personality with a clear signature and on the other hand introduces him as an author translator.”
With the explanation that in this exhibition, by putting together Mehdi Sahabi's literary and visual creations like a puzzle, the relationship between the form of artistic expression and translations is discussed, we begin the description and analysis of what the audience sees in the visual galleries: The reason for this juxtaposition can be summarized as follows: Mehdi Sahabi is more known in Iranian society in the field of literature and as a prominent translator, and Sahabi's perfectionism in every profession he has attempted has caused the audience of any field to simply know him in the same environment, putting together all aspects of the life of this irreplaceable artist, makes us better acquainted with all his creations in different fields. According to what has been said, the audience in watching this exhibition is faced with a huge process of unbreakable connection between literature and visual arts, and what they see and touch is one of the most beautiful and successful emergences of these connections in the works of an Iranian artist.
The order of presence of this artist's collections is arranged with a special attitude due to the large number of collections. At first, the audience comes across with Sahabi as a photographer. An unseen collection of photographs of the Revolution captured by Sahabi, which is considered to be a documentary photography, but the artist's subtle look at the composition and details of the photos has turned them into something more than a documentary photography of a historical event. After viewing fifteen photographs, you come across this artist's self-portrait. The reason for the existence of this collection at the beginning of the exhibition is both a reference to the strong presence of Sahabi in this exhibition and the unique technique of Sahabi's penmanship in creating portraits and figures, and of course the strong presence of the characters of the book "In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust. After passing the portraits and figures, we arrive at the gallery of collages and columns: a very random but very homogeneous and eye-catching encounter of wood and paint. In these two collections, the sensitivity of the artist to the signs of wood is amazing, in the groove of each wood, one can touch an event, a movement and a perception. These two collections are much bigger than what has been shown, but due to space limitations, by selecting thirteen of the most comprehensive works, every effort has been made to convey this beautiful play between matter, color and accident. After passing through these halls, we reach the corridors leading to the next halls, which contain two more collections of Sahabi's works: Collection of Hoard of Achaemenids and collection of flowers. The Hoard of Achaemenids, which are displayed in the number of five works, are a new way to look at historical narratives that are responsible for creating meaning through forms created from stone, plaster, and paper, it seems like that Sahabi has criticized historical narratives by placing paper faces next to hard icons. However, the narrative of the collection of flowers, are the first monotypes created by Sahabi and include four works in this exhibition. In the next room, we enter the concept of time as a variable on humans. Sahabi's masks and instant photos, which is one of his most prolific collections. Masks are made of crumpled paper, which in general are a sign of a person's face and a stylized symbol of a person's face. Instant photos that remind us of the snapshots that are presented to us in several pieces, [...that even in those several similar photos, the same thing is not happening and the passage of time points out in a bold way that both time and men have the ability to change.] (Interview with Mehdi Sahabi, Mokhtari, 29 February 2001). The number of exhibited works from this collection is fifteen works from different periods.
In the last hall of this exhibition, we come across four of Sahabi’s collections, one of which has four sub-branches and is Sahabi’s largest and most well-known collection: Junkyard Cars. In fact, Sahabi started painting with this collection in the 80s and continued this collection until the end. Junkyard cars, are very lyrical while being random and terrifying, and are actually still lifes that are far from the stereotypes of the previous still lifes of that decade. Some of them are portraits hidden behind crumpled forms. In the largest artwork of this collection, human figures have been added to these machines, and the last collection, the puzzled cars: we can see the the deliberate disruption of the form of junkyard cars in order to achieve plurality in unity.
On the opposite wall, the viewer is faced with canvases that may have seen similar forms to it every day when passing through the alley and street: Graffitis. This collection of Sahabi’s artworks can be called the most modern collection of this "defender of Iranian modernism" (Saadat Afzood, Mehdi Sahabi A Retrospective, p.12)! In this collection, Sahabi's personal and social actions are mixed together and by using the visual form of the wall but on the canvas, he starts a rebellion against himself and the system that governs the canvas. Activism emerges in the eight Graffitis on display, and the form of each wall aims to express Sahabi’s worldview. This worldview is mixed with a special and delicate humor and by using some popular poems and proverbs, it puts the aesthetic matter in parentheses and questions it.
At the end of the exhibition, two other collections of Mehdi Sahabi can be seen, whose main material is wood. Birds and Little Man. Sahabi’s collection of birds are the essence of flight more than representing a bird and having a sign to refer to the bird's materiality. Thirteen artworks of this collection have been exhibited in this exhibition. In observing these birds, the audience faces the lack of representation. These birds are an abstraction of flight, but more or less stationary. These birds, painted with transparent and honest colors, have natural and random forms, Sahabi himself has mentioned that it is enough to observe the forms of these pieces of wood in nature. The collection of Sahabi’s Little Men, of which six artworks are displayed, is a combination of coincidence and humor using the material wood. The natural forms of the wood obtained after cutting, and Sahabi elegantly turning them into human statues in which lets the gaze to continues its way under the dominance of the hard wood.
Somewhere they asked Sahabi: "What is the purpose of using this volume and variety of colors in your paintings?" He replied: Maybe because I have a youthful spirit, why did I use so many colors? why not? Both nature and life are full of color. (Iranian art magazine, In search of the language of painting, p.12) At the end of this exhibition and after seeing the different collections of this artist, one thing is worth mentioning: From the outside it seemed as if Sahabi was constantly abandoning one profession for another, but in fact without cutting ties with his previous professions, he repeated the same experience in different ways, each time making it purer and more original. Like a beautiful lining he preserved the layers of his previous experiences in the background of his later creations, even if that previous layer was only a hint, a subtle component, or a small act of playfulness. ( Saadat Afzood, Mehdi Sahabi A Retrospective p.12) This exhibition full of color, creativity and innovation from this true artist in this chaotic market of discerning pure from impure art can be a pure experience with an unrepeatable perception of Iran's modern art for the audience interested in the field of visual arts.