Naser Palangi’s Interview with Mehr



I made a promise to combatants of martyr JahanAra to paint their portrait/I decided to stay and picture the war
“You are crazy! The city is full of mines, it is nothing but ruins, it is dangerous”; these are what the Governor of Khoramshahr told the young painter but he returned to Khormashahr with importunity to fulfill his promise to the combatants and paint their image on the wall of Khormashahr’s mosque.


Mehr News Agency – Culture and Art Group: groves, sultry of south, bomb explosion and firing mortars ….design….picture….barrage… “23 year old young man had two choices, he could either return or to stay and he stayed” says the painter.
It was during first years of war that he went south with his friend who was searching for his family. He says that it was an “accident”. An accident like the war itself! He met fellow combatants of martyr Jahan Ara and Khoramshahr, people that he never met any others like them; the painter said this as well.
He made a promise to the people sharing the color of soil that he will paint their picture upon liberation of Khormashahr on mosque’s wall, they were martyred and the next year, painter of south war, fulfilled his promise.
“You are crazy! The city is full of mines, it is nothing but ruins, it is dangerous”; these are what the Governor of Khoramshahr told the young painter. But he painted the images of those he had made his promise with importunity on the wall of the same mosque he had mentioned.
NaserPalangi pictured those years, the period of quiver and ordnance and mortar on six thousand blank pages to leave a legacy of the largest collection of paintings of the longest contemporary war.
Those years passed … Naser Palangi continued designing and shuttering, he travelled and made his pieces all around the world and exhibited them. Those years passed … the war ended and now Naser Palangi plays the “Symphony of Peace” with his sculptures. Those years passed…Naser Palangi continued designing and painting the portraits of the faces and characters of those whom he had met in his trip around the world. Those years passed…but combatants of Khoramshahr are still standing tall and stature on the mosque’s wall watching us…
Naser Palangi reviewed the past with us and spoke of his art today.


*Naser Palangi is an artist whose name is a reminder of the painting of Khoramshahr’s mosque and of those artists whose names are remembered as painters of the Revolution. How did you start your journey with the Holy War? Did you go to Khoramshahr based on a planned decision and your own belief or it was to support a social movement as required by the time?
- Belief is established when you witness a phenomenon and I witnessed defense. It was an accident that I travelled to south with my friend who was looking for his parents and by accident we appeared in the heart of the incident. As a result I witnessed scenes and met people such as combatants of martyr Jahan Ara and those who were defending their city, families leaving the city, families who had stayed to defend their city, girls who were taking care of the wounded, and mothers burying the corpse of their loved ones. Khoramshahr was left with four mechanized Iraqi army divisions and innocent and defenseless and warrior people. A fight that all of a sudden I was in the middle of it and witnessed all that happened.
Imagine a 23 year old boy who sees all these, I was that boy who had completed second year of fine arts and with a Zenith camera had gone to south for the first time. Only by curiosity and in order to help my friend to find his family when I witnessed a great epic and then when I had to decide whether to stay or return I decided to stay and start photography and painting there.
At the beginning, witnessing the scenes of dedication and bravery, caused excitement since I was only 23 years old but gradually reason developed along. Witnessing these scenes and those people was somehow a unique experience and such events mainstreams emotions.
When you see that of all women in the city only 15 are left as the essence and spirit of loyalty, kindness and motherly love, when you see the goddesses of kindness, little by little their energy encourages you to act and I started painting.
I saw students who were fighting to defend their city. I saw their smiles, sufferings, cries, silence and jokes and then I figured that I’m part of their community.
That 23 year old young man had two choices. He could return or stay to join events and later I was proud that I stayed and supporting these people established their trust in me and they became friends and after they shared more secrets. I spent a lot of nights talking to martyr Behrouz Moradi. A martyr who was a teacher but he became the commander in chief of south. We used to sleep in groves and we could see the rain of bullets and death above our head, and experienced life. This existence is hardly is with prior determination or advice.
I believe what we did, hardly involved ourselves. It is as if there is a software in our organism communicating with the heavens above and that giant hard directs us.

*The painting on the mosque’s wall is a memento of the Holy War. How was it done and what is the story?
- The decision to do the painting was made during Beytolmoqadas operation. During the last day that we were having lunch with the remaining combatants of martyr JahanAra in “Darkhovein” tents, we were supposed to pursue the operation to liberate the city. Then, everyone proposed something about what to do if we survive and return to do city. For instance, JamshidBoroun said that he would say prayer on the minaret of Khoramshahr mosque and he had a good voice. I said that I’ll paint their picture on the mosque’s wall if I make it back to the city.
The very next day, 36 combatants of martyr JahanAra were martyred. I had no choice but to keep my promise. Upon liberation of Khormshahr I returned to Tehran and then back to Khoramshahr again to fulfill my promise. Governor of Khoramshahr at the time said: you’re crazy, the city is full of mines, it is nothing but ruins, it is dangerous, there is no water and electricity and you’re thinking of painting! Where should we get the paint, there is no shop here…but I insisted and eventually they allocated an ambulance to take me to Ahwaz to buy paint colors. I slept in the mosque for 5 months and painted all those pictures remembering my friends.

*This painting is much more impressive than a simple painting or an image on the wall. Where does this impression come from?
- The energy that we have and transfer in the moment causes the attraction and it has nothing to do with technique and structure. We do not exist merely in the realm of material there is also the spirit.
What make the picture memorable are couple of factors and the first element is my own energy when I was drawing the image, the other element is the energy of martyred combatants that I witnessed their presence, and then the energy of all those who visited the painting and sang songs and dirge standing next to it and the other element is that this piece is drawn in a public space for the community, a thousand people have taken pictures next to it, and the pictures are now in family albums whereas many of these people might not be alive anymore but the image remains on that wall. It is the accumulation of these energies which makes this picture memorable.

*Was it customary to draw pictures on mosque walls or this is the first painting that stepped into the mosques?
- Yes, this is a very important issue that it was the first time that a picture was being painted on a mosque’s wall and it was unprecedented. All these important factors make the painting unique.
An interesting event is that I’ve figured that a paper has been delivered on this painting in Sorbonne University and many studies have been made. I, later, figured that this was the first mosque where a painting was drawn on its wall.

*Then, this painting has had its impact in other countries?
- Yes. For instance I was in Mexico and a member of Muralists Committee told me that the painting in Khoramshahr is the first that has been drawn during war. They invited me to give a speech in the museum and their association about it. They had academically studied this painting.

*You returned to Khoramshahr during 80s to repair these paintings. What was the difference between these two trips?
- When I returned to repair the painting more than 27 years had passed. Neither I was the same person not the city was the same; norwere the people visiting the painting.
But the feelings of those days came back; the people who were not there anymore and I would never find others like them. After the war, I traveled to many countries and met with many people but have never seen anyone like those in Khoramshahr. I saw wisdom in them when they were martyred; an opportunity provided by war. I was the eye witness of all values coming to life in a young person and I watched them closely.

*What are the artifacts and mementos of your presence in imposed war?
- Since 59 (1980) till 61 (1982) I draw almost 5 or 6 thousand pictures of the imposed war. I took a backpack and a camera in hand; I took pictures and made drawings. I didn’t have money to print the pictures and I would only make the negatives. In 62 (1983) when the university resumed function and Khoramshahr was liberated I started my third year in fine arts faculty and worked on some designs of what I had understood and seen in south in bigger dimensions.

*You, later, set up an exhibition of your work titled “Women in the war of Iraq against Iran” abroad. What were the pieces in this exhibition?
- My drawings of the south and Khoramshahr were emotional. For instance, a nurse dressing the wounds of a soldier; a mother burying corpse in Dezful vineyard during nights of bombing.
I watched these scenes from an emotional perspective and drew them. Most of my drawings where mode oriented and emotional;they were not merely a slogan. These pieces were left untouched during the years after war until I met a professor in the University of Michigan in my trips abroad and he told me that I’m the only person who has a collection of drawings from the longest war of the twentieth century and till then I hadn’t thought about it. He asked me to take these drawings to set up an exhibition and to publish a book to United States and Australia. I prepared the drawings and set up an exhibition in Boston and then in University of Sydney and the book is due to be published.


*How did your 2 year presence in Khoramshahr along with those defending the city affect your professional life?
- Each episode of one’s life is different from the other; every day is a different day. I had the chance and interest to travel.
I was one of the cofounders of the visual art department and then I decided to establish university of Soureh and then Shahed. Later, I felt the absence of a museum for martyrs and then I made efforts to set up Khoramshahr museum. Then I travelled around the world and in my return I travelled among the nomads in Iran. So, each chapter has had its impact on my art. I spent 2 years of my life in war and a part of my art collection includes the drawings of war. Later I started as a teacher and continued this profession for ten years and I published “Imaginary Design Practices”. After, I moved on from teaching and started my journey with the nomads of Iran and worked on a collection. Then I set up exhibitions in different countries and lived there.

*What pieces have you worked on in your new episode of life?
- My current collection is called “Faces of My Time” which is a psychological and sociological forensic of all those I’ve met during past 25 years in different countries. I’ve seen addiction, loneliness, and different psychological disorders, alienation with technology, rejection of spirituality, spiritualism, deep beliefs, real believers and I’ve drawn them.
This collection is following what I’ve seen. I believe that an artist mission is to reflect reality. He sees the reality and reflects it in his inner mirror and by screening it through his filter; he reflects it in his art.

*You currently had an exhibition in Abu Dhabi which has been on recycled art. How did this end in Abu Dhabi?
- Yes. The story is interesting. I made a camel out of a wheelbarrow and now this camel is the symbol of Recycled Art Festival in Middle East.
During my trip to Abu Dhabi, I proposed to the art authorities to use scrap and waste material to create artifacts and the idea was warmly received and through provision of required tools during one month, 28 artists from all over the world joined the Recycled Art Festival in Abu Dhabi which was held short while ago. It is to exhibit around 116 statues in Art Abu Dhabi in November which is the result of the first Recycle Art Festival in the Middle East and galleries from all over the world shall visit. The book is due to be published.
I would very much appreciate if the festival in Abu Dhabi could be set up in Iran. Then I returned from Abu Dhabi and met with my friend, ShahabRazavian, Art Director of Kourosh Cultural-Commercial Complex who accepted my proposal regarding making artifacts out of the scraps and waste material of this complex under construction and supported it and in the first phase I’ve made a number of statues for Kourosh Commercial Complex which are installed in the open area and each is a symbol of a section in the complex.
On the second floor of this commercial – cultural building, there are statues made of waste material and metal scraps of the very same building. These statues represent different nationalities holding various musical instruments such as accordion, fiddle, cittern and guitar and all together perform the Symphony of Peace.
Now the City Council and other public organizations have requested recycled statues. Including, Development of Cultural Spaces Company of the municipality which has made a request that I make statues out of their construction scraps and it is agreed that in couple of construction projects I make statues in styles of embossed, installation and others. The notion of these statues will be according to the function of these buildings.


*What new painting pieces are you currently working on?
- The history of my art has always been in two categories. On category in public spaces such as the mosque wall in Khoramshahr and statues that are now in the entrance of a commercial and cultural complex and the other in workshops and ateliers which have been more personal and the collection of “Faces of My Time” fits within this category. This collection is in the form of paintings and the result of my trips around the world.
Other part of my new collections concerns Iran and forensic of Iran today which is in the form of painting and photo media. Some parts of the collection of “Iran Today” are about war and its impact on current incidents and innostalgia of martyrs and forgotten values I’ve tried to picture Iran today.

*You are in charge of Middle East Gallery in Tehran, do you have time to function as the manager of the gallery?
- Middle East gallery takes a lot of my time and considering my projects I am less active there however I collect the arts of young and avent artists and set up exhibitions once or twice a year.


Interview by FatemehHamediKhah
Translated by Natali Haghverdian



 
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