In Conversation with Iranian Visionary Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar
Iranian artist Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar—dubbed "a man on a mission to inform the world about the true nature of Iran" by The Huffington Post in 2014—has gained much traction on the Middle Eastern and Western art scene in recent years. With a solo show in London, a group exhibition in New York and participation in Istanbul Art Fair all in the pipeline, we sat with Sassan to find out more about his works, inspirations and his future plans.
EMERGEAST: Who is Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar?
Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar: A renaissance artist, a visionary, citizen of the world, man on a mission to inform said world about the true nature of Iranians and Iran—I have been called many names in the contemporary art world. However, I see myself as an Iranian first with a vital responsibility, and that is to focus on getting the right messages across with my work. My greatest objective as an artist today is to show the audience another side of Iranians and our country, a factual side, which unfortunately for one reason or another is always hidden from the eyes of the world.
E: Tell us about your inspiration behind "The Real Me" series.
SBB: My work generally deals with a mélange of nostalgia, personal history, and national cultural identity. Having said that, the inspiration behind the series "The Real Me" was my personal journey. Growing up in Iran between the ages of 10 and 19, I would hang out in my favourite places including Abyaneh, the North (Shomal), Kashan, Isfahan, Persepolis, Mashhad, Yazd, and Shiraz. Here, I learned about my cultural heritage and history as an Iranian, as well as discovering all the hidden gems of my country—one is the birth place of civilization. This series is a recollection of my life journey through Iran, with its warm hearted and kind people, rich history and cultural identity, leading to my life experiences today in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cote d’Azur, France, around Europe and the world.
E: Which work from this series would you say is the closest representation of the real you?
SBB: All of them combined create the real me.
E: Your new body of work is a development from "The Real Me" series. How do you choose your subject matter and how does each character fit into the puzzle?
SBB: In the "Invincible" series, the interview process was very important to me because it’s pretty much how I choose my subjects. We already have over one hundred and twenty people in this ongoing body of work alongside art films, so the story of the person, their essence, energy, point of view towards the world, way of living, past, character, and priorities are significant to me. I wanted to focus on their positively limitless values and to show the world the strength and beauty of each and everyone one of them.
E: Do you see yourself as a Western artist with Middle Eastern influences or a Middle Eastern artist with Western influences?
SBB: I see myself as an Iranian artist with influences from pretty much everywhere.
E: In your opinion, how useful has the surge of art online been in accelerating exposure of artists to aspiring collectors and is the conventional gallery diminishing?
SBB: The internet has played a very important role in general for artists and galleries alike. I see the art scene branching out into a new direction with new concepts opening up that focus on the future of art markets. In June 2013, Sedition opened up its platform allowing selected artists to sell their works in limited digital editions. Sedition was launched in 2011 by Harry Blain, Founder of Blain|Southern and Robert L. Norton, the former CEO of Saatchi Online. The art available on Sedition includes works from renowned contemporary artists including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Shepard Fairey, Bill Viola, and many others. I was thrilled to join Sedition’s impressive roster of established artists in 2014 with "The Real Me" art film in Farsi. I also displayed original digital editions of selected works from the same series. Today I’m happy to be at the forefront of this movement.
Meural is another great initiative just coming to life. Meural offers digital canvas, so for the first time, you can instantly frame and control the art and photography on your wall. I was recently selected to join their dynamic and growing collection of the world’s best art by having my digitized work made available to the world on high performance digital frames.
Emergeast is yet another relatively new structure focusing on a different way of interaction between artists and collectors using the internet as your primary platform, so yes, the art online today plays an important yet interesting role in artist exposure.
E: The Iranian art scene is gaining rapid international traction. As an Iranian artist living abroad, what advice would you give to the artists in Iran who are looking for international exposure?
SBB: Create great work, be patient, present your work professionally and if possible, focus on international galleries, as well as Iranian galleries who are truly established abroad. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned many times in past interviews, the local Iranian art scene lacks unification and even though we boast two hundred plus galleries in the capital alone, I have failed to see a solid local art scene present. Hopefully things will change for the better soon with the younger generation getting involved.
E: Your works are being acquired by international collectors. Would you say your mission to inform the world of the true nature of Iran has been achieved?
SBB: My mission has just begun and this is merely the beginning. My work will now travel to New York for a show at the Shirin Art Gallery during October. Then they will go on to the Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair on November 3-6, 2016. With the Janet Rady Fine Art solo exhibition at London’s Kristin Hjellegjerde opening on January 5, 2017. New bodies of works are also in the pipeline alongside a very special series of extra-large paintings I have been working on for over a year now.