Power everywhere and nowhere

Pub date May 20, 2008
WriterAri Messer
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

REVIEW Arguably the strangest image in the news this year was an Associated Press-circulated pic of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wearing the type of 3-D glasses you’d find packaged with a comic book, examining a map at Tehran’s space center in a state of deep concentration. If you consumed solely mainstream news, you might think Iran consists only of a handful of gruff older men who have lost touch with reality.

"After the Revolution" — a remarkably energetic and intimate photography show at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery on City Hall’s ground floor — brings more subtle realities to light. The young artists — Californians Amir H. Fallah, Shadi Yousefian, Elhum Amjadi, Naciem Nikkhah, and Parisa Taghizadeh, and Tehranians Mahboube Karamli, Parham Taghioff, Morteza Khaki, Meysam Mahfouz, and Mehraneh Atashi — were all born around the time of the Iranian Revolution. They present narrative projects with an eye for individuality, whether in Yousefian’s collaged Self-Portraits (2003) or Khaki’s Purse Snatching (2006), an evocative collection of specimenlike images of people’s wallets.

The exhibit leaves you feeling that power is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. In Atashi’s Bodiless 1 (2004), which presents some of her remarkable photos from inside a Zourkaneh or "power house" — a sort of spiritual workout center for Iranian men — Atashi pops up in hijab, with her camera, in mirrors, while bare-chested men leap and flex their way into another world. Taghizadeh brings a mysterious cinematic quality to Iranian women in the act of applying makeup in Make-Up Iran (2001), while Fallah’s Fort Series (2007) constructs physical versions of his male friends’ inner lives. It’s disconcerting to have to pass through security at City Hall to see this show, but if anyone needs to see these pictures right now, it’s the inhuman bureaucrat in all of us.

AFTER THE REVOLUTION: CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY FROM TEHRAN AND CALIFORNIA Through June 27. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Brown-bag lunch discussion on Thurs/22, noon, at 401 Van Ness. San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett, SF. Free. (415) 554-6080, www.sfacgallery.org