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by mana on March 17th, 2013
Roshan Houshmand, "In Flight," 2012, oil on wood, 5" x 7"

Roshan Houshmand, “In Flight,” 2012, oil on wood, 5″ x 7″

In Flight

In flight towards Paris. The image of a painting comes to my mind. A black bird flies inside Van Gogh clouds. The swirling white clouds around the bird remind me of the countries I am about to experience.  The painting is called In Flight by artist Roshan Houshmand.

Like the bird, I want to move freely across the skies and blend in with the clouds. To immerse myself in each culture, what better way than to come in close contact with the art, artists, and people in those places.


In Paris, I see the universal need for freedom expressed in three quite different forms.

In the movie called Wadjda, the main character is a 10-year-old girl who lives in Saudi Arabia. She longs for a blue bike she has seen in a shop window. She would like to learn to ride it and beat her friend Abdullah in a race. Soon she realizes all the hurdles in front of her in a society where girls are treated quite differently from boys.  Her innocence, joyfulness and determination are irresistible. Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first female Saudi director, uses a straightforward depiction of local elements to communicate her powerful messages lightly. The result is a delicately touching movie that reveals deep rooted issues facing a Saudi girl who wants freedom to fly on a bike.

The exhibit “Van Gogh Dreaming of Japan” at the Pinacothèque museum expresses Van Gogh”s yearning to be free from inner turmoil. While his bipolarity created havoc in his life, his art drew inspiration from the peaceful landscapes of the Japanese artist, Utagawa Hiroshige. The exhibit juxtaposes several of their paintings for the first time and concludes that the themes of Hiroshige had a central place in the majority of Van Gogh’s landscapes from 1887 onwards. Van Gogh sought serenity, structure and peace through these works.

Across the street, a second exhibit of Utagawa Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo presents a poetic, and serene view of a distant culture, in a time before Edo was opened to Westerners.

When Hiroshige became a Buddhist monk, he found the freedom within himself to begin painting this series of masterpieces, composed of 118 splendid woodblock landscapes of mid-nineteenth-century Tokyo. Hiroshighe’s prints show an enchanting old Japan with daring and imagination. This work is one of the greatest achievements of Japanese art. Hiroshige died during the great cholera epidemic of 1858. Just before his death, he left a poem:

I leave my brush in the East
And set forth on my journey.
I shall see the famous places in the Western Land.


Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul

Turkey is a country that bridges East and West like no other. Istanbul, its gem of a city, is filled with architectural masterpieces of Europe and Asia from many centuries. It is a  cosmopolitan city that bears the imprint of many historical influences. The fusion of so many elements is unique.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque) combines Islamic tradition with Byzantine church design. Despite its massive scale, the building seems graceful and light. The inner courtyard is as large as the mosque itself, creating a feeling of openness and balance.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, interior courtyard

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, interior courtyard

Istanbul Modern. view from its café

Istanbul Modern. view from its café

The Istanbul Museum of Modern Art on the shores of the Bosphorus, with its wide selection of contemporary Turkish artists, was quite a discovery. I was especially drawn to the works of Burhan Doğançay, who passed away this past January.

Doğançay was fascinated by urban walls as a record of human life. The advertising, political posters, and graffiti embody the conflicts and quest for communication between individuals, establishment, the man-made city and nature. His art, although abstract, is emotional, social and political. He is the first Turkish artist to have a piece in the permanent collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In an interview shortly before his death, Doğançay was asked how urban walls had changed since the 1960s and ’70s, when many of the posters and leaflets carried messages of political protest. “Walls are clean now, because there is social media and computers, the youth are not as angry as they were.”


When I arrived in Iran, I found a country full of contradictions. Beautiful people living a harsh existence next to the rich and wealthy. Beautiful sites and museums devoid of visitors.

Entering the Golestan Palace was like stepping into a different world. Its quiet beauty was shocking after the noise and bustle of the city outside.  The place was nearly empty of visitors.  I had come to see the original Baysonghori Shahnameh  The stillness of the palace made me feel more connected to the history behind it.  The complex was built during the Qajar era, 200 years ago.  Parts of it were destroyed during the modernization of Reza Shah.

Golestan Palace, Tehran, Tahkt-é Marmar

Golestan Palace, Tehran, Tahkt-é Marmar

The Grand Bazaar with its kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and activities all having their own rhythm was like a symphony working well together.  It made me think of how a  busy and seemingly chaotic economic hub has its own untold rules and close ties.

Lunch with members of the Tarkovsky Quartet and Nour Ensemble at a multi-story restaurant reinforced the feeling of hidden mastery. The restaurant served at least 250 people within a very short time, providing delicious food, reflecting the elaborate cuisine of an ancient culture. On that day, despite the heavy pollution in Tehran, I had the sharpest view of Mount Damavand. The highest volcano in Asia, Damavand holds a special place in Persian mythology and literature. It is the magical home of three-headed dragons and a prison for defeated tyrants.

Crowd at Talareh Vahdat, performance of Tarkovsky Quartet

Crowd at Talareh Vahdat, performance of Tarkovsky Quartet

I saw the performance of Tarkovsky Quartet at the Vahdat Hall. The Quartet appears regularly at European concerts and festivals. The artists told me how well the people treated them and I saw how much the audience adored them. Their music symbolizes the quest for expression, freedom in the form of improvisation, and reflection. The Iranians were there embracing them with applause.

Tarkovsky Quartet at Vahdat Hall

Tarkovsky Quartet at Vahdat Hall

I took a long cab ride to see my dad’s burial place. I needed three numbers to find his tomb but had only two so I had to search and search. I was starting to feel weary from the long unfruitful trip. By now, I had had a full view of the cemetery but no sign of my own dad. Finally, I saw him in what looked like the most peaceful and beautiful spot, in a gorgeous setting surrounding a simple but mighty stone. My dad, belonging to a bygone era, was gone. The images of One hundred famous View of Edo came to my mind. Some things are so gorgeous that they never leave us.  I wept a tear of gold.

I wept a tear of gold

Michel Bellaiche, "I wept a tear of gold," 2013, 1368 x 1904

Michel Bellaiche, “I wept a tear of gold,” 2013, 30 x 40 cm, acrylic with china and colored calligraphic inks

I wept a tear of gold is the title of a work by a French-Tunisian artist, Michel Bellaiche whom I recently met.  With his Mediterranean roots, Michel’s connection to light, sounds, smell and colors is deep and is reflected in his artwork. Words also have a central role in his life.  The title of each work develops its meaning. His poetry provides another expression of his artistic sensitivity. Bellaiche currently lives in Spain and has traveled to Iran. He has painted a series of works based on Persian miniatures he saw during his visit there. I am excited about his art and plan to write more about him soon. Visit his website to see other examples of his work.

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