Talking art, war, and Iranian identity (amongst other things) with Monsieur B.B.
Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. And here I am, a sucker with two names from a one-word town; but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In an age when patriotism and celebrations of Iranian heritage and history are deemed passé and old-fashioned by many in the diaspora, the work of artists such as Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar assume even greater importance and poignancy. One might expect someone like Sassan – an émigré artist and entrepreneur based in the south of France – to have by now changed his name to Sébastien and taken on a quasi-French identity, particularly as he doesn’t look like your run-of-the-mill Iranian (or, as some would rather say out of shame, Puuhhshian). After all, when self-styled ‘leaders of the Resistance’ in Tehrangeles and elsewhere are routinely calling for sanctions on and armed aggression towards Iran, a person like me learns to control their expectations somewhat.
Sassan is frustrated, and rightly so; but he hasn’t just been nagging at me on the telephone and not doing anything about it. Last year, he launched the Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of contemporary Iranian art, and later this month will be exhibiting in New York City works from Invincible, his latest series exploring issues of Iranian pride, cultural preservation, and perseverance against all odds. There are things Sassan and I often talk about on the phone, but I thought I’d record a typical chat of ours just for the record. We’re certainly not at our most bellicose here (we’re angry young men and we know it) … but you’ll get the idea.
‘Memory and Future/Future and Memory’ runs between October 20, 2016 and November 13, 2016 at Shirin Gallery in New York City.
Cover image: Untitled (detail; from the A Reason to Fight series).