Born in Paris, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, 34, lived there until the age of 10, when he relocated with his mother to the Iranian capital, Tehran. While Behnam-Bakhtiar now calls Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat, France, home, he regularly visits Iran to draw inspiration for his practice, one which aims to portray his country from an alternative perspective. Ahead of a solo show opening at the Saatchi Gallery in May, Lara Monro examines the inspiration of Behnam-Bakhtiar’s Iranian roots, and the kind of work we can expect to see from him this spring.
It comes as no surprise that Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar has been labelled by Harper’s Bazaar as “a man on a mission to inform the world of the true nature of Iran”. Not only does the Franco-Iranian artist make work that explores his own Persian heritage, he also created the Behnam-Bakhtiar Foundation to support Iranian contemporary art and culture, with the intention of bringing Tehran’s burgeoning art scene to an international audience. He has also introduced an award to artists of Iranian descent, wherever they live.
Through his multidisciplinary practice, dominated by painting, collage, installation and fine-art photography, Behnam-Bakhtiar strives to communicate a resonant truth. His large abstract works on canvas are characterised by highly saturated colour and are often redolent of Iranian textile and tile patterns. As Nina Moaddel (curator and head of Nina Moaddel Art Advisory) observes: “Sassan’s use of the Persian motif lends his works a strong identity and at the same time there is an underlying universal concern for the future of the world. His images construct that in a powerful and beautiful visual manner.”
Ultimately, Behnam-Bakhtiar’s objective is to define what it means to be a modern Iranian, both locally and globally, through a visual language that mixes the past with the present by way of popular culture and an optimism for the future. He explores the country’s rich heritage, which prides itself on strong family values, community and its ancient Persian roots. He articulates how these elements influence the present, through the prism of his life and the world around him, as well as focusing on the continuing role that nostalgia plays in the building of Iran’s future.
In Behnam-Bakhtiar’s Invincible series, from 2016, the artist focused his attention on the Iranian people, representing his subjects as modern gladiators, angels and heroes as a way of acknowledging their continual struggle, given the country’s complex and sometimes violent history. Likewise, his Water Has Wings series, from 2015, highlights the harsh disparities faced in Iran, bringing to light the fundamental importance of water, which he compares to culture slaking another kind of Iranian thirst. As the artist puts it: “The lack of care and safekeeping of water has already had serious consequences all over Iran and it is time for things to change… In this piece, the link and comparison between every Iranian’s proud culture and heritage and the importance of adopting the same mindset towards water is the objective.”
Behnam-Bakhtiar’s unique and democratic approach to art has gained him a strong following within the contemporary art world, and the endorsement of a number of its most respected institutions. Christie’s have been selling Behnam-Bakhtiar’s work at auction since 2009, alongside well-known Iranian artists such as Parviz Tanavoli, Farhad Moshiri and Shirin Neshat. Similarly, Behnam-Bakhtiar’s ongoing series, Oneness Wholeness, which includes a selection of mixed media paintings that highlight the importance of being at one with the eternal self in order to feel whole as a human being, has been exhibited globally alongside some of the most influential artists of the 21st century. The series debuted in November 2017, with several works being shown at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, alongside works by Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke. What’s more, in 2014 Sassan was selected by Sotheby’s to be included in the auction house’s portfolio of prominent international contemporary artists.
This spring, Behnam-Bakhtiar will present a new selection of paintings at the Saatchi Gallery. The works on show are a result of the artist’s search, a quest for an evolved state of being, a higher understanding, which subsequently will be used to enlighten the spectator about both his concepts and artistic practice.
SASSAN BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR, ONENESS WHOLENESS IS AT THE SAATCHI GALLERY
14–27 MAY 2018
Sassan Behnam- Bakhtiar in front of Guardians of Life, 2017
Pursuit of Light (detail)