The American coup against nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 led to the dark and difficult times for Iranian artists, poets and intellectuals. The coup instigated a wave of migration for many of the Iran’s intelligentsia who fled to Europe – this was the case for Mohasses, who left for Rome in the early 1950s, accompanied by the prominent Iranian poet, Manoucher Sheybani.
His visits to Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Via Giulia in Rome and his comprehension of Greco-Roman and earlier Etruscan busts are translated into a very peculiar style of “archaic realism” which the viewer can clearly see depicted in Elmo Antico. In all its theatrical dimension, the present work is a wonderful testimony of Mohasses’ contributions to numerous artistic fields across the 20th century. The spatial distribution between the duality is a build up to the theatrical fight between antique versus humanist values; and the existentialist versus the tragic condition which Mohasses also explored through his appreciation for theatre, as in adapting Ionesco and/or Pirandello to the Iranian audience in the 1960s. The helmet, that we see in Elmo Antico, is replicated in the props which Mohasses had also designed himself for the play alongside the clothes for the actors.
Elmo Antico bridges Mohasses’ love for the culture -à l’Ancienne- the Greek sculptural academic body, where the human being is reduced to naught through grotesque malformations and caricatures. Mohasses extracts this Greek essence and projects it onto the canvas through a faceless head. Through this body of work, Mohasses sees himself as a sculptor and not a painter. He substitutes the medium of bronze and stone with a paintbrush and canvas; which results in a dryness and condensation of thick layers across the surface of the head, ensuing a petrification effect.
Bahman Mohasses’ dialogues concurrently combine pre and post war art masters. From the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore and African primitivism to Marino Marini’s Italian tradition of anti-modernism and the traumas of fascist aesthetics, it all culminates in a fantasized mythical Greek ideal man and ethnic purity. Mohasses references the ancient Greek aesthetics system of representation which questions the ideal perfect body. Perfection is unattained through a romanticized fragmentation of the body. The emblem of the Greek helmet, used repeatedly by the artist throughout his oeuvre, symbolizes the past, and has a metaphorical association to a monstrous head which defines Mohasses’ tragic view of his present time.
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