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Persia meets Europe in Zurich

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Persia meets Europe in Zurich

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The artistic dialogue between Persia and Europe is at the heart of a new exhibition in the Swiss city of Zurich.

It explores the way Europe and Persia, today’s Iran, began to inch closer 400 years ago – politically, economically, culturally and artistically. Europe dispatched trading companies and religious orders; the shah sent his ambassadors. Rubens drew inspiration from Persian miniatures and Muhammad Zaman created works inspired by Italian and French painters.

An exchange that lives on to this day according to curator Axel Langer: “I think it really comes from both sides. There isn’t one side which has less or more [impact] than the other. But, what I thought is interesting is that the two react differently to each others’ art,” he said.

The adaptation of famous engravings by Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi is a prime example of the way European art influenced Persian painters. Semi-naked bodies had long featured in Persian painting, but nudes were used solely to illustrate stories and were not intended to be sensual. The encounter with European art brought about a dramatic artistic evolution.

“The Persian nude was something that might have been developed through contact with European sources. We don’t expect it, because we have a certain prejudice or certain idea of Islamic ethical behaviour, and we think this didn’t exist, but it is not true. it was for private use only. It was not copying European sources but they turned it to something new,” said Axel Langer.

Persian art was enthusiastically imitated in Poland. The first silk sashes, which soon became a must-have accessory among the Polish nobility, were brought over from Persia in the 17th century. By the end of the 18th century, sashes with Persian patterns were made in Poland.

The exhibition also features artworks by seven contemporary Iranian artists that reflect the globalisation of cross-cultural exchange:

“We integrated contemporary art because we wanted to show that Iranian art is also global. That means it is not influenced anymore by Europeans or only the West, but this is a kind of art that is reacting to a global market or to global ideas, which might react to an Iranian presence or situation, but which are also giving ideas to audiences all over the world.”

“The Fascination of Persia” runs at Zurich’s Rietberg Museum until January 21.

The dialogue between Persia and Europe is echoed by the work of the Nour Ensemble, a unique artistic experiment combining Iranian and European music. Euronews’ Mohammad Mohammadi attended a concert by the group at the Zurich museum.

The head of the ensemble, Christophe Rezai, explained how it came about: “Why did I chose medieval music for the European part of our ensemble? The reason is I think it has three elements in common with Persian music. Firstly, it is modal. Secondly, it is inspired by the people. And the other common element is improvisation, which played an important part in medieval music,” he said.

The ensemble is made up of French and Persian artists, who share their musical tradition and reinvent traditional Kurdish, Persian and European repertoires.

“Everyone in our ensemble plays his part by bringing in his own musical tradition. Each artist engages in the conversation in his own language. For instance, one part is Iranian and then turns European, before the two are mixed to create a new language,” said Christophe Rezai.

The outcome? A creative melting pot of classical, traditional and contemporary music.

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