‘Women of Persia’ exhibit honors strong, powerful women

“Women of Persia,” the current exhibit at Blakely Hall in the Issaquah Highlands, is art that talks.

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“Women of Persia,” the current exhibit at Blakely Hall in the Issaquah Highlands, is art that talks.

Issaquah artist Farshad Alamdari, in his first major exhibition, is portraying women who had power and freedom, which changed after the Iranian Revolution. He said the politics and religion are stopping them, but they will continue to fight until they have victory.

“The story behind the paintings is an opportunity for young women to learn, to find their presence, their personality,” Alamdari said.

Alamdari is a native of Iran, a scientist and an artist. He left Iran six years before Ayatollah Khomeini led the 1979 Iranian Revolution which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran.

He earned his Ph.D. in architecture in England and became a leader in sustainability, long before it was a hip buzzword in the U.S. He said in the U.K. they were building green by 1990, whereas the U.S. was 10 years behind. Alamdari was the chief scientist for the U.K. on sustainable built environment.

He had been painting since he was 14 and drawing since he was six. When his wife was offered the position of vice-president for marketing with Boeing, he followed her here two years later, devoting all of his time to his art. He worked on “Women of Persia” for two and one-half years, full-time, producing 18 oil portraits of powerful women from Persian history, using his mother, wife, daughter and his son’s girlfriend as inspiration.

He said Islam was forced on Iran by the Arabs 1,500 years ago, but it was Khomeini who forced women to cover their heads in 1980, which they still have to do.

“The women before Islam were flourishing,” he said.

Zoroastrianism, the first religion which believed in one God and is still practiced by many people worldwide, is the ancient Iranian religion, coming before Christianity, Islam or Judaism. One of his paintings called “Compassionate,” is his interpretation of Queen Cassandane, 545 B.C. She was a Persian noblewoman and the dearly loved wife of the King of Kings, Cyrus the Great. What’s notable, is that Cyrus the Great wrote the first chapter ever on human rights, which the authors of the United States Constitution used as a reference. Although Cyrus was Zoroastrian, Alamdari said he did not suppress the Jews.

“Enduring” is his portrait of the Shah’s wife, Queen Farah.

“She was a kind woman who supported women’s rights,” Alamdari said. He said women in Iran advanced under her leadership.

“But the Shah was controlling,” he said.

With only one political party, Alamdari said it put a great deal of pressure on both men and women. During the Shah’s rule, the middle class did much better. Now, he said, inflation is over 600 percent and there is a huge disparity between the very rich and the very poor.

“Noble” is a portrait inspired by Turandokht, a cold-hearted princess (630 A.D.) who was determined that no man should ever possess her. The story of Turandokht was turned into a popular opera by Puccini.

Then there are the warriors. “Resilient” is inspired by Azad, (750 A.D.), a guerrilla commander from the north of Iran. She fought against the Islamic forces during the occupation period.

“Progressive” is one of the more modern portraits, inspired by Dr. Tal’at Basari, the first woman vice-chancellor of a prestigious university in Iran. She was appointed in 1960. Wearing a simple dress, she is looking contemplatively at something in the distance.

Finally, on opposite sides of the religious issue, “Optimistic” portrays Hila Sedighi, a human rights activist who was jailed at one time. In 2012 she was honored for her commitment to free expression by Human Rights Watch. Although she is wearing the head scarf, it is on loosely, revealing much of her hair.

Then, “Tolerant,” one of the more polarizing paintings by Alamdari, shows a mother and her two daughters in total burqas. Alamdari said “in May 1979, the day of celebration for Iranian’s Women’s Day, Islamic hijab on women was imposed. This requires women to wear loose-fitting clothes as well as a head scarf that covers the hair.”

“Women of Persia” is presented by artEAST.

“We’re very consciously looking for art that inspires dialogue,” said artEAST Executive Director Karen Abel. “We’re thrilled to have this – it’s our inaugural exhibition (of this type).”

There will be a reception and artist talk from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, April 19 at Blakely Hall, 2550 N.E. Park Drive. All of Alamdari’s paintings are for sale, with 30 to 40 percent of the proceeds going to artEAST for education and community programming.

Alamdari stands next to “Progressive,” a portrait inspired by Dr. Tal’at Basari, the first woman to be appointed as vice-chancellor of a prestigious Iranian university.

Alamdari stands next to “Tolerant,” a powerful portrait of the current struggle of women in Iran.

Alamdari stands next to “Optimistic,” a portrait of human rights activist Hila Sedighi.

“Resilient,” by Farshad Alamdari, is inspired by Azad, a guerrilla commander from northern Iran, circa 750 A.D.

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