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Artist Collective Slavs and Tatars Explores the Polish-Iranian Connection at L.A.’s REDCAT

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Los Angeles is touted as an important hub for contemporary art, and with good reason: from art school classes taught by famed artists such as Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger to world-class institutions like LACMA and the Getty and small non-profit alternative art spaces such as LAXART and Public Fiction, the city’s artist community has the framework and venues in which to experiment with and showcase the visual and performing arts. But, when placing Los Angeles within a larger discussion on global contemporary art, what is often lacking is an international viewpoint. The majority of the city’s contemporary art exhibitions focus on the United States and Europe, with some examining work by artists from Mexico and Central and South America.

Within this context, “Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz” by Slavs and Tatars, an artist collective devoted to mining the cultural landscape of an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China, is a breath of fresh air. The small show at the REDCAT gallery in downtown L.A. examines the unlikely points of convergence between Poland and Iran’s economic, social, political, religious, and cultural histories.

“Friendship of Nations” is an ongoing research-based project that mixes low- and high-brown culture through performance, printed material, and visual arts. An important component to this exhibition is the publication “79.89.90,” which treats topics ranging from the mono brow as a symbol of virility and courage in Iran — an unsuccessful export — to the Polish migration to Iran during World War II. The most prominent works on display are flags stitched by artisans in Poland and Iran brandishing Iranian and Polish iconography and religious and secular slogans. The stand out work is the poetic “Wheat Molla” (pictured), an intricate headpiece made entirely of wheat resting on a brick, alluding to religion and revolution.

“Friendship of Nations” has been exhibited in different iterations at the Sharjah Biennal 10, the Frieze Art Fair Sculpture Park and MoMA in New York. It is on view at REDCAT through March 24, 2013.

— Yasmine Mohseni, ARTINFO Los Angeles

(Image courtesy the artists.)

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