A Revolution on Canvas

A Revolution on Canvas
A Revolution on Canvas
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For those who do not know much about the history of Iranian art, Nicky Nodjoumi’s name will probably not ring a bell, but A Revolution on Canvas is here to change that. As if this was not enough reason for him to be regarded as both an important radical and a celebrated artist, he has also been described as an influential artist — something that is not very surprising considering that art and politics can hardly go without each other. It was a documentary directed by his daughter Sara Nodjoumi and her husband Till Schauder; its approach to Nodjoumi’s life is personal in a family sense. What drives the story is an inquiry into what happened with some of Nodjoumi’s works missing in Iran where he would never return.

It is a gripping, tense depiction of the ongoing unrest in Iran, which mirrors the life of Nodjoumi since he has always been entangled with political action throughout his lifetime and career. Nevertheless, A Revolution on Canvas also examines his family during the same events instead of just being a historical document. The movie thus scrutinizes such themes as family units, gender roles and immigration beyond Iran. This piece of work has quite a bit of discomfort in it but there are also moments when warmth and joy prevail rightfully so. This documentary may have its flaws yet it remains informative, engaging and stimulating.

In this documentary film regarding Nicky Nodjoumi’s life as an artist Sara his daughter takes control as author because we see her interviewing all subjects throughout the film and making choices that direct the narrative towards certain issues she wishes to emphasize or explore further from others’ perspectives. By making it a family secret like this one adds another interesting layer to an already intricate story. Although we learn about Nicky Nodjoumi himself — his art and political activism –it also shows us who he really is as a person. Consequently, there is also insightful discussion by Sara’s mother, Nahid Hagigat, about women and families in art and revolution.

Where they met at an art college in Iran and they hit it off immediately were Nodjoumi and Hagigat. However the two ended up living together in New York despite her parents’ objections where they both got politically involved, as was his natural tendency because he had always been this way. However Hagigat mentioned that she had not been so much into being a part of it but did it to be with him. It is interesting to see works from both of them influenced by pop art but each having its own style. They had a brief period of time when their work was celebrated as they held two sold-out exhibitions in Iran. Such sweet times were short-lived.

Since Nodjoumi’s art was anti-authoritarian and critical of the Shah’s rule, news reaching Iran about his US activism simply made him a wanted person there. The Museum of Contemporary Art hosted one final show for him which aimed at mocking or disgracing him as an artist. The more saddening thing is that even now those items displayed at the exhibition have never been returned back while Nicky and Sara spend most of the film along with the viewer searching for them. As described by Sara: “The trauma my father went through losing his country unable to ever return and also losing such significant pieces of artwork- country and art, two really vital parts of who he is.”

Hagigat’s experience, on the other hand, was quieter. Soon after the birth of a daughter who they named Sara, Hagigat had to alter her way of living completely; it would be impossible for a struggling artist to get by with children. On one hand, Nodjoumi could have declined this life and gone back to Iran and joined in the protests while Hagigat had no alternative but work hard because of her daughter. The contrast between the paths that Nodjoumi and Hagigat’s lives took is among the most interesting aspects in this movie.
The couple creates a clear divide between themselves using Sara as their mouthpiece. Notably, one can never keep count on different occasions when a talented woman trails behind her husband so as to take care of the family; it is an ageless story. Nonetheless, in this film their stories are given equal treatment and so many women like Hagigat’s own life gain prominence and respect as well as face time.

Also central to A Revolution on Canvas is the concept of borders and immigration.\Nodjoumi’s life consists of years in Iran and out of Iran. Both his US and Iranian lives have drawbacks.In Iran he is unsafe imprisoned tortured however at the same time its home there he works toward improving his country’s future.Conversely he won’t actually go to jail like in USA where he cannot come back from there real home.While not all immigration will have similar magnitude like that of Nodjoumi still countless people out there know what this feels like – being unable to return home.No matter what happened it isn’t good.

His point at which even after such unimaginable hardships throughout his career comes across our mind quite very late in life. He has an odd buoyancy about him which stands out when he is portrayed interacting with grandkids who ask him lots concerning arts especially those found within his homeland Iran.However, the lightness so apparent here proves to be something of a façade if not even an obstacle as it is shown when Sara tries to discuss the problems her family had. She wants to know if he missed her and her mother while he was off in Iran protesting and he just shrugs and smiles before replying that he didn’t.

This once again serves to emphasize why Sara is a co-director of this project. It would have been less affecting to have one of his unrelated friends make this enquiry for which they could have received such not revealing answer. As it stands however, we can see through Nodjoumi’s ever happy face on display.The issue of having to cut to Sara as she is talking about how her dad hides grief and trauma behind a smile does not arise since we can view it ourselves instead, whereas in other cases we may need cuts in order have someone else talk about them.The importance of women like Nodjoumi also becomes important at times like these.

A Revolution on Canvas has clips of critics and historians discussing Nodjoumi’s work. One critic says that his paintings have “no resolution,” another notes how he couldn’t stop working and would start painting directly onto a newspaper page immediately after reading it to help him process it. He is able to produce so much art because there are always protests and unrest taking place in Iran. The documentary was being filmed when Iranian women were taking to the streets to burn headscarves and cut their hair in protest against the oppressive regime. Comparing this to the protests he was involved in, Nodjoumi says succinctly, “The revolution we did was sh*t.”

However, combining Nodjoumi’s continued work with continuous demonstrations happening Iran and not knowing where his lost pieces can be found makes this film problematic. It mostly focuses on Nodjoumi, but does not give an all-round picture of the artist at work even though it has dealt with other issues extensively. Moreover, as a historical document of Iran’s political struggles, it is also unfocused and lacking in an endpoint. Additionally, as a document of the journey to reuniting Nodjoumi with his lost work, it’s unable to provide a conclusion there either.

This kind of loose structure and focus actually reflects its concerns about borders and freedom. However, that argument only stretches so far. Of course most everyday lives don’t approach any neat conclusions; thus one can understand why these filmmakers are hardly less than perfect. But then again watching the documentary is like going through political history – real political history – art history, personal history…So when you feel cheated by such an ending it makes no sense.

However do not let this anticlimax put you off since truly impressive work goes on here too.It is unlikely that anyone could get through this without learning something valuable from its rich discussions of Nodjoumi’s life and work. Significantly, it reminds us that we can change the world if we want to – this is something to keep in mind when everything begins to feel futile.

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