Rossi & Rossi and Janet Rady Fine Art are delighted to announce: Fire of Love, Amin Roshan’s first solo exhibition in London.
It is not easy to say why I have chosen oil as a theme…The main reason may be its excessive impact and influence not only on my life and family but also on the geography of Iran.
Amin Roshan is an Iranian multi-disciplinary artist whose output is deeply informed by his Bahktiari tribal heritage and his family’s involvement for many generations in the country’s oil industry. Roshan was born in the Naftoon district of Masjid-i-Sulamain in the Khuzestan Province of southwestern Iran, where the first oil well in the Middle East was discovered. His formative years were shaped by the physical presence of oil in and around the streets where he grew up. The family re-located to Ahwaz, a city in the South West of Iran near the border with Iraq, when Amin was a child. Here he later trained in graphic design and so broke the family tradition of employment in the oil industry.
His works draw on archive materials with oil, literally and metaphorically, sourced from home. The role played by the British alongside the Iranians in the establishment of the oil industry lies at the heart of his compositions. Historical British-produced maps, standard issue helmets and blow torches are re-purposed as works of art with the deployment of crude oil and tea, the much loved beverage. Vintage photographs of key political players and events, Bahktiari grave stones, scenes from the Iran-Iraq war battle front and oil well heads demonstrate the clash of civilisations and the socio-political and economic developments which ensued in the wake of the exploitation of oil. Refreshingly, Roshan’s works neither condemn nor celebrate the oil business, rather he presents the cautionary view of an informed insider fluent in the complexities of the subject.
Specifically in Fire of Love Roshan highlights the role of oil in the traditional fire worshipping rituals of his region. He refers to oil as fire – an elemental fire with deep roots in Iranian literature. He combines this analogy with close observation of the details that make up people’s lives, and an exploration of their roots. Oil – imbued with latent energy - becomes the fire found in ancient Iranian works. Roshan highlights how over time man has tamed fire, imprisoning the god of light in yellow cylinders, and eventually it is carried across the desert in long pipes. He alludes to the misappropriation of fire – the god of wisdom and light – by people oblivious to the secrets of the origin of light and warmth. The Fire of Love works are executed using a silk printing technique, the crude oil is sourced from Masjid-i- Sulaiman and the photographs were taken in Khuzestan.
Three works from series created in 2013 also feature in the exhibition, their themes, motifs and materials resonant with those in Fire of Love. Plans, Crude Oil and Tea uses historical maps and plans of Abadan and Ahwaz from World War II – at the time, two highly strategic cities. The lives of the people producing these plans were dominated by meetings about oil, during which tea was in constant supply. Roshan is nostalgic for old plans, his father would bring bundles home for him to convert into exercise books. He regards plans as maps of lives: whilst integral to the development of the oil industry which in turn drives Iran to modernity, they also keep pace with the life events and milestones of the country’s inhabitants. Ancestors, 2013, from this series, uses crude oil and brewed tea applied in a silk screen.
Father’s Contract and To follow Reza Shah, from the Snow Foam series, 2013, speak of the temporary joy and short life-span associated with artificial snow, known in Iran as Joyful Snow Spray. Roshan sees petroleum as a treasure loaded with fake happiness, which can all too easily evaporate. Likewise, the brief pleasure associated with snow spray allows us to comprehend its lack of durability. Father’s Contract, in crude oil and tea, a silk screen on cardboard, utilises Roshan’s own father’s contract with the National Oil Company, dated 28 December 1968. It was drafted in both English and Farsi, some 17 years after the Iranian oil industry was nationalised.
Two unique works, The Lion and the Bull, 2014, and Jikak’s Crown, 2019, complement the works on paper. The first of these, inspired by the Persian poet, Rumi, is a brass blowtorch decorated with an engraving made on an original Iranian National Oil Company helmet. Roshan swaps the expected order traditionally played throughout history by the wild animals: the bull, representing the moon, now overcomes the lion, symbolising the sun. Jikak’s Crown was created from one of the helmets worn by workers at the National Iranian Oil Company. Colonel Jikak, a British Intelligence Officer, worked at the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company after World War II. He aligned himself with the culture and beliefs of the Bahktiari tribe and it is thought he actively sought to stall the nationalisation of the oil industry. Appropriately, the helmet in his name is decorated in Finglish, a hybrid script where Farsi is expressed in Latin characters, and in Persian fonts expressing words in English.