Gentle Giant! This is the description that comes to my mind whenever I think about Contemporary visual artist, Saeed Ensafi. Not entirely for the obvious reasons.
He is certainly gentle and kind towards his wife Sahar Bardaie and his friends, many of whom are fellow artists. I should know since I couldn’t have done my last photo exhibition in Tehran without his precious help. From Saeed I learned a lot about the setting up of exhibitions in Tehran, how to make things work, how to be patient. From my concept to its execution, he was there every step of the way guiding me as his experience also as a graphic designer was essential for its success.
But when I say gentle, I mean it more in the sensitivity that comes forward in his artwork. The themes chosen, the hard work in the research process and then finally in the execution, are to be admired. His art makes you feel, think and stays with you long after you leave his exhibitions.
One particular theme touched me in a profound way. His approach to the years of the Iran-Iraq war that started in 1980 and ended in 1988. Eight years of a senseless war where 500.000 soldiers on both sides are believed to have died along with 100.000 civilians. The years of the war were particularly trying. A young Saeed in high school was made to repeat every morning the official slogan, “War, war until victory”. But the constant sound of bombs dropping, the daily images of funerals and the pictures of the young martyrs on the tombs, showed there was no victory in sight.
His first solo exhibition on this subject in 2012, “War, war … until victory” showed well how Saeed dealt with his conflicting emotions during the years of the war.
But it was an artwork from his following exhibition in 2014 entitled “Smile Brother”, that moved me deeply. I knew I wanted it in my collection. In this series he used glass boxes with objects and pictures of martyrs just like the ones we see in the cemeteries. In particular the cemeteries where soldiers from the Iran-Iraq war have been buried.
Here is an example of one of these grave boxes taken when I visited the military cemetery in Tehran. In it, the family puts the picture of the departed and objects that either belonged to him or had a special meaning. I can only imagine the suffering of the parents who visit the cemetery regularly. It is a pain that never goes away, a life you can never get back.
This was the inspiration for some of the pieces in the “Smile brother” exhibition, like the one I chose.
The light changes during the day, shadows appear, just like the ones reflected in the grave boxes. As for the pictures inside, they are there as a reminder of the insurmountable loss.
While turning the pages of family albums, we can be confronted with pictures missing a face or/and body. Cutting the pictures of the departed from family albums, Saeed explained to me, has always been popular as a subculture in Iran. Seeing those faces missing evokes a bitter feeling, increased even more when you know the person is gone forever.
There could be two reasons for cutting out the faces of your departed loved ones. On the one hand it could be to give them a better place like by putting their picture inside a lock pendant close to your heart. On the other, It could be to not see the person who is gone forever because the pain is too much to bear.
So why did I say Saeed was a giant. No, he is not that tall. Saeed’s artwork has a meaning, a soul. I cannot say this of every artist. He has a very important role to play in the Iranian contemporary art scene but his work goes beyond its borders. It was already admired in International art festivals and I hope it will continue to travel further and further.
Saeed’s artistry is also not one dimensional. The art studios he has created in the past both in Iran and Turkey with his illustrator wife, have had a major role in both countries art scenes. Workshops, collaboration with famous national and international artists, curating exhibitions, book and other publications, artist’s talks are just some of the activities they provided. Saeed has additionally often collaborated with commercial brands in different projects.
To the gentle giant, I wish you all the success in the world. I am grateful to have one of your artworks with me as a reminder of the special time I had in Iran. I will be looking forward to see what’s next!
if you want to know more about Saeed’s work check his instagram account: