Stanley Mason, Graphis, on Ardeshir Mohasses

Posted by By at 17 May, at 13 : 06 PM Print

An Iranian cartoonist – the concept may first dawn on us with a sense of surprise. And in fact the cartoon is still young in Iran. As we may expect, the early work was raw or drew heavily on Western models. Today, however, there can be no doubt about it: Iran has a serious cartoonist, whose talent and originality are beyond question. More surprising still: if we seek parallels between the work of Ardeshir Mohasses and Western caricature, the names that come to mind are no mean recommendation. His macabre imaginings often recall Roland Topor; his girl’s soccer team or the way fantastic human features emerge out of a jungle of swift linear convolutions inevitably suggest Ronald Searle; and when we observe the acrimony of his social satire, we are even carried back to Daumier.

In other words, Ardeshir, as he is known is Iran, is an artist as much as a cartoonist. He lives in the no-man’s-land which is art, but not for art’s sake: art with a very real cause, art with a cutting edge as sharp as a knife. Several facts of his life underline this allegiance to an artistic ethos. His first cartoons were submitted to Tehran editors on a take-it-or-leave-it basis – no modifications whatever were to be made. Then there is the observation behind his cartoons. He is not the man to master a few political likenesses and to leave the rest to routine. He often makes rapid sketches from life, capturing the expressions of talkers in coffee shops, the gestures of dancers, barmaids or people in the street. The public has already accepted him as an artist. He has had very nearly that many one-man shows.

Most visitors to his exhibitions at first find him depressingly pessimistic. Yet this really misses the point. Ardeshir is essentially a moralist. His subjects are the whole spectrum of human vice and weakness: selfishness, tyranny, hypocrisy, gluttony, verbosity, cruelty, pride, and injustice. Many of his drawings are no more than visions of these things, set down with a cold passion, with an acerbity that offers no quarter. There is not much laughter in his cartoons, and where it can be heard it is hard and dry as a bone.

A theme which constantly recurs in his drawings is that of domination and subjection. He finds dozens of graphic variations to express the dependence of the poor on the rich, of the citizen on the authorities. The predator often hovers in the air, a bloated creature with simian features wearing a top hat and holding his poor spider-limbed slave on a leash below. Elsewhere, the master has tied a cord to his servant’s tongue, bites into his vulnerable back with sharp, shark-like teeth or leads him on a chain by a ring that runs through his lips; or the victim has been cut in two altogether and the rider has attached his reins to the bottom of the torso and its still running legs. Dismemberment is a common term of Ardeshir’s vocabulary. Heads have often gone, or have begun an independent life in frames. Ardeshir’s drawings often challenge the observer’s powers of insight. Simple statements – bureaucracy epitomized by a man pinned to a file on his way to the archives, or the crowd’s cruelty suggested by coloured lights on a rope from which a hanged man dangles – are rarer than the more recondite graphic messages. Here again he proves himself the committed artist. He has his vision, his beaked judges, his top-hatted horrors, his decapitated sufferers, and he will not abate one iota of its claim. He gave up a safe career as a lawyer to expose himself to the dangers and elations of his art, and he remains a perfectionist about his work. He carries a bottle of black ink with him, and we are told that he goes on retouching and improving his drawings until the carton is finally snatched from his grasp.



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