Manou Marzban: Persian Kings in a hyper-pop fashion

5 Kings - © Manou Marzban
5 Kings - © Manou Marzban

Every month online gallery contributes to the art section by shining a light on the movers and shakers of the Middle Eastern art scene with artist spotlights, artist interviews and all things art from the Middle East! EMERGEAST introduces their latest addition to the artist roster: Iranian artist Manou Marzban. EMERGEAST talks to Manou about identity, his artistic production and the recent attention his works have received.

 Artist of the Month: Manou Marzban

Who is Manou the artist?

A complex mind with an even more complicated history being pulled in several directions simultaneously resulting in a whirlwind of chaotic energy. That energy erupts into moments of intense creativity and reflection. I create art that reads like a book, following a wild narrative. I believe that creativity should be presented in its original perspectives and come directly from the mind’s eye without interpretations or adjustments onto the canvas. As ridiculous as that sounds, it makes total sense to me. I guess that is how I should describe my art…’unadjusted’. PBS America calls it ‘whimsical cool’ and that sounds good to me.

Your art has received a lot of attention in the West over the past few years. How do you feel about making your debut in the Middle East?

I feel being of Iranian origins has allowed me to evoke interest with a captured audience. But my art is not typical of what this audience usually sees. What I do know is that people in the West are fascinated by Iranian artists, and I get attention because of that. I think people sometimes expect Iranians to have horns and perhaps a forked tail, given the publicity the country gets these days, let alone provide creative people. So debuting in the Middle East is a reverse. I feel like I am almost ‘coming home’. And my aim is to provide a very different artistic expression to this audience.

You’ve experienced a significant transition from the tech industry to the creative arena. Do you feel they are mutually exclusive?

I think that being creative has enabled me to better understand and envision technology solutions. The real deal in the use of technology isn’t the product itself, it’s the way the product is used. You can fill up Africa with PCs but if the end-user has no idea how to make the most of it, the PC will end up as a door-stop. Creativity has allowed me to visualize and then strategize how to use certain products to create the right solutions. Solutions that help businesses grow or help an educational institution teach and learn or a government agency to optimize its use of technology etc.

Manou QF205 4 Kings 40x40cm

 As a Persian living abroad, would you say your native culture plays an integral part in your works?

I was born in Geneva, and travelled throughout my childhood, eventually settling in boarding school in the United Kingdom. Thanks to my father’s role as a diplomat, by the time I was 10, I had lived in Switzerland, Thailand, Russia, Sweden and the UK. I never lived in Iran, I just spent a few summers there as a child. My mother’s mother came from Tiblisi, and accompanied us everywhere, she was a practising Catholic and I went to a Jesuit school until 16. So my native culture played a very subdued role in my works. However, it took just two years of living there from 1976-78 for me to become infatuated by my Persian heritage. It was like being reborn. Only for me to leave again in 1979.

 You have recently been named the ‘Persian Banksy’ by the Le Monde. What parallels would you draw between yourself and the acclaimed street artist?

None really. He paints on walls and uses stencils. I paint on anything but walls and use pretty much everything from acrylic to spray paint. He is a ‘street’ artist and I am an artist that is influenced by ‘street art’. We are both political, we are both provocative and we are both slightly anti-establishment, but at the same time, we come from two different worlds. Completely different backgrounds and perspectives. What I love about the guy is his complete disdain for the traditional approach to selling art. He is a new artist for a new generation.

Do you see yourself as a Western artist with Middle Eastern influences or a Middle Eastern artist with Western influences?

I am a Western artist with Middle Eastern influences. The one thing that fascinates me as a Persian is our past. A lot of the Iranian art that I see is very heavily political or very traditional. No one has played with these images of the Persepolis ruins or Qajar Kings in a hyper-pop fashion. I wanted to lighten up that past and make the symbols more vibrant and contemporary. In other words I am tired of the heavy presence of old ruins in our psyche. I wanted to take those images of our glorious past, paint them in colour, and toss them into a future that is hopefully less heavy.

Manou QF206 4 Kings 40x40cm

 What are the inspirations behind your works. Is there a certain setting/mood you have to be in to let loose on the canvas?

No single thing or person has been a major influence. I am turned on and inspired by many things…and many artists…including Bunuel, Dali, Man Ray, Miro, Bacon, Calder, Brando, Kubrick, Warhol, Bowie, Starck, Argones, Scorsese, and Banksy to name a few. There are too many influencing factors in my art that span multiple channels including music, film, history, politics, culture…and comics. I read Mad magazine diligently. How is that for an influencer? I love comics. I started off drawing rude caricatures to entertain my brothers and cousins, and later my friends in school. So I love to entertain. Maybe my inspiration is that I want to be an artist that entertains.

Looking at your works, there are a lot of different elements / relationships created in your canvases? Can you tell us something about how you decide on the elements you include?

I try to create a dialectic process that creates a relationship. For example, I’ll draw an image – that becomes the thesis. Next to it, I’ll add another image totally unrelated to the first. That is the antithesis. Those two images may make me think of a third…that becomes synthesis. Then I repeat the process, with the synthesis, becoming the new thesis. And so, the triangular dialectic process continues till my painting is done. I use multi-media, I reproduce old works, I create collages from various pieces. I am quite resourceful. The challenge for me is to bring them all together on a canvas in a way that is appealing to look at. I am always looking for hidden messages in other peoples work, so I try to do the same…creating little scenarios that are inter-related – yet hidden. I want you to search for messages…and when you find them…I feel I have succeeded.

Manou QF204 4 Kings 50x40cm

 What message do you want your artworks to convey to your audience?

l like absurdity. We are surrounded by it in life. I also write whatever pops up in my head directly onto my art – so you can read what was on my mind too. I find this combination of imagery and written words creates an even more impressive narrative for the audience. The audience is the key, from the audience an artist will be able to garner direction. The audience is far more important to me than say an art critic. There are no age or cultural barriers to my art. The only thing I say is I hope you are not offended easily. I try to provoke at all times. I try to make you think when reviewing my art. I want to entertain you for as long as possible, then I want you to come back the next day and discover something new. That’s entertainment!

 Few last words.

A genuine artistic creation is one that provokes a shockwave: it repels and draws you in with a spontaneous emotional attraction. The act of creating has not changed, but the rules that define what creativity is, have changed. Art is the result of what the mind creates, around, in and through elemental icons, icons that can spell normalcy but hide much more…from people we recognize like movie stars and political figures to things like ties, brief cases, suits…what actually sits behind these icons of civilized life? In my art, I try to exploit this and make you wonder. But always with a smile.


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