Text by Michael Bullock
Art by Reza & Mamali Shafahi
Club Rhubarb, 2021
Club Rhubarb and Situations are pleased to announce their first joint exhibition. The double show features the work of father and son Iranian artists Reza & Mamali Shafahi. This is Club Rhubarb’s second exhibition of Reza Shafahi’s drawings and it’s the first time that his drawings are presented alongside sculptural reliefs which his son Mamali created in response. The related exhibition at Situations features Reza Shafahi’s new paintings.
This exhibition marks the fifth installment of Daddy Sperm, an ongoing collaboration between father and son which Mamali Shafahi first initiated in 2012. It began with the younger Shafahi’s interest in the miracle of life — “how a drop of liquid becomes a human being” — and evolved into an examination of his relationship with his father, focusing on how parents and children influence one another. Mamali invited Reza (who at the time was a 72-year-old retired professional wrestler) to make drawings as a way to better understand their “genetic links.” This simple request has had a profoundly transformative impact on both men. Prior to their collaboration, Reza who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, spent much of his time gambling. While he had never before tried his hand at art making, once he started to draw, he was hooked. Swapping one habit for another, Reza experienced an outpouring of imagery. His son had accidentally unlocked a private, fantastical, psycho-sexual inner world, which seemingly had been waiting a lifetime for the right opportunity to emerge. “There is a confidence in my dad’s work which I admire a lot and even makes me almost jealous of him as an artist! He doesn’t even retouch his paintings. As an outsider, with his lack of academic conditioning, he is free from the doubts I may have as an ‘establishment’ artist,” Mamali explains.
Since 2012, the artists’ collaborative series has evolved to span multiple media including an exhibition of paintings, Occidental Icons (2012); a video installation featured in the 2013 edition of Daddy Sperm; and Nature Morte (2017), an 80-minute docu-fiction starring both Reza as well as Mamali’s mother. In 2019, Reza and Mamali’s works were exhibited together in the Palais de Tokyo exhibition Prince.sse.s des Villes. Their large-scale installation explored the potentially perverse implications of family relationships and mutual transformation. It included Mamali’s sculptures, objects, and custom-designed furniture alongside a giant, custom wall installation of Reza’s drawings.
In the Club Rhubarb edition of Daddy Sperm, the two artists continue to explore family dynamics. Much of the work in the show was produced through a long-distance artistic exchange that the father and son engaged in from their respective homes in France and Iran, during the Covid-19 lockdown. This show also includes Reza’s drawings from 2014–19, charting his start as an artist and the development of his unique visual language, influenced by pop culture, literature, classical poetry, and the 2-D patterns of Persian rugs. Reza’s drawings investigate his unique psychological space, combining surrealism and autobiography while reflecting a compulsive desire to depict humanity honestly, representing both brutality and desire. Accompanying these works are nine sculptural reliefs from Mamali’s Heirloom Velvet series. Each starts by translating imagery from Reza’s drawings into three dimensions, then casting the relief in resin. The surface is then flocked, enhancing the sensuality of Reza’s imagery with a seductive tactile finish. This intergenerational conversation, which finds the father’s imagery executed in the son’s preferred medium, results in hybrid works that embody a tension between global contemporary sensibilities and historical Iranian aesthetics.
Reza Shafahi’s solo show at Situations presents the artist’s recent foray into painting, featuring a series of new works from 2020–21. This series finds the artist expanding his imaginative inner world, exploring the paradoxes and ambiguities of his life and culture, energized by a new medium.
Reza Shafahi (b. 1940, Iran) lives and works in Tehran. He is a retired professional wrestler and a self-taught artist. His work has been exhibited at Magic of Persia (Dubai, United Arab Emirates), Club Rhubarb (New York, USA), Marlborough Chelsea Gallery (New York, USA), SpazioA (Pistoia, Italy), Erratum Galerie (Berlin, Germany), and Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France), among others.
Mamali Shafahi (b. 1982, Iran) lives and works in Amsterdam and Paris. He received his undergraduate degree at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts Paris—Cergy (Paris, France) and a masters in photography from the University of Art (Tehran, Iran.) His art has been exhibited at Dastan’s Basement (Tehran, Iran), Galerie Nicolas Silin (Paris, France), Urban Jalousie Biennial (Istanbul, Turkey), SMART Project Space (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Shulamit Gallery (Los Angeles, USA), and Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France), among others.
Daddy Sperm is on view at Club Rhubarb by appointment only. Contact Tony Cox to make an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or direct messaging the gallery at @clubrhubarb on Instagram.