In Memory of Ardeshir Mohassess
September 9, 1938 – October 9, 2008
“The convict’s execution coincided with the king’s birthday ceremonies” (1978)
“Paul Klee’s ‘Angel of History,’ according to Walter Benjamin’s brooding messianic sense of aesthetics, ‘faced the past, and with wings spread wide and eyes fixed tightly upon the inferno of piled and piling wreckage of human suffering, he sees and promises nothing but catastrophe. Little angelic redemption, but much demonic suffering.’
David Levine’s portrait of Ardeshir Mohassess depicts him as a docile scribe, quill in hand and feather in cap, entombed in walls of calligraphied Persian poetry.
In reality, Mohassess, author of the above image, was anything but docile. The pen, in his remarkably prolific hands, brought to life defiantly iconoclastic images of the human wreckage that has come from the hellishly long history of despotism and dogmatism in Iran.
Through deludingly simple lines, he depicts and de-familiarizes the complexities and mysteries of souls and bodies suffering the weight of their society’s tradition of oppression or the oppression of tradition. Mullahs or monarchs, comrades or commissars are, in his inquisitive and unfailingly humanist vision, equally guilty of dehumanizing, alienating, and disfiguring innocent lives.
His drawings, a collection of which was once called the Closed Circuit of History might seem, to some, a relentlessly daunting and suffocating image of suffering, bereft of salvation. But a pictorial narrative of suffering privileged with having as its narrator, or its “angel of History,” the piercing brilliance of Ardeshir Mohassess, cannot remain a closed circuit for long.
His individual aesthetic intervention was in the end a necessary step on our collective path to freedom and redemption.
Sadly, History’s appreciation for his brilliance and iconoclasm, will only be posthumous.
In life, he suffered not just the indignities of oppressive regimes and crassly commoditized art, but the drudgeries of exile, and the ignominy of ill health and poor finance.
Today, we remember the great Ardeshir Mohassess: champion of free speech, brilliant artist, illustrator, cartoonist: Iranian.”
This is an epitaph for the Iranian cartoonist Ardeshir Mohassess. I read it at a colloquium on censored writers, called “The Living Magazine” that I worked on last year.