Category Archives: Creativity

An Artist’s International Student Journey

Remembering Monir Farmanmaian (1924 –2019)

May 3rd, 2019

monirPhoto via: Keyhan Life

Monir Farmanmaian, the Iranian female artist known for her mirror mosaics and geometric patterns passed away on April 20, 2019 at the age of 97 in Tehran.  Until recently, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know much about Monir, only a cursory knowledge of her and her work through articles and photographs. I only began to learn about Monir, her art and accomplishments, five years ago when I read an extensive article in The New York Times on the exhibit of her work at The Guggenheim Museum.

My appreciation of Iran’s classical and contemporary art has been that of a late bloomer and one that I’ve very recently began to explore, albeit very slowly. My earliest recollection goes back to the first and only decade of my childhood growing up in Iran, where accompanied by my art loving parents I found my young self standing in the spacious but dank and dimly lit basement studio of a struggling artist somewhere in Tehran. There were a few more of these types of visits to artists’ studios around the city, but my first visit to the young artist’s basement showroom is the one I still see in my mind’s eye. My parents supported this artist, whose name I don’t recall, by purchasing a number of his paintings which were displayed on the walls throughout our house. One, which hung in the sitting room where my parents entertained guests, was my most favorite. You could only make out the painting from afar; close-up it was a mashup of colors, soft hues of orange, yellow, blue and sand. Once you pulled back a few steps and sat in the furthest seat in the room, you were able to take in its full beauty, faint silhouettes of a caravan of camels, a ghostly apparition of the bygone days of the Silk Road, floating through the desert as the sun ever slowly dipped and disappeared into the horizon.

As a ten-year old, I had little knowledge and exposure to Iranian culture. My parents seldom, in fact never, listened to Iranian classical, contemporary or pop music. I was exposed to The Beatles, Nat King Cole, Bossa Nova, Jazz, Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven. The films I saw in the cinemas in Iran were mostly foreign, dubbed into Farsi. My mother took me to my first opera when I was eight. It was Puccini’s Turandot at Rudaki Hall in Tehran.  My piano teacher took me to my first recital when I was around the same age to hear a talented young pianist from America perform pieces by the masters of western classical music.

I first left Iran at age ten to start school in England. After that my returns to Iran were more of a tourist’s; short stays for a couple of weeks or months during the Christmas and summer holidays. And, at sixteen, I left Iran to study in the U.S. At the time, I didn’t know that it would be the last time I’d see Iran, my home, and many of my relatives. I didn’t know that my departure was permanent.

There’s something that happened to me as a young woman leaving Iran, first for England and then for America. I started to detach and let go of that which identified me with my place of origin so that I could acclimate, blend and fit in at my new home.  What little I knew of Iran’s rich cultural history, I let go of.

Monir Farmanmaian, née Monir Shahroudy, didn’t let go and didn’t detach. Instead, she embraced her Iranian heritage and culture and infused her art with it.

Monir was born in 1924 in Qazvin, Iran to progressive parents who supported and encouraged her education. After her father was elected to parliament in 1932, the family moved to Tehran. Her love for art began at an art class she took in school once a week. She’s noted to have said that she found it “more fun than math.” After graduating from high school, Monir enrolled at the University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts.

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University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts

In 1944, at the height of WWII, Monir together with her brother, her fiancée and his  friend, left Allied-occupied Iran on a British liner bound for Bombay (today, Mumbai), India. They then boarded an American naval ship that took them as far as San Pedro, California, and after four days and three nights of traveling across the U.S., they arrived in New York.

She continued her education at Cornell University and Parson’s School of Design. We may say that Monir was the first Iranian student to come to the U.S. to study during WWII.

After college, she worked as a fashion illustrator and graphic designer. She even created the Persian-violet trademark for Bonwit Teller, the luxury department store in NYC.  At Bonwit Teller, Monir crossed paths with none other than Andy Warhol who at the time was working as a shoe illustrator.

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In New York, Monir’s social circle included artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol,  Joan MitchellAlexander Calder, Frank Stella, to name a few.  In the early 1950s, she used to visit the Guggenheim museum when it was still in a townhouse and known as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. She was also there in 1956, the day when ground was broken for Frank Lloyd Wright’s concrete spiral.

Her first marriage to an Iranian artist with whom she had migrated to the U.S. seemed to have stifled her creativity. It was only after they had divorced that Monir truly came to her own. After her divorce she returned to Iran. It had been 12 years since she had left and she was wary of returning, not sure of what to expect. She remarried Abol Farmanfarmaian, a man from an aristocratic family, whom she knew of her time living in New York. Back at her homeland, and in a happy marriage, Monir began to flourish as an artist. Inspired by the Persian art of mirror mosaics, known as ayeneh-kari, Monir began to explore the use of this medium and fusing together Islamic patterns and modern abstract geometric shapes and design that soon became her signature creations.

In 1958, she won a gold medal for her display at the Iran Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In 1963, she had her first solo exhibition at a gallery in Tehran.

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Monir’s rising star as an artist was halted by the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979. She and her husband left for NY soon after. Her art collection in Iran was confiscated by the government. America in 1979 was not as welcoming as when she had first arrived in 1944. The Iranian Revolution, the US Embassy hostage crisis, and then September 11, had placed anyone of Iranian and Middle Eastern origin in the Axis of Evil camp. Monir was turned away by galleries. No one was interested in her work. In NY, she continued creating her mirror mosaics and reverse glass paintings, mostly for herself and friends. After 25 years of living in self-imposed exile in NY, Monir and her husband returned to Iran. She was allowed to open a studio. Soon, she began receiving commissions one of which included a piece for the opening of the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006. Another was a permanent six-panel installation in 2009 at the Queensland Art Museum in Brisbane, Australia. The Iranian director, Bahman Kiarostami, premiered his documentary Monir in 2014.  (For a clip of Bahman Kiarostami’s documentary Monir, click here.)

In 2015, at age 93, almost 60 years after Monir had first visited the Guggenheim in its original townhouse, she had her first comprehensive retrospective of her work in the United States. The exhibition “Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility: Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014” was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

If we ever find ourselves questioning the viability of international education and the intangible benefits of student exchange programs and access to higher education, we need to remind ourselves of the real life stories of people like Monir Farmanfarmaian and those who came before and after.  The trajectory of Monir’s life, from the town of Qazvin, Iran, to the capital city of Tehran, and then New York, and back to Tehran is as depicted in her beautiful mirror mosaics. Fused together, it is a reflection of the richness and vibrancy of her own dual education, global experiences and those of her cultural heritage.

Additional Reading & References:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/21/arts/design/monir-farmanfarmaian-iranian-and-nonagenarian-celebrates-a-new-york-museum-first.html

http://www.reorientmag.com/2015/01/monir-farmanfarmaian/

https://hyperallergic.com/276470/a-portrait-of-an-iranian-artist-who-went-home-after-35-years-in-exile/

http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/the_third_line_at_abu_dhabi_art/

http://p-l-us.com/en/monir-farmanfarmaian/

https://kayhanlife.com/news/kayhan/obituary-artist-monir-farmanfarmaian-celebrated-for-her-mirror-work-dies-at-97/


jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Global Youth

August 18th, 2017

youth

Americans get a bad rap for speaking only English, of making no effort to learn the languages of other cultures. For the most part, this is true. Unlike Europe, where an hour drive might find you in a completely foreign land, the furthest the average American will make it as far as edge of the state. But that’s not all of us.

In Southern California, from where I hail, the proximity to Mexico makes it not only worth it to speak at least some basic Spanish, it’s almost compulsory. And we are not alone. Foreign languages are being taught at younger and younger ages and it bodes well for the future of our region and the country in whole. Another language connects one more deeply to a culture, the nature of our world as one people, and most importantly, makes you sound like a fancy pants.

So, when I see a fluently bilingual toddler I am not only impressed but often more jealous than is reasonable for an adult toward a 5-year old.

Of course, there are the rare drawbacks:

In line at the ATM one day there was a young dad and his little girl, maybe all of four years old.

The father stands with his daughter, entering in his PIN:

Beep.

“Nueve!” the girl yells confidently.

In a quiet voice he replies, “That’s very good sweetie but shhh please”

He presses another button.

“Quatro!”

“Yes Clara that’s right but please we have to be quiet right now.”

He focuses on the screen tries to hide the buttons with his hand, keeps an eye on his daughter all at once.

Beep.

“Dos!”

“Clara!”

Clara erupts into giggles.

“Clara please”

The father, perhaps regretting just a bit his daughter linguistic skills, tries to turn her away, making a modestly curious little girl an obsessed investigator.

In what must have felt like a moment of glorious looney tune ingenuity Clara’s father points off to the distance,

“Clara look it’s a mariposa!”

Beep. The last button is entered.

“A butterfly? Where!?”

“Oh, I guess it flew away, let’s go li’l one.”

Better luck next time Clara. Like the rest of you baby geniuses, you give me hope for the future, a good laugh and a healthy dose of envy.

AlexB

Alex Brenner – When he is not helping international students as ACEI’s Communications Officer, Alex puts his writing chops to work as a script doctor for Hollywood screenwriters and guest blogs for ACEI-Global. Alex has a BA in English from UCLA and has been fortunate to have travelled to many corners of the world as a child and an adult.

For further information on the international credential evaluations, visit our website at www.acei-global.org or contact ACEI at acei@acei-global.org.

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Qawwali Music: The Mystical, Peaceful Side of Islam

September 30th, 2016

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I first heard the Sufi devotional music called qawwali around 1982 on a WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) album. WOMAD was Peter Gabriel’s world music label and brainchild. This was right about the time when a bunch of Brit record executives coined the term “world music” as a category for retail sales purposes. The five-minute excerpt I heard was powerful, enthralling. I was transfixed. I contacted WOMAD and asked them how long the original was. The answer? Two hours.

The music was that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani devotional singer who died in 1997. His musical journey started with a dream he had of singing in Pakistan’s most famous mosque, and it was something he was able to realize before his untimely death at 49.

The word qawwali means “utterance” in Urdu, and Nusrat was and is the most famousqawwal. I first saw him perform at a fundraiser at the LAX Hilton on behalf of a cancer hospital in Lahore. The speaker was Pakistan’s #1 cricketeer, Imran Khan. My table was besieged by men asking us to raise $5,000, the amount assigned per table. Me and a bunch of music fans and public radio types? No way could we come up with that. Nusrat had food poisoning and looked green onstage. It was not easy for him.

The second time I saw him involved driving to Buena Park for an all-Pakistani show. I recall hundreds of Mercedes in the parking lot but no BMWs. Fans were crumpling up $10-20 bills and throwing them on stage in tribute to the great singer. His next show took him to the former Universal Amphitheater (now Gibson). I didn’t make it to that one.

One time I was playing Nusrat’s music on air when KCRW’s then General Manager Ruth Seymour got a call from her mother, who was put on phone hold while the music was playing. When Ruth picked up the phone, her mom said the music sounded like somebody getting their toenails pulled out. It’s a good thing that not all people hear Nusrat that way. Though often intense, his is a music of peace and love.

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Nusrat would try anything musically, which is one reason he became the most famousqawwal. There was the Massive Attack remix of “Mustt Mustt,” and also the fun, crazyBally Sagoo remixes. Don’t be fooled, however. Nusrat also performed powerful, rich devotional music and love songs with his group, as you’ll hear on the first cut by him of this show.

Abida Parveen is the most famous female qawwali vocalist, adored by fans all over the world. I heard her once in Orange County years ago. She has a big voice, perfect pitch, and a powerful, ecstatic delivery.  She will occasionally visit the U.S., but you will likely not know about it unless you read the local Pakistani newspapers.

In a 2013 article in the UK paper The Guardian, Parveen said, “My culture–our culture–is rich in spirituality and love. Sufism is not a switch, the music isn’t a show–it’s of life, it is religion. If I want to recognized for anything, if we should be recognized for anything, it’s the journey of the voice. And that voice is God’s.” Qawwali, like gospel music in the U.S., is a communal experience, a joy meant to be shared.

I did not include another famous qawwali group, the Sabri Brothers, because their tracks are super long. Sadly, I recently wrote a post about one of their founding memberswho was murdered by an Islamic extremist. Sufi gospel is a way of getting closer to the divine, both for listeners and performers.  Dictatorships and Islamist hardliners don’t like music, don’t trust it either. We’ve seen that in the Soviet Union, Chile, Argentina, Iran, and other places.

For those who don’t know about this powerful and ecstatic music, let it be a reminder that its message of peace and harmony is an antidote to the turmoil in Pakistan that we hear in the news.

Here is a video shot in Pakistan in 1993 of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 9/2/16:

  1. Abida Parveen / “Choonghat Ohle Na Luk Sajna” / Baba Bulleh Shah / Oreade Music
  2. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Allah Hoo Allah Hoo” / Devotional Songs / Real World
  3. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Mustt Mustt” / Mustt Mustt / Real World
  4. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Kinna Sohna (Bally Sagoo Remix)” / Big Noise: A Mambo Inn Compilation / Hannibal

 

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Sister Deborah and Ghana Jollof: Tasty Rice

This is a culinary tale–or rather competition–West African style.

Last Sunday morning, I heard a story and song on NPR’s Weekend Edition about a rice rivalry in West Africa, particularly Ghana vs. Nigeria, surrounding a ubiquitous rice dish in the region (Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal) called Jollof. The tune’s nice grooves and rhymes caught my ear, as did the conversation between host Linda Wertheimer and Ofeibia Quist Arcton, the Ghanaian journalist and NPR reporter. (When in Senegal, Quist Arcton finishes her stories with a wonderful flourish: “Ofeibia Quist Arcton, Dahkaaaaaaaaaah.” I’ve always loved her style.)

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Ghanain restaurant menu. Photo by Rachel Strohm (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

The song “Ghana Jollof” is sung by Sister Deborah (b. Deborah Owusu-Bonsu), a popular Ghanain TV host, model, and academic, who holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Arts, London. The lyrics were written by her brother, Wanlov (“one love?”) the Kubolor. The song basically postulates that the Ghanaian version of the rice dish is better than the Nigerian version. The basic ingredients include rice, tomatoes, onion, chili pepper, salt, pepper; Ghanaian and Nigerian versions add goat, lamb, or beef. The Senegalese version (not part of the culinary showdown) uses fish. Between Ghana and Nigeria it’s a competitive recipe, so think West African Top Chef.

Intrigued by the story, I searched for the video and found it online. It’s quirky and fun, and a little mysterious. Why are those guys dressed up as women? Folks are shown on the up-and-up, driving a 6-series BMW convertible.

I had fun with this, and I hope you do too. For those of you interested in trying the dish, here is the Ghanian vegetarian recipe. And the competing Nigerian version:

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Tijuana’s Youth Orchestra: Bach, Not Banda, Mahler, Not Mariachi

April, 7th 2016

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I know about El Sistema and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, where Gustavo Dudamel got his training. I also know about his work with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of LA, something Dudamel was behind creating. Both El Sistema and YOLA give inner city kids a way off the streets into the world of classical music.

With Venezuela in turmoil,  the future of El Sistema, funded by oil revenue, may be jeopardized. It seems, however, that like a lesser-known youth orchestra in Tijuana may have a bright future. You don’t typically associate classical music with Tijuana, but the Tijuana Youth Orchestra gives the lie to that assumption.

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The story begins in January 1991, when the Soviet Union was breaking up. Eduardo Garcia Barrios was studying conducting in Moscow at the time. Barrios and his musician colleagues wanted to start a youth orchestra somewhere; that somewhere turned out to be a world away, in sunny Baja, Mexico. Barrios, along with a Russian harpist, Elena Mashkovtseva, moved across the globe from icy Russia to Baja, and founded the Baja California Orchestra for adults. The enterprising Barrios also founded REDES 2025, a program to train at-risk young people to become classical performers. In a Independent Producer’s Project feature, he told journalist Sam Quinones, “Music has this power. To play music you need discipline, to understand your body. It’s 120 kids doing one thing at the same time…it would be cheaper to make football teams, but music provides something different, spiritual order.”

Those words could have come from the much more famous Gustavo Dudamel. Both men, however, are doing the same thing: transforming young lives with the power of music.

Listen here to the NPR / KCRW feature. And watch a clip of the Tijuana Youth Orchestra — it’s a big orchestra, not as big as the Simón Bolivar, but big nevertheless. Have a look:

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

toms

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Musical DNA Goes Everywhere Today

February 25th, 2016

James Brown’s 1968 hit “Say it Out Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” not only became a #1 R&B hit, the anthem for the Black Power movement, but also inspired new pride among countless Africans in newly-independent nations that had just become free of colonial power.  Hits like this were heard via the Voice of America radio, which broadcast from Gibraltar throughout Africa with the great Cameroonian host Georges Collinet, now @ Afropop Worldwide.

With social media and the internet, music travels around the world even faster.  Here are two examples of hit songs reaching artists and audiences far away:   a reggae cover of Adele’s “Hello” from the Solomon Islands:  never mind the bad lip synching:

An even better version is by this Korean student, for whom English is a second language,  but it’s weird that the guitarist isn’t showing.  Nevertheless, she really must have studied hard because she nails it:

Finally, a Peruvian teenager sings Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in the Quechua language of indigenous Peruvians:

Finally, an Arabic version of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid, by two Lebanese artists, Jean Marie Riachi and Abir Nehme, who sings the lyrics).

Although some might consider such covers to be English-language musical hegemony, I feel that such covers help spread musical DNA all over, revealing some amazing young talent as well.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Apollonian v. Dionysian Music Experience

January 28th, 2016

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The other day, while listening to KCRW’s weekday program, Morning Becomes Eclectic, I was listening to a new Coldplay song called “Major Minus”, a big and absorbing musical tapestry that you can get lost in. I also thought about the film premiere of the Electric Daisy Carnival on Hollywood Boulevard the other night, where Kaskade and Jason Bentley were deejaying and the crowd went over the edge.  Several people got hurt but most had a great time.

Then I saw a picture taken the other day at the El Rey performance of the punk rockers Pink Eyes, where the lead singer was handing the microphone over to an ecstatic fan held aloft  in the mosh pit.

It occurred to me that all three musical items, the Coldplay song, the Pink Eyes show, The Electric Daisy Carnival were modern day versions of the Dionysian concept from Greek mythology that was revived by Nietzsche’s book The Birth of Tragedy.

Let me explain: According to Greek mythology, both Dionysus and Apollo are songs of the über god Zeus. Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, and intoxication. Dance.  Body. Music.

Apollo is cerebral: the god of the sun, reason, and dreams. Head music. Music to meditate or levitate by.

I listen to a lot of classical music and jazz. Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy, Coltrane, Miles Davis. Also tropical latin music by Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Celia Cruz, and others. I like dancing to Latin music, but have to remember various steps and combinations moves. And as listeners to my KCRW shows know, I love the Brazilians too: Jobim, Dori Caymmi, Gal Costa, and many others.

I guess my preferences run more to the Apollonian. I sit in my living room, enjoy a glass of wine, and focus my listening on these artists regularly. I sit still in the sweet spot, focus on the music, and absorb the beauty.

The Electric Daisy Carnival, Kaskade, electronic music, the Coldplay song, raves, mosh pits are a collective flight into ecstasy, where people happily leave their normal senses behind and become engulfed in music. Ecstasy, after all, means “out of body”. It can and does get wild. That’s the essence of the Dionysian experience.

Apollonian involves stillness and thinking. Dionysian involves movement, dancing, individual and collective trance and ecstasy. The later sufi works of John Coltrane are a combination of both—works like A Love Supreme and Ascension seek closer union with the Divine. Ditto for works of the late qawwali (qawwali=sufi music from Pakistan) singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

I guess I enjoy both musical experiences, but my musical lifestyle tends to be more Apollonian than Dionysian. Which one defines your musical preference?

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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