A ‘Safe Haven’ for an Artist from Iran

Hadi Nasiri (Photo via The Brooklyn Ink)

These days, Hadi Nasiri, 32, makes art and studies film at the New School while also cooking the dishes of his native Iran. It may seem like an “idyllic” life, “but it is also a life in limbo,” writes Isobel Cockerell in a Brooklyn Ink profile of the outspoken artist “in the throes of his asylum application.” He is the first artist in the New York City Safe Haven Prototype, a residency program based in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, that gives sanctuary to artists who face persecution and was started after President Trump’s inauguration.

Along with legal and immigration support, Safe Haven helps artists navigate the notoriously murky waters of the New York art world. Ashley Tucker describes how one of the greatest frustrations for artists coming to the city after facing persecution was that they are invariably lumped into group shows simply as “Artists in Exile.” Galleries sometimes view them as an edgy way to improve their institutional image.  “Most people aren’t interested in being framed that way. They’re not victims. They’re artists. It’s a very exploitative approach,” Tucker says.

When Nasiri arrived in California in 2012 for a residency placement that was going to last for three months, he realized that given what he was making in the U.S., he could not ensure a safe return to Iran – “I had done too many crazy things,” he says. In Iran, the artist had been imprisoned as a result of his work but was released. Still, there remained the ongoing uncertainty of not knowing if he was under surveillance.

The Iranian surveillance state meant that an artist could never live and work in peace. “I had no idea how much they knew about me,” Nasiri said. “They wait for the right time to jump on you and make use of you.” But still, it was home.

Cockerell describes some of those “crazy things” Nasiri made:

On the wall above Nasiri’s bed hangs a large canvas painting of a giant penis beside a Campbell soup can spurting dark liquid. The testicles are covered in Arabic script that reads “In the Name of God.”

Before coming to the U.S., Nasiri did a performance in Saudi Arabia about which the Safe Haven Artist Prototype co-founder Sebastian de Santamaria said, “It was unbelieveable he didn’t get caught.” Find out what Nasiri did, why his pieces have been shown only in public spaces so far, and many other details in the full profile at The Brooklyn Ink.

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