By Sheila Eppolito
Pouya Afshar, assistant professor of art and design, has lived his life in two parts.
For the first 16 years, he lived in Iran, soaking up its rich history, Farsi language and devotion to oral storytelling. Then, after immigrating with his family to Los Angeles, he spent the next 16 years immersed in the American experience, in the fast-paced heart of the entertainment industry, before earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in animation from the California Institute of Arts and University of California Los Angeles respectively.
Now the animator, art director, character designer, video artist, painter and professor is calling on his dual experience – and significant artistic talent – to generate conversation in Iran about serious issues like graft, sexism, drug abuse, cultural identity, the role of technology and the treatment of Afghan refugees through a lighthearted animated series, “Rostam in Wonderland,” currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and available online.
“My students ask me how I can be so happy, with so much energy. I tell them it’s because I leave it all on the canvas.”
“My students ask me how I can be so happy, with so much energy,” says Afshar. “I tell them it’s because I leave it all on the canvas.”
In the five-part series, Afshar and the P[ART] Collective draw attention to serious issues, and, more importantly, get conversation going. The series stars Rostam, the mythical hero of the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, a figure widely recognized in Iran.
“For thousands of years, Iranians gathered stories and kept them alive by telling them to every generation,” says Afshar. “We are telling stories, too, but through modern means that allow people who might not otherwise have the chance to talk about issues the chance to do so.”
The five individual segments profile the character’s encounters in a world completely different from his own. Throughout the series, Rostam is forced to reconcile his own traditions and experiences with cultural complications, technological advances and new ideologies permeating Iranian life.
“This project uses contemporary media to talk about what’s going on in Iran today,” says Afshar. “By releasing the episodes online, people can speak their minds, as there is cover in social media.”
The series is the latest of Afshar’s work under the [P]Art Collective, founded in 2010 in Iran to create art that “intervenes in society.”
“Collective’s mission is to exchange ideas, raise social awareness and practice democracy and freedom through dialogue,” says Afshar.
“For me, art is a filter,” he adds. “It helps me understand and deal with issues.”
Afshar has been with the university for two years, and teaches courses in 2D and 3D animation, character and layout design, composition and motion graphics and storyboarding.
“Rotsam in Wonderland” runs through 2018 at the LACMA.