A family affair

The story of the Sinai family

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For the first time in Iran, eight members of the Sinai family hold a collaborative exhibition in Tehran under the title of The World, Where to I Adhere. The exhibition showpieces not only a range of interesting works, but also the story of a large artist family.

When there is an artist father on top and two artist mothers standing on either side of him, you as their child have no excuse not to become an artist – even if you are studying Quantum Physics! Art runs through your blood; you are breathing it and from the moment you were born (or even before that), the people living in your house have painted, sculptured, played music, made films and written screenplays. So there is no other way. You have to follow this sense and do like the other members of your family: create.

This is precisely what daughters Yasmin, Samira and Alma, and son Sam, have done: like their dad, film maker Khosrow Sinai, and his two wives, Farah Ossouli and Gizella Varga-Sinai, they all make art. And, the creative inheritance does not stop at two generations. Yasmin’s 18 years old son Massih Parsaie is now last in line of the Sinai family artists. Together, these parents and children are now showing their works at Tehran’s Silk Road Gallery in an exhibition running from 31 December 2010 to 18 January 2011.

The exhibition gathers about 40 artworks including painting, sculpture, photography, installations and video art, all from the three Sinai generations. It reveals the continuity of art in one single family, ranging from 70 years old grandfather Khosrow Sinai to teenager grandson Massih Parsaie, and displays both solo and joint pieces from its creative members.

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Khosrow Sinai was born in 1941 in the town of Sari in northern Iran. He is one of the country’s most acclaimed directors and has won numerous national and international awards including at the Fajr and Karlovy Vary film festivals. He was granted the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his documentary film The Lost Requiem in 2008. Other successful feature-length productions include Viva, In the Alleys of Love, and The Bride of Fire.

At The World, where to I adhere, he presents a 12-minute video installation named Biography, telling the story of master Iranian sculptor Jazeh Tabatabai (1931-2008). Sinai explains: “At first, I started my artistic works by composing poetry. I had two options: living only for creating art, or having a beautiful life filled with art. I preferred the second one. This way, I distanced myself from jealousy and emulation in order to live a better life through creating. Luckily, both of my partners are artists, and my own children also grew up in an artistic atmosphere. But there were never any pressure to follow a specific form of art. My kids were always free to choose whatever they wanted for themselves.”

Sinai’s two wives, Gizella Varga-Sinai, born in 1944 in Hungary, and Farah Ossouli, born in 1953 in Zanjan in north-western Iran, display solo 11 paintings and one joint artwork. The common piece is a huge painting of 3 × 1.5 meters with Iranian and Hungarian motifs and elements juxtaposed. Before this exhibition, it was displayed both at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art and in Paris and Budapest.

Varga-Sinai and Ossouli’s inspiration for this painting came from a poem of the great Iranian poet Rumi. The story goes: “Malek Zaman, the queen of time and one of Rumi’s special disciples, asked a famous painter to draw Rumi’s portrait. The painter took his brush, glanced at the poet, and began to paint. He graciously painted a portrait, but as soon as he took a second glance at the poet, he saw a different face. So, he did a second painting with different face on another piece of paper; only to find out that next time he looked up, Rumi had changed again. This way, many portraits were painted, leaving the painter in bewilderment. Finally, he broke his brush and fainted.” Rumi composed a sonnet on this occasion which the commencing stanza that reads like this: Oh! What a nondescript creature am I! When will I be seen as I am?

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Inspired by this, these two artists – one from the East and the other from the West – created a piece where the perception of two different worlds was at the center. They also open up for the possibility of a third sphere, which can be created by either integrating the two worlds or abandoning them both. For Varga-Sinai and Ossouli, this is a favorite dwelling place in their art. They use allegories rooted in the art, culture and societies of both the East and the West. The cross for instance: central to the civilization of ancient Persia and with great symbolic significance in Christian culture. There is also the octagonal star, which plays a unique role in the Islamic art and traditional tiling, and the tree, which considered holy and symbolizing wisdom in Iran. The artists also mix the handwritings of Persian, Hungarian, Latin and Transylvanian languages, and employ Western ornamental elements in oriental forms. Finally, at the center of the artwork are female angels sitting between two crosses, signifying the status of being a mother and an artist.

The young generation of the family also displays meaningful work. Oldest daughter Yasmin Sinai, born in 1969, contributes to the exhibition with a real life sized sculpture of herself titled Dream of Flight. Samira Sinai, born in 1970 and living in Hungary, shows the video installation Flags of My Two Lands. 24 years old Sam Sinai, currently studying in the United States, displays a collection of photos, and youngest daughter Alma, a 21 years old art student  in the United States, exhibits her nature paintings. Finally, 18 years old grandson Massih, who is studying cinema in Hungary, exhibits a 3 minutes video installation about himself.

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The lives and works of the Sinai family are rich and diverse, and this current exhibition presents an opportunity for those interested in their art to meet the different family members and experience a collection of their work.

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