An award-winning writer, Joobin Bekhrad (BBA, MSc.) is the founder and Editor of REORIENT (www.reorientmag.com), a publication celebrating contemporary Middle Eastern arts and culture. He has contributed to such publications as the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, The Guardian, Aesthetica, Christie’s, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, Canvas, and Songlines, been interviewed by media outlets such as Newsweek and the CBC, and seen his articles translated into Persian, Arabic, Italian, Russian, and Chinese, among other languages. Writing about visual art, literature, music, and film, many of his articles focus on themes such as rock and roll, Orientalism, and the experience of being caught between two cultures. In 2015, Joobin was granted an International Award for Art Criticism (IAAC) by London’s Royal College of Art. He is also the author of a new translation of Omar Khayyam’s poems from Persian into English, the foreword to Afro-Iran, and a forthcoming novella.
FBB. Talk to us about your daily program as the founder and editor of Reorient Magazine.
I’m a morning person, so I try to wake up as early as possible; a cup of hot Turkish coffee or Persian chai also helps me stay awake! I try to finish all my writing by lunchtime, as I after lunchtime, I focus on tasks that require less mental energy and concentration (e.g. checking emails, getting in touch with writers and organisations, etc.). In the afternoon, if the weather’s good, I usually take a bit of a break; otherwise, I continue working until around 6-7-ish in a new environment (e.g. a bar or café), as it helps break the monotony of continuously working in one place. At around 8, I begin winding down with a bit of whiskey and music, and I usually end the night with an art house film.
FBB. We love ReOrient Magazine and have been following it for years. Tell us the story behind the magazine as well as your unique vision behind it.
Thank you! Well, I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I had been thinking about founding a publication for quite some time. As I’m in love with Iran and the Middle East, it only seemed natural that my publication would deal with the culture of the region. The name doesn’t have anything to do with Said’s Orientalism (and his notions of it), as many think; but it does certainly refer to the ‘Orient’ and wanting to change attitudes towards it – both outside and within it. Reorient provides narratives about the Middle East alternative to the ones we usually encounter; we’re not saying that our story is the story (it can’t be, especially as we don’t deal with issues such as politics and religion), but it is certainly a story – and one people need to know about, at that.
FBB. You have recently started a printed edition of your magazine. Where can we find the magazine nowadays?
The printed edition was a special issue published for last year’s edition of Contemporary Istanbul. Our focus has, and always will remain online, although we do plan to produce more printed editions in the future. Publishing online allows us to reach far more viewers than with print, as well as present content in an entirely different way (e.g. with an array of media). The two (i.e. online and print) aren’t substitutes for each other, but the former certainly holds more promise for us.
FBB. Tell us about your background as a writer. What projects are in the pipeline?
I don’t have any formal training or education as a writer. In fact, I remember that in high school, my English literature classes actually turned me off writing for a very long time. My ‘education’ has come in the form of reading as much as I can (about certain subjects, of course), and writing as much as I can. I have been influenced by certain writers, as well as particular subjects, such as Iranian history, religion, and mythology; these all come to the fore when I sit down to write. I’m not thinking about how to structure an essay, or if I’ve used enough metaphors, or anything like that; I just begin writing, and things come naturally.
A book (I don’t like labelling my writing; let’s just call it a story) I finished writing last October will finally be out this summer; it’s beyond my control now. I have to see what the publishers do. I’m getting ready to start writing my second book as well, and might also put together a collection of essays and prose pieces I’ve recently written. In addition to writing for Reorient, I’ve also recently contributed stories to a variety of other cultural publications, and would really like to put these together in a single volume, as they all share common themes (e.g. Iranian culture, identity, migration, etc.).
FBB. Talk to us about your latest partners – Art Maison.
Art Maison is a new nonprofit organisation whose sole mandate is the promotion of contemporary Iranian artists. We plan on supporting contemporary Iranian artists living and working both in Iran, as well as in the diaspora, through the form of residencies, workshops, and scholarships.
FBB. We know you work very closely with artclvb – another partner of ReOrient. Tell us more about that.
artclvb is Reorient’s sister company. The two are connected, but entirely separate. Reorient is a largely non-commercial entity, while artclvb does aim to make a profit. In a nutshell, artclvb promotes and sells the works of select contemporary artists from Iran and the Iranian diaspora. We do this both through our website, as well as in the form of private events in Toronto and elsewhere (e.g. we recently held an exhibition in Beirut).
FBB. What do you think about the Iranian art scene today and the direction it is going?
I’m very optimistic, and have good reason to be, as all the news I’ve been hearing lately has been great. New foundations are sprouting in Iran to provide support to artists in the country as well as non-Iranians abroad. The art scene is also becoming more diverse; Wim Delvoye is having a solo exhibition at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (he also plans to open a gallery in Kashan), and I recently heard about an exhibition of contemporary Arab art that’s being held in a Tehran gallery, which is really a first for the art scene.
Of course, whenever I visit Tehran, I’m astounded by the quality of the works that young artists are producing, as well as the curation of their shows and the venues they take place in. The art scene in Iran is absolutely amazing, and of course, we shouldn’t forget the massive contributions contemporary Iranian artists (and art patrons) have made to other locales such as Dubai.
FBB. What would be your advice to Iranian artists today.
To young artists, I’d say 1: find yourself a good representative to protect you from all the ‘wolves’ (as we call them) out there, and 2: if you can’t do that, then at least don’t be a ‘wolf’ yourself. It’s easy to be taken advantage of in the art world (this isn’t particular to Iran), and artists should really focus on what they know best – producing art – instead of trying to play businessman (or woman). At the same time, though, artists should practice what they preach. You don’t know how many times I’ve spoken with artists (sometimes during their own exhibitions in gallery) who’ve told me not to speak with the gallery owner, but themselves. Such quick-and-dirty tactics to make a sale here and there really aren’t going to get one anywhere in the grand scheme of things. What’s important is building relationships, whether they’re between artists and representatives, or artists and galleries. An artist might think they’re incredibly smart if they circumvent gallery owners and agents – the ones investing money, time, and energy into promoting their works – but they’re harming themselves more than anyone else.
Other than that … Iranian artists, keep doing what you’ve been doing. Continue to make us all proud.