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Sohrab Mohebbi on the Iranian Modernist Bahman Mohasses

‘Every Wednesday, we would drink and watch Italian masterpieces – Fellini, Pasolini, Visconti – without subtitles’

Portrait of Bahman Mohasses. Courtesy: Rooja Mohassessy

When I graduated from high school in 1998, I had no intention of going to college. By chance, a friend of my mother learned that the artist Bahman Mohasses had returned to Iran and needed an assistant. Mohasses was a legend of Iranian modernism and had lived most of his life in Rome. When he returned to Iran, as he put it, ‘even his barber had died’.

I didn’t do much, mainly kept him company, made coffee, found him bootleg alcohol, drunk-hung some paintings and listened to Sibelius, Stravinsky and Michael Jackson. Mohasses was an aficionado of Italian new wave cinema and had a large collection of VHS tapes in his residence in Rome. It was, of course, haram to bring these obscenities to Iran, so he came up with an ingenious idea: he unscrewed all of the shells, took the tapes out, stashed them all in several tins of sweets and flew with them to Tehran, just before the Persian New Year, claiming they were ‘souvenirs’. My task was to go to Toopkhaneh Square – where you could find everything from ‘chicken’s milk to human soul’, as they say – and buy tens of empty VHS shells.

Every Wednesday, we would drink and watch Italian masterpieces – Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti – without subtitles. Mohasses would explain the plot and wouldn’t say a word until the credits rolled. He knew all the lines by heart. I didn’t speak a word of Italian.

Sohrab Mohebbi is curator at SculptureCenter, New York, USA. 

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019
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