NICOLAS WILD’S Iranian odyssey led him to Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, which provided him with the raw materials for his latest graphic novel, ‘Silent was Zarathustra.’.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
How many people pop over to Iran and Afghanistan and live to tell the tale? Given all the negative news that gets splashed across the airwaves, print media and the virtual world, as regular as clockwork, that is a thought that would probably pass through most minds. Come to think of it, many might take the same view of a trip to this country.
Nicolas Wild not only visited both pariah countries, he actually spent quite a lot of time there – although the vast majority of his stay in that part of the world was in Afghanistan – and duly lived to tell the tale in his own inimitable way.
The 39-year-old Frenchman generally earns his keep as a graphic novel designer and illustrator and, this evening (8 p.m.), he will regale an audience at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem with stories of some of his exploits and encounters in Iran, as well as looking at the comic book art form in general. His interlocutor for the occasion is internationally renowned Belgian- born Jerusalemite comic book creator and caricaturist Michel Kichka.
The discussion will be conducted in English, and Wild will screen excerpts from some of his work. The event, which forms part of the Jerusalem Design Week, will address the topic of “popular graphic culture as a direct means of communication which bypasses political and other constraints and obstacles” and, judging by the samples of Wild’s books which have crossed my desk to date, he manages to do that with aplomb, and in a singularly laidback manner.
All told, Wild, who visited Israel twice before, spent a couple of years in Afghanistan working with an agency that engages in reconstruction and human rights. During his stay there he also popped over the border to Iran on a couple of occasions.
“It was a life changing experience for me,” says Wild. “I went there just for a week, you know, to relax and get away from life in Afghanistan,” he adds with a laugh, fully aware of the fact that not too many Westerners would consider Iran much of a getaway destination.
Wild’s second Iranian foray, in 2008, lasted over a month and provided him with the raw materials for his latest creation, Silent was Zarathustra.
“I had some Iranian friends who happened to be Zoroastrians themselves, so we traveled together,” notes Wild, adding that he went to the region with a Western mindset, but that he gradually slipped into the local milieu and got a better handle on the whys and wherefores of the cultural and social ethos.
“I had no idea, really, what was there. When I got to Kabul it was winter, and there was a lot of snow, so I spent the first month in the office. I could have been anywhere – except for hearing a bomb going off here and there.”
The snow eventually thawed, and Wild got out and about in Afghanistan, and also made his way to Iran.
In fact, Wild’s path through Iran was smoothed by a French-Iranian woman – Sophia – whom he befriended, the daughter of the well-known humanist Cyrus Yazdani who was assassinated in hitherto unexplained circumstances. Wild’s Iranian odyssey led him to Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions and an inspiration to numerous philosophers, including Nietzsche. As he encountered more and more people in Iran, the artist became immersed in Yazdani’s story, and with Sophia’s permission, he went to Geneva to study the testimonies given during the course of the assassination trial.
Silent was Zarathustra references Yazdani’s story but also sheds some light on the different layers of Iranian society and the country’s latter day cultural evolution, seasoned with a liberal helping of tongue-incheek humor.
Wild’s meandering route through the fabric of Iranian society was facilitated by his proficiency in Farsi, the principal language spoken in Iran.
Farsi is also spoken in Afghanistan, where Wild learned the rudiments of the language.
That led to some raised eyebrows in Iran, and some incredulous reactions.
“When I spoke Farsi in Iran people looked at me surprised and asked me why I speak with an Afghan accent,” he recalls, adding that he was enthralled with Iranian society, which he found to be far more complex than he’d been given to understand from the media. He was also taken with contemporary Iranian artists’ approach to aesthetics.
“I came back with a lot of design books from Iran, to show my Afghan colleagues what you can do with fonts, with Arabic letters,” Wild continues. “There is a lot of great design art in Iran.”
The latter is currently well demonstrated in the Sign from Iran poster exhibition, which opened at the Museum of Islamic Art last week. The exquisitely crafted items on show – there are 60 in total – certainly back up Wild’s opinion of current artistic exploits in Iran.
It should be a captivating experience for one and all this evening, and fascinating to gain an impression of Iran through Wild’s eyes and the work which was inspired by his time there. In fact, the members of the museum audience may find some of the topics raised in the discussion somewhat familiar.
“I met artists in Tel Aviv and Tehran,” says Wild, “and, actually, they were quite alike.”For more information: (02) 566-1291 and www.islamicart.co.il.