Joobin is the editor of REORIENT, an online magazine celebrating contemporary Middle Eastern arts and culture. He’s also the marketing and communications director of ARTCLVB. I’ve never met Joobin but we’ve emailed back-and-forth about 30 times this week. He’s a super interesting and sweet guy. We talked about running an online magazine, Middle Eastern contemporary art, misconceptions about the region, and T. Rex (of course). This is a good one.
01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?
I always like to think I’ll wake up at precisely the same time I set my alarm to, but I end up turning my phone off and spending half an hour or so half-dreaming, and half-awake. Afterwards, I make myself a nice cup of strong Turkish coffee (or steaming hot Persian chai) and flip open my laptop with my fingers crossed that it’s going to be another good day. For breakfast, I usually down a glass of milk; my parents told me I had to when I was a kid, and the routine has been with me ever since. The thought of eating anything in the morning – I can’t bear it.
02. Where were you born? What did you originally want to do with your life?
I was born by the foothills of the Alborz Mountains in Tehran towards the end of the Iran-Iraq War. After high-school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and just played things by the ear. Well, I did have this romantic dream of starting a rock and roll band and being a hotshot guitarist. Keith Richards even gave me some advice. But other things happened, I guess.
03. I first heard about you from REORIENT’s Instagram. What exactly is REORIENT? What are you trying to accomplish with a Middle Eastern themed online magazine?
I’m happy to hear that! Unfortunately many of our Instagram followers don’t know we actually run a publication, and that the account is only a supplement. REORIENT is a publication celebrating the contemporary arts and culture of the Middle East and the surrounding region (I’ve yet to come up with a concise and accurate term!): Iran, the Arab world, Turkey, the Caucasus, North Africa, and Central Asia. We’re trying to turn people on, non-Middle Easterners and Middle Easterners alike, to the amazing work that artists, writers, filmmakers, and creatives in general are doing in the region and in the diaspora. Unfortunately, you hear a lot of bullshit about places like Iran and countries in the Arab world these days, as well as encounter all this negativity and animosity towards a region so diverse and culturally rich that many think is just one homogeneous, hostile region.
04. You also run the website ARTCLVB. Can you tell me a little about that? What sort of artists do you promote?
Artclvb is what we started out with; it was my father’s idea to start a company that would highlight the work of contemporary Middle Eastern artists. Even though many think that I’m mainly interested in visual art, I got interested in it much later than I did in other art forms like music and literature. I began helping my father out on the side, and after learning about the incredible work of Iranian, Arab, and Turkish artists, I moved back to Toronto from London to work with him full-time.
While we originally began promoting the works of Iranian, Arab, and Turkish artists, we’ve narrowed down our focus to Iranian ones now, for obvious reasons. Our connections amongst Iranian artists, and within the country itself are much stronger than they are elsewhere. As well, there isn’t any language barrier for us when it comes to working with Iranian artists, and in general, it’s a lot easier for us to work with them and help them achieve their goals.
05. I’ve noticed a much larger presence of Middle Eastern art over the past couple years in places like Art Basel Miami Beach. Hayv Kahraman is to me one of the most interesting painters working today. Do you feel that there is an emerging desire for these artists in America and Europe?
Hayv is great; we actually featured her on REORIENT a few months ago. There certainly has been a growing desire for contemporary Middle Eastern art, but still, the majority of buyers of this sort of art are, well…Middle Eastern. There’s a bit of activity in cities like London, New York, and Dubai especially, but elsewhere, there’s a lot of work that remains to be done. I think as a result of the improving relations between the States and Iran, we’re going to be hearing even more about Iranian art, which is amazing; minds will be blown. Really, things like this take time; they don’t happen overnight. Education is also imperative. Just because there are lots of wealthy Iranians in Toronto, it doesn’t mean they necessarily know anything about contemporary Iranian art. They need to be introduced to it in a systematic and gradual way for them to be able to develop any sort of real appreciation for it.
06. Why the Middle East? Most Americans barely travel outside their home state, let alone to that part of the world. Could I travel to a place like Tehran as a tourist to just eat food and check out some art galleries safely?
Iran has always been my love, as well as the Middle East in general. You start connecting the dots; in digging deeper into Iranian history, you unmistakably hit India, given the shared origins of the Iranian and northern Indian peoples. I also started doing intensive research on my own about Turkic culture and Arab culture. The region fascinates me; it’s absolutely amazing. Of course, being from it has played a huge factor in my interest. After I visited Iran for the first time again as a teenager, life was never really the same.
Oh, absolutely. If you ask me, Iran is one of the safest countries in the world anyone can travel to; and I’m not saying that because I’m Iranian. Actually, you’d have an even more amazing experience as an American. Hospitality is of utmost importance to Iranians, and we try our very best to make sure our guests have an amazing time anywhere they go (e.g. at our homes, etc.). Not surprisingly, I’ve been reading loads of articles written by Americans and Europeans who have noted that they’ve felt far more safe in Iran than in the States or other places in Europe, such as the UK.
As my father always says, Iran is foodie heaven. I’m a vegetarian, so I can’t enjoy all those sumptuous kebabs and other meat-based dishes, but you’ll wonder where they’d been all your life. Noosh-e jan! The gallery scene is also out-of-this-world. Tehran has an incredibly vibrant and active contemporary art scene, and whenever I visit the sheer quality of the work that artists are doing there leaves me awestruck. We have our own auction now – The Tehran Auction – and, as you may have heard, the most important collection of contemporary Western art outside the States and Europe. We live with the arts in Iran, and contemporary visual art hasn’t been an exception.
07. What do you feel is the one thing most misunderstood about the Middle East? If you could change the public perception of one thing, what would it be?
Allow me to point out two things: for one, many think the Middle East is, as I mentioned, one large homogeneous region. It’s anything but. There are countless ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, cuisines, and peoples there. Sure, due to geographic proximity, there are common cultural elements amongst these people (e.g. in Iran and Armenia, for instance). However, people sometimes speak of the Middle East as if it’s just one large Arab and Muslim country.
Secondly, many in Europe and the States think that by nature, we’re inimical towards Europeans, Americans, and Jews. We don’t hate people; we have a bone to pick with certain governments and their policies. This is precisely the case when it comes to Israel. Did you know that Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East (and that Iranian Jews are incredibly proud of being Iranian and love Iran), and that Cyrus the Great is mentioned in Jewish scriptures and the Bible as a saviour? As well, did you know that President Rouhani recently erected a monument honouring the Jewish martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War? The mainstream media is trying their best to show that by nature, we simply hate certain people and their way of life. It’s absurd.
08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?
Well, I just finished writing a novella, which I’m in the process of publishing. I’m quite happy that I’m done with writing it, and that all those thoughts that had been whirling around in my head are out on paper; now, I just have to put it out there. It’s a book about a teenager in Tehran who’s bored out of his mind one summer, and has only two loves: the girl next door, and his electric guitar.
09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)
I can’t say there’s anything in particular that’s inspiring me right now; I’m continuously inspired by things like books, music albums, and films, which I consume like a junkie. I’ve been collecting and reading travelogues by European writers who visited the Middle East, and that’s put me in a certain frame of mind, I think. As well, during the process of writing my novella, I found myself listening to unhealthy amounts of Roxy Music and T. Rex. Right now, I’m quite digging a mix I was asked to make for the fashion label Pull and Bear.
10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind?