Iranian Contemporary Art

Iranian Contemporary Art stands as a vibrant tapestry woven from a rich history of artistic tradition and a dynamic present marked by innovation and experimentation.

The quarterly, Herfeh: Honarmand, was published in Tehran in 2002. That is, about 60 years have passed since the arrival of modern art in Iran. Like many non-western cultures, the visual culture of Iranians got confused and changed after encountering Western modernism. However, the situation of Iranian artists was more complicated. They had a rich and ancient image culture of several thousand years; and continuing it, renewing it, putting it aside, or creating fusion arts were the solutions they chose while facing Western art. Creating modern art that is free from identity ties on the one hand, and creating a style of modernism that wanted to remain Iranian on the other hand, were the two main approaches chosen by modernist Iranian artists.

However, at the time of the publication of the first issue, we could see that Iranian art was going this way and that way under the influence of the Western waves, and every trend was grounded by the arrival of a new style and method from the West. So apparently it was time for a critical review of the foundations of Iranian art. We did not accept exotic readings of Iranian art, nor did we define ourselves in a demanding and confrontational position with the West, like Edward Said.


Connecting to the Mainstream Endpoint, with Masoud Saadeddin

Kazem Chalipa - Resistance

Why We Can’t Have “Contemporary” Art / Iman Afsarian

Bahman Jalali - 2002

From the Iranian Identity to the Global History; The Paths in front of Persian art

هویت، هنر و هویت، هویت در هنر ایران، هنر معاصر ایران، شعر، پیکاسو

In Search of Identity / Rouin Pakbaz

In different issues of the magazine, we analyzed the fundamental concepts of Western art, such as modernism, postmodernism, and contemporary art, and translated important articles by authors such as Baudelaire, Clement Greenberg, Linda Knocklin, Rosalind Krauss, Arthur Danto, John Berger, and others into Persian. We tried to avoid the blind imitation and following of Western artistic trends by knowing the philosophical foundations of Western art.

In the special issue “Under the other’s view” we criticized the influence of the Western view on Iranian art. In a special issue about “Chinese art”, we tried to identify the contemporary art of an Eastern country with a non-western perspective.

We prepared and published the special issue “Art and Time” with the idea that each human civilization has called “time” in a different way to understand its place in the world, and basically, the understanding of the consciousness of each people and nation depends on understanding the meaning of fundamental categories such as “time” is with them. In this sense, ancient Iranian art shows a different meaning of the “collective time” of us Iranians compared to the “collective time” of Western civilization.

In the special issue “Ten Selected Artists of Iranian Art”, we surveyed Iranian visual arts activists to introduce 10 of the most prominent Iranian artists. And in another special issue titled “An Imaginary Exhibition”, we tried to choose the most important artists and the most profound and recurring themes of modern art and write about them.

We wanted to rethink ourselves; review the path we followed and defend an art that is deep, multi-layered, and concrete. In the introduction of Iranian artists, our issue was neither the approval and consideration of the Western view nor the opposition to the Western view. Representation of easy-to-reach and stereotyped identities of “Eastern” or “Middle Eastern” artists was criticized by us, and also, we were critical of the domination of the market over the art field. We liked an art that is not submissive and does not rely on popular ideas; is not a snob! And above all, it should be a rich image, not words! This thought influenced the selection of artists we introduced to Iranian students: artists such as Lucien Freud, Anthony Lopez Garcia, Yoan Eglo, Via Selmins, Anselm Kiefer, Walker Evans, Sally Mann, Martin Parr, William Eggleston, and Eva Barrett.

In the theoretical studies, we tried to reread the history of contemporary and ancient Iranian art from an internal and critical perspective and provide the basic materials for writing the history of Iranian art.

We wrote articles and reviews about hundreds of contemporary Iranian artists and we translated many articles related to the needs of the artistic community of Iran.

Our audience was the artistic community inside Iran. All articles were published in Persian. But if a Western researcher, critic, or curator wants to follow the old and new art of Iran not through clichéd ways with external and superficial readings influenced by news and politics, but if he intends to know the art of Iran from the eyes of Iranians, among our articles, he will get a lot of content and ideas. But he has to go through the difficult path of translation from Persian to English. Here you can read some examples of articles by professional artists about Iranian contemporary art.

For instance, in an article titled “Why Can’t We Have Contemporary Art?” in issue 63, Iman Afsarian endeavors to delineate the actual state of contemporary art in Iran in juxtaposition with art movements imported from the West.

Upon examining Iran’s art position in tandem with global movements, we realize that Iranian artists have always been at the forefront of the latest trends. They embraced modernism, created modern art, transitioned into postmodernism, and now lean towards contemporary art in the current era.

In his article “From the Iranian Identity to the Global History; The Paths in front of Persian artMohammad Mansour Hashemi examines the position of Iranian contemporary art on a global scale. To illustrate this, the author selects two distinct contemporary Iranian artists with varying degrees of international recognition: Behnam Mahjoubi and Hossein Zenderoudi. The article compares and contrasts their performances, highlighting how Zenderoudi’s works, like Exotic Command, attract Western attention, whereas Mahjoubi, despite his talents, remains relatively unknown in the global arena.

In issue 67, we attempt to showcase various cultural awareness regions that have somehow manifested in our contemporary art landscape. These regions appear to have seen the most traffic from contemporary Iranian artists, benefiting from and contributing to them. Some of these regions are well-known, such as “Tradition,” “Subject/Individual,” and “City,” while others form deeper layers within our art, such as the concept of “scene presentation” or “part-whole metaphor.” Poeticism constitutes one of our fundamental spiritual conditions and has been a catalyst for some of our most successful contemporary Iranian artworks.

It should be noted that Iranian Contemporary Art has experienced a fundamental transformation since 1998. Firstly, there has been a significant increase in the number of actors in this field, meaning that, on the one hand, the number of art students, educational centers, galleries, collectors, publications, and art magazines has increased in a short period. On the other hand, new professions such as exhibition curating and intermediation have found their place in the art community.

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