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The new status symbol?
Contemporary Iranian American art
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Lalé Welsh Shahparaki
December 28, 2006

One of the complaints I’d always heard about Iranians is that while they’d gladly spend $5,000 on the latest Italian handbag, they’d balk at spending anywhere near that amount on art.   And while it makes me squirm, it’s true in part: we Iranians love our name brand fashions at any cost, we’d rather drive an Old BMW rather than a new Toyota, we bootleg CD’s we love almost as homage to the artists we’re stealing from, and I’ve seen my share of fake “Louis” at parties ladies! Yet we come by it honestly.

For thirty years, we had a Royal Family we idolized and they idolized the West. We learned to gamble, drink and ski, primp and preen, wear Prada, drive Benzes, and boy can we hold our own in Pairs, Milan, and even Vegas -- And I love that about us!  Because at our best, we assimilate well plus we have our rich culture that gives us depth. But we were never taught to collect original art or to celebrate the individual artist which is a crying shame.

However, we’ve had another 30 years of first hand assimilation in the best of what the West has to offer, and it shows.  Increasingly, at the homes of more enlightened, elite Iranians who are satiated, almost bored with the quest for material wealth, one sees a tremendous homage to art for art’s sake, and I’m not talking about carpets and miniatures which is a given, but about honest to goodness, edgy contemporary art, often by Iranian American artists.

If there was ever evidence of a hunger towards that trend, the Beyond Persia exhibit which concluded last week in the Bay Area serves as proof.    In an unprecedented showing of Art lovers at Gallery One in San Francisco, a group of seven Iranian American Artists, and a handful of young Iranian filmmakers displayed their work for 5 days, and the community came out in droves to support and yes, buy the art >>> See photos

“I had no idea that this was such a large and supportive community” said Pepe Adriazola, the Gallery’s owner, and a new fan of Iranian American art.  “This was by far one of the best attended shows that we’ve ever seen at Gallery One and we’re excited to sponsor more Iranian art exhibits in conjunction with Beyond Persia”. According to post show information, an overwhelming number of the inquiries from Iranian and non-Iranian Art collectors alike have come in for Amir Salamat and Shiva Pakdel, who have been retained by popular demand as “resident artists” at Gallery One, and we congratulate them.   

Indeed the turn out on the December 8th Opening Night was jaw-dropping.  Beyond Persia had optimistically predicted 300 attendees and catered the event accordingly, yet “we were ran out of appetizers by 7PM!” said Jaleh Etemad, an artist at the show.  But the people kept coming, the wine flowed, and the art got sold.  Amir Salamat, whose larger more complicated paintings were priced highest in the $3-4,000 range (along with Simin Meykadeh’s) sold several pieces, and Shiva Pakdel whose popular and affordable Qajar images on wood, has had to take back-orders!  Even Shahla Motamed who can be quoted as saying she did “not want to sell but only display” her depictions of Persian Gardens or “Baaghs”, was persuaded to part with more than just a few at about $2,000 each.

So is this a new trend in the Iranian American sub-culture?  The answer seems to be a resounding yes.  Because to determine dominant ideology among a group like this, you can’t just look at the elite.  You have to look at the every day Joe (or Javad) and ask, will he spend 5% of his annual income on an original piece of art by a fellow Iranian that can bring a lifetime of pleasure, or would he rather put it towards the late model Z8? If the answer is the painting, he’s an enlightened art lover. If the answer is why not both? He’s very likely my homeboy (my Ham-Shahri) and I’m proud of him.  

For more information about the artists featured in Beyond Persia December’s exhibit, and for upcoming Iranian American film, concerts, and art festivals visit, and sign up for the art newsletter or to submit art for review.

To view and/or purchase the works of Amir Salamat and Shiva Pakdel, please visit Gallery One, at One Embarcadero (2nd Floor)  in San Francisco. Comment


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