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Art is truth
A new book captures the best of Iranian contemporary art


Bruce Bahmani
January 2, 2007

Being 18 in Tehran during the seventies, obviously afforded those of us who were there at that time, a rather conflicted sense of sensibility. At once we were faced with the rapidly advancing modern western way of life, while the charm and quaint 3rd worldliness of Iran was still prevalent.

This conflict was evident all too often, all too visually obvious. Partly due to the active emphasis Farah Pahlavi put on driving Iranian art towards the future, (maybe bringing a Warhol exhibit to Tehran was a bit too much too soon?) at times even more avant even than the avant-garde. Good or bad, right or wrong, this resulted in the awakening in Iranian artists of a sense of design and a means by which they could express their feelings, without the inherent risks of doing so.

That was then, this is now.

Recently Colleen, a noted American designer, gave me a book for Christmas. The note read, "Hope you like this, this is really good stuff and is getting a lot of attention here". Of course anytime we are noted by the noted, it makes sense to see what the hell they are talking about. The "Oh God, what have we done this time?", kicks in pretty quickly nowadays.

The book, New Visual Culture of Modern Iran by Reza Abedini and Hans Wolbers (Mark Batty Publisher 2006) is a recent incarnation of what began in the seventies during the Pahlavi era. It is a collection of posters, graphic design, and mixed art; a seemingly random yet right on the real surface view into the hidden chambers of modern day Iran's sub-conscious. I was glad to find that now, as then, the secret messages of resistance, objection, and truth were still alive and well within the psyche of the contemporary Iranian artist >>> See samples

Not that we should have doubted that in the least.

It is always interesting to me how it is art that seems to be the only essence able to capture truth and preserve it of all to see.  Politicians, regimes, and even entire countries come and go, but the art always remains to tell the story. So is this collection of what is on the mind of Iran. The Iran of today, visible subliminally, and at times right there in front for everyone to see.

One can see the fear of identity, of being identified, in the numerous faceless examples and metaphors. Just the hands in some, and the repeated symbol of empty tattered shoes in others. And the constant oppression of women within modern Iranian society is all too apparent. I don't know if Abedini a noted Iranian designer and Wolbers a creative director from the Netherlands, the team who put this book together, picked these metaphors and symbols specifically, or if this is all there is. Either way the message is pretty clear. To me, at least.

The other theme I found prevalent was the symbolic stifling or choking of words, often depicted in a tangled mess of calligraphy, which you could take to represent the repression of thought, expression and speech. Or just the general uselessness of too much talk. I found these most profound.

What you can definitely see is that it isn't an obviously happy or optimistic period. Black and white or muted earth tones abound in this palette. When you do see color it certainly draws attention, almost an angry response, which again I wonder if that was the point.

Maybe I am wrong, maybe I am reading too much into it, maybe my lens is too tinted or tainted. Either way, it is a record nonetheless of what is on the minds of modern day Iranian artists, reporting that the truth is once again alive and well inside modern day Iran and recording our history like it always has. For better or worse. It's good to see you again my friends. Comment

For letters section
To Behrouz Bahmani

Behrouz Bahmani


Picturing Iran
Art, Society and Revolution
by Shiva Balaghi and Lynn Gumpert


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