My very good friend Oz is the editor of BN Magazine, short for Business Network, and he has been looking to increase the arts, culture and lifestyle articles in the publication and asked me to write about something related to the Middle East or Iran. I decided to focus on Iranian art and in this link you can find the issue (number 16) and my article is on pages 56 and 57. If you don’t want to look at the nice pictures etc, below is also a transcript! Enjoy!


By Ruba Asfahani

It would be absolutely impossible to give the reader a full, comprehensive examination in to the Iranian art market and its artists in a couple of pages, but here I intend to give an overview of how far the Iranian art scene has come in a few short years, and highlight some of the top artists of Iranian nationality.

Iran has one of the richest histories of art and due to centuries of traditional art and architecture making its way across to Europe; it’s now time for painters, photographers and sculptors to really capture the attention of the Western world.

The number of galleries in Iran has continually grown over the last six or seven years since the Iranian art market in the West has flourished, because the demand from collectors has pushed for it. 2006 saw the first-ever stand-alone auction of Arab and Iranian art and in the intervening years, all major auction houses have seen an influx of Modern and Contemporary Iranian art, not just in the dedicated sales but also in the International Contemporary auctions, with inclusion from artists such as Farhad Moshiri, Y. Z. Kami, Shirin Neshat and the Haerizadeh brothers. Over the years since the very first Arab and Iranian art auction, it has always been that Iranian artists cover at least half the lots made available within the sales. This is proof of the quality and variety within “Iranian art” given that it is one country competing against at least fifteen from the rest of the Arab world.

With the continuing political instability in Iran, the amount of natives moving abroad and younger generations adding to the numbers living and working in diaspora has naturally increased, giving Iranian artists an opportunity to become synonymous with other internationally recognised artists, exhibiting together or alone, many of these are artists are no longer being classes as “Iranian artists” but merely artists who happen to have Iranian heritage. Western institutions across the world have also taken note of this shift in dialogue and taste by hosting exhibitions for Iranian artists; for example, the MOMA in New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Louvre in Paris as well as in London, Geneva and Zurich.

In regards to the current trends in the Iranian art market, it would be careless to ignore the decades of patronage Iranians have given their artist compatriots. Without them, this increase in visibility for these artists would never have happened. Collectors/educators such as Ramin Salsali, Mariam and Edward Eisler, Saeb Eigner, and Dr Farjam have pushed the exposure of both modern and contemporary Iranian artists in the West as well as in their native country. This has allowed the artists to continue evolving within their career development along the same lines as seemingly freer international artists.

Iran’s art scene before the revolution was buzzing and the collections of art were incredibly well curated and managed. It is well known that the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art has a rich array of works by artists such as Picasso, Monet, Sepehri, Warhol and Marcos Grigorian. Arguably, what is more important now is the extent to which it is reaching outside of Iran. With Neshat winning two awards for her film Women Without Men and more specialised galleries focusing on Iranian artists; Etemad in Dubai, ARTSPACE in London, AB Gallery in Zurich, Leila Heller in New York for example, the Iranian art scene has never had such incredible interest around it in the West.

The future is looking bright for Iran’s young contemporary artists. They are showing up internationally in art fairs, galleries and major institutions, further advancing the knowledge of this field. Among them are Asad Faulwell, an artist based in Los Angeles whose work has been seen in New York, London, Dubai and Zurich. Faulwell ties in his Iranian heritage with his intricate use of geometry and attention to detail, but the overall canvases are treated within the contemporary context he was brought up in. At such a young age, Faulwell already has a decent following, numerous exhibitions and even a museum show to his name. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes a household name in the Contemporary art world.

Following the very popular tradition of photography made famous by Shirin Neshat, Abbas Kiarostami and Shadi Ghadirian are two female photographers, Azar Emdadi and Samira Alikhanzadeh who both work with very Iranian subject matters but with incredibly different outcomes. Samira Alikhanzadeh, who is still based in Tehran, uses the art of found photography and combines it with the old tradition of mirror mosaics. What began as her obsession with windows and light sources in interiors slowly became the main element in her work. Taking the position of an outsider, Alikhanzadeh finds photographs mainly of women and children and renders the passage of time in a melancholic fashion. Azar Emdadi, a relatively new artist on the Iranian art scene, is fast becoming recognised for her tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. By reimagining the famous scene in an Iranian manner, each one of the twelve works in her series Dinner in Tehran represents various aspects of Iranian life, from wedding preparations, to Nowrouz, and even war.

Lastly, and within this article, the artist who delves into his heritage the least is Navid Nuur. An artist who has been based in the Netherlands for many years now, Nuur’s work is based on phenomenological experiences brought about through found objects, their functions, meanings and impact on his viewers. Nuur’s conceptual and sculptural installation-type works have found themselves in numerous solo and group shows across Europe, notably at the Venice Biennale Arsenale in 2011 and currently at Parasol Unit in London, his first ever UK solo show.

The artists mentioned in this article are by no means an exhaustive list of the top Contemporary Iranian artists, it would be impossible to name them all, but the artists chosen were selected because of the variety of their work and the evident impact they have had on both the Western and Iranian art world.

With exhibitions for Iranian students popping up in London, to the number of galleries beginning to include Iranian artists within their repertoire, it is obvious to most that the effect a country with centuries of art tradition in its midst has on the rest of the world is far greater than any other in the Middle East. Iranian artists, regardless of current location or where they were raised, have fast become one of the strongest emerging markets across the world. Furthermore, in my humble opinion, it is one field of art that will continue to develop, mature and cultivate some of the most exciting artists the art world has seen.

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