Iran’s top contemporary artists command high prices at auction. Do you know who they are?
In the 35 years since the revolution, Iran has emerged as one of the most prolific and productive countries for contemporary art in the Arab region. As a number of exhibitions and cultural fairs are highlighting Iranian art in 2013, Art Radar spotlights eight of Iran’s best known contemporary artists.
Watch Shirin Neshat’s Turbulent on Youtube.com
The Asia Society in New York will host “Iran Modern” from 6 September 2013 to 5 January 2014. According to the Society’s website, the exhibition will include “100 paintings, sculpture, photography, and works on paper by the most noteworthy Iranian artists of the 1950s to 1970s” such as Siah Armajani.
The Asia Society’s exhibition focuses on Iranian modern art created during the vibrant time period before Iran’s revolution. That was then, this is now. Contemporary art is happening in post-revolution Iran, with five contemporary artists leading the field in terms of sales.
While some of these artists may not be familiar by name, several of them are commanding high prices for their works at art auction. Iranian’s Press TV reported on 29 June 2013 that Tehran’s second art auction of Iranian contemporary art totaled USD 2.5 million.
Iran is a country heavily sanctioned by the United States, European Union and United Nations for its involvement in terrorism and nuclear weapons according to the CIA’s World Factbook. Iran is also home to 2.4 million Afghan refugees. Crimes of human trafficking are common. In addition, it has one of the “highest opiate addiction rates in the world.” A 2002 estimate of its population’s literacy rate shows the imbalance between genders as 83.5 percent of males, and 70.4 percent of female, aged fifteen and over, can read and write.
A country like Iran, which is filled with so much political and social upheaval, in addition to having a long history and rich cultural traditions, also inspires its talented contemporary artists.
Shirin Neshat is one of the most high-profile contemporary artists from Iran. She fled the country in the 1970s, and lives and works in New York. According to her short biography published on TED, her art reflects being caught between two cultures while also examining the “complex social, religious and political realities that shape her identity—and the identities of Muslim women worldwide.”
Neshat is known for her photographs, videos and multimedia installations. She won a Golden Lion for her work at the Venice Biennale in 1999. She also won a Silver Lion for best director at the 2010 Venice Film Festival with her ﬁrst feature ﬁlm “Women Without Men” which told the story of four women struggling with oppression in Tehran.
Photojournalist Abbas Kowsari, born in 1970 in Tehran, is senior photo editor for E’temad newspaper in Tehran. His photographs have been published in international publications such as The New York Times, Time magazine, Paris Match, Der Spiegel and Benetton’s Colors as stated on his gallery’s site.
According to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s website describing Halabche, the closely cropped photo of a peshmerga (a Kurdish combatant) wearing a T-shirt adorned with a picture of rock star Bryan Adams highlights the “incongruity between warfare in Iraq and western pop culture.” This contrast between Middle Eastern realities such as war, and Western entertainment is a theme in several contemporary Iranian artists’ works.
Kowsari was invited to film the first ever group of female cadets at their police academy graduation in Tehran, and the photos were published in the Paris Review. The police chief needed to obtain special permission from Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei in order to create all-female police units.
According to Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Tehran-based Farhad Moshiri, who was born in Shiraz, Iran, in 1963 and educated at California Institute of the Arts, “overturns both pop culture and highbrow imagery by transforming it into figurative artwork.” His works are often hand-embroidered and sparkle with his use of glitter, sequins, and crystals. Even though his shimmery works look playful, he is addressing “the flaws of contemporary Iran all while toying with its traditional forms; he acknowledges the appeal of the western world in addition to its limitations.”
Born in Sangsar in 1952, painter, musician and performance artist Reza Derakshani grew up in a tent in the countryside. His nomadic childhood inspires his art. He studied art in Tehran and Pasadena, California. In 1983, following the Islamic Revolution, he lived in exile in New York and Italy. He currently lives and works in Dubai and Austin, Texas.
Derakshani’s gallery, Kashya Hildebrand, had this to say about the artist and his method of working: “By investigating the essential nature of his cultural identity in a singularly original manner, he has connected to the spirit of the most exciting art made internationally today.”
Derakshani’s artwork is collected by high-profile figures such as Leon Black, Sting and Trudie Styler and the Royal family of Abu Dhabi. The British Museum has recently commissioned new works.
Self-taught painter Babak Roshaninejad, born in 1977, lives and works in Hamedan, Iran, his birthplace. Inspired by social philosophy, he uses painting to express his views on life and existence according to his gallery, the Assar Art Gallery.
Roshaninejad has participated in various art fairs in Moscow, Dubai, and Istanbul. His work is in the permanent collection of The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
Roshaninejad is known for painting large canvases with a limited palette. He paints portraits, construction machinery, and images from newspapers, to show a a rapidly transforming society. In addition to painting, he has published several books of fiction.
Tehran-based painter Alireza Adambakan, born in 1976 in Tehran, Iran, paints landscapes and cityscapes.
He has participated in numerous art fairs, and regularly exhibits in galleries. “Growing up in a family where tradition and religion had a strong presence throughout his upbringing, his work reflects directly on the presence of these two elements” according to his biography posted at the Assar Art Gallery.
In Tehran, Adambakan also paints murals and works as an arts researcher and writer for art magazines.
A press release for the art fair Contemporary Istanbul describes his paintings as haunting, his imagery originating from chaos and inspired by his psychological ties to religion.
Afshin Pirhashemi, born in 1974 in Urmia, where he lives now, is known for his black and white photo-realistic paintings of women.
His artistic talent was seen from childhood. As a teenager, he received a grant from the Italian Ambassador to study at the Rome Art Academy, and then received his BA at Azad University.
According to ArtTactic, the price range for his paintings is from USD 10,000- 50,000, and he is listed as having high market confidence. Pirhashemi won awards for his painting at the 2003 Tehran 6th International Art Biennial, and the 2004 Beijing Art Biennial Award.
Golnaz Fathi, born in 1972 in Tehran, is one of the few women to study traditional Persian calligraphy. She undertook a six-year training course and became trained in the highest level. Pure Islamic calligraphy is mainly practised by men, so Fathi made the decision to work in the field of fine arts according to her London-based gallery.
The calligraphic tradition is seen in her paintings and mixed media works, but she is also working on developing an abstract language of mark-making.
Fathi exhibits her work internationally, and her artworks are in prestigious collections such as Brighton & Hove Museum, UK; Carnegie Mellon University in Doha, Qatar; Islamic Art Museum, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Asian Civilization’s Museum, Singapore; The British Museum, London, UK; Devi Art foundation, New Delhi, India; Farjam Collection, Dubai, UAE; and Salsali Foundation, Dubai, UAE.
- Iran’s first contemporary art auction: All works sold – July 2012 – Iranian contemporary artists could see more home-grown institutional support
- Shirin Neshat’s inspiration from home – TED video – December 2011 – Shirin Neshat’s TED talk on being an artist in exile
- Asian artists bring cross-disciplinary work to New York’s Performa 11 – August 2011 – Asian artists’ contributions to this performance art biennial, including Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari
- Political art at Sharjah Biennial in revolutionary times- ARTINFO.com – June 2011 – review of the tenth Sharjah Biennial, which took place in the midst of regional upheaval
- Islamic tradition reworked by 10 Jameel prize finalists- artwork and artists – April 2011 - Iranians Soody Sharifi and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian finalists in 2011 Jameel prize
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